Back when he played for Grand Blanc High School, the recruiting website PrepSpotlight.com dubbed Zack Gibson “the biggest sleeper in the state of Michigan.”
The site was talking about his potential as a basketball player, but anyone who knows Gibson will tell you that quiet description is just as applicable off the court.
Now a redshirt sophomore on the Michigan men’s basketball team, Gibson doesn’t mind talking with reporters. He just doesn’t have much to say to them. That doesn’t shock his teammate and friend, redshirt junior C.J. Lee, who says Gibson can’t help his quiet demeanor.
“That’s just his personality,” Lee said. “That’s just how he is. That’s how he’s been as long as I’ve known him.”
Lee didn’t meet Gibson until last year, when the two transferred to Michigan from East Coast schools – Gibson from Rutgers and Lee from Manhattan. Because of their similar circumstances, Lee and Gibson bonded while sitting out a year in accordance with NCAA transfer rules.
“We were both able to help each other out in terms of keeping your confidence and staying ready and coming in and fighting every day,” Lee said “It’s tough when you’re not seeing the results of your hard work, and you’re just practicing and not playing in games.”
Eight games into this season, Gibson was the starting center for the 3-5 Wolverines. But after an embarrassing Dec. 1 loss to Harvard, Michigan coach John Beilein made the decision to bench Gibson, instead starting sophomore Ekpe Udoh against Duke.
Rather than say anything drastic about the demotion, Gibson did what came natural – he kept quiet. Besides, coming off the bench was a lot better than sitting out.
“Either way, whether you start or come off the bench, you just have to bring the energy and just play hard every time you’re out there,” Gibson said.
Playing hard is exactly what he has done. Against the Blue Devils, Gibson had one of his best games of the season. His 11 points were a bright spot for the Wolverines in a 95-67 drubbing. Last week against Iowa, he had another solid showing, scoring eight points and grabbing five rebounds.
But his quiet demeanor has had its downfalls. Despite leading Michigan in field goal percentage this season, Gibson has attempted just 82 shots, sixth most on the team. Watching him on the court, it’s clear he isn’t the type of player to demand the ball.
“Zack just wants to contribute,” Lee said. “I don’t think it’s a matter of whether Zack gets a bunch of shots. I don’t think he looks at it like that. I think he looks at where he can have an immediate impact in the game.”
But Gibson’s 6-foot-10, 220-pound frame and ability to shoot accurately from 3-point range make him a natural fit in Beilein’s complicated offense. Before the season began, some thought Gibson could become Michigan’s own version of Kevin Pittsnogle, the 3-point-slinging big man Beilein made famous at West Virginia.
Gibson isn’t a Pittsnogle yet, but Beilein recognizes he must find more opportunities for his talented big man.
“We’re trying to find new ways to get him shots from the perimeter,” Beilein said. “He’s a good, solid shooter and so that opens things up.”