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Go Where You're Wanted: How Jeff Gibbs has carved out a historic career from humble beginnings

By Zach Fleer, 07/20/19, 12:25PM EDT

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Jeff Gibbs is what Jared Sullinger called "they key to our success" in TBT run

BEXLEY, Ohio -- What if I told you the key to Carmen's Crew's pursuit of a $2 million The Basketball Tournament championship is a 38-year-old man who had no intentions of even being here?

What if I told you this key player never played Division I or even Division II basketball? What if I told you this player dominates in the post and only stands at 6-foot-1?

You probably wouldn't believe me.

But that has never mattered to Jeff Gibbs. The former Division III player of the year and national champion Otterbein alum might just be what Carmen's Crew needs to cut down the nets at the TBT for the very first time.

And his path to get here is a story that needs to be told.


"Basketball was not in the future for me. I was a football player," Gibbs said. "I had a couple NFL tryouts. I just got a phone call one day out of the blue asking if I wanted to come play basketball and try out, and that's how I got the start."

From that point forward in 2002, Gibbs has been a professional basketball player, traveling the world and gaining a lifetime's worth of experiences.

Gibbs spent his first six seasons playing in Germany before spending the last nine in Japan. While Gibbs transitioned fairly easily in his first few years in Germany, thanks to the majority of his teammates being fluent English speakers, it was the move to Japan that opened his eyes to a different way of life.

"The first two years were a straight culture shock," Gibbs said. "I wasn't used to everyone being so polite and so nice. I first got there and the interpreter stopped me from walking into the gym and told me 'hey you gotta take your shoes off.'"

Once it was time to lace them back up, Gibbs shined. Dominating in the post at only 6-foot-1, Gibbs is one of the world's best pound for pound, inch for inch defenders and rebounders. That type of versatility and plug-and-play toughness is going to serve Carmen's Crew well as the OSU alumni group looks to win big.

"I've never played a guard position in my life, I've always been a power forward," Gibbs said. "A lot of guys, they want to put a guard on me, it's become a mismatch a little bit. I can guard 6-foot-10 guys, 6-foot-11 guys."

Even Jared Sullinger, Carmen's Crew head coach and former punisher of souls in the paint, respects what Gibbs can do on the block. 

"He's a matchup nightmare," Sullinger said. "You look at him, he's 6-foot-1, he has big feet, long arms and [opponents] are like 'okay, we can iso this guy on the wing.'"

However, that's the last thing you want to do against Gibbs.

"Defensively he's great, he gets almost every rebound that goes up there and then on the offensive end, he's just a big, physical guy that pins you under the rim and finishes," Sullinger said.

As a 15-year pro veteran, Gibbs is no stranger to this.

"He's been doing it for years," Sullinger said. "Ultimately he's going to be one of the biggest players we have just because of the ability to be versatile, defensively and offensively, with him in the game. Just to have him and be able to have that back to the basket presence is going to be huge for us."

Gibbs had it working on Friday night in Carmen's Crew's 88-71 win over Illinois BC, finishing with eight points and nine rebounds and a +23, second to only Aaron Craft. 

While the potential of three games in three days could be daunting for someone like Gibbs, who turns 39 on Aug. 4, the 15-year veteran is the least bit worried.

"I'm used to it because in Japan we play back-to-back on either Friday and Saturday, Saturday and Sunday, sometimes we go Wednesday, Friday, Saturday," Gibbs said.

As a long time pro, Gibbs has worked hard to maintain his body through the use of massages and icing. That dedication has paid off, as Gibbs has carved out a long career overseas.

Despite major accolades as a professional in Germany and Japan, Gibbs credits a lot of his success to the time he spent at Otterbein. In an absolutely dominant career where Gibbs was an All-American in both football and basketball, the Columbus East alum left a unique, and rather unbelievable legacy on the Cardinal program.

Leading Otterbein to its first ever national championship in any sport in 2002, Gibbs' basketball career would have been enough for an immediate induction in the school's athletic program. But Gibbs did more than just pull down the most rebounds in Otterbein's history.

He also just so happened to star on the gridiron as a tight end, setting program records for receiving touchdowns and receiving yards, while placing second all-time in receptions.

While Gibbs could have certainly went to a Division I or II program, it was the fit at Otterbein that made the biggest difference for him. And if he had chosen to not go the Division III route, who knows if he would be where he is today, as the x-factor for a Carmen's Crew team stockpiled full of former Ohio State standouts.

"It doesn't matter where you go," Gibbs said. "If you're good and you produce, teams are going to find you. European teams, overseas teams, they're going to find you."

While we live in a day and age where the word 'exposure' is used to detract prospects from looking at smaller schools, Gibbs feels it's important to love who loves you.

"Go where colleges want you," Gibbs said. "Don't listen to your inner circle that tells you 'oh I think you should go somewhere else,' if a college wants you, don't go where you want to go, go where the college wants you."

Being close to many high school prospects who have passed up potentially successful careers at smaller programs, Gibbs knows more than anyone about choosing the right fit.

"You can be successful anywhere, don't wait for the big names where you can be the 10th or 11th man on the bench," Gibbs said. "Go to an Otterbein, go to a Capital, go to a D2 school. If they want you, go there and play there."

Being inducted into Otterbein's Hall of Fame in 2008, Gibbs is thankful for his career in Westerville and Carmen's Crew certainly is, too. 

If the TBT is anything like his college and pro career, look for Gibbs to defy odds and win big. 

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