By Carter Chapley
St. Louis, MO
Travis Ford has a single mantra for his team; if you play defense, you will see the floor.
For some freshmen, that can be an intimidating policy. Travis Ford’s version of playing good defense is based on playing gritty, high energy, team-oriented basketball. If you aren’t playing up to that standard, it’s unlikely a player is going to see meaningful minutes in-game, regardless of your class.
The tone of that defensive effort is set by the leadership of the team. Jordan Goodwin, Hasahn French, and Fred Thatch have been vital in establishing the standard for the team, but based on the Billikens youth, the freshmen of the team will have to, at the very least, fill in the gaps.
Gibson Jimerson has done more than just fill in a gap.
The freshmen came to Saint Louis with one skill on everyone’s mind. His jump shot. The Virginia native was one of the most talked-about recruits in Travis Fords 2019-2020 class. But all the focus was on his potential offensive output. Travis Ford, during the preseason, called him the best shooter he’s had since coming to SLU. He was hailed as the answer to the Billikens shooting blues, the sniper to solve the woes of seasons past.
To this point in the season, he has certainly proved his value and potential on offense. Gibson has averaged 10 points a game, on 18 of 41 shooting from behind the arc, a very respectable 43% shooting. He has shown an ability to be crafty and dangerous on other aspects than just his three. Displaying an aptitude for shot-creating off the dribble and a slashing to the hoop, catching opponents by surprise.
The spark in offense and the diversity in his offensive game is something Gibson says he has been working on since he was a High School freshman.
“Early on in my high school career, I was a catch and shoot guy, and that’s obviously my bread and butter. But over the years, I’ve tried to add bits and pieces to my game to sharpen different skill sets. But putting it on the floor, pulling up, getting to the free-throw line, is something I can do.”
Gibson is the third-highest scorer and is key to the team’s offensive game picking up its pacing and spacing. Opposing teams often have to pick between guarding the shooter on the perimeter or packing the paint and stopping Hasahn French or Jordan Goodwin. That decision is a lot more complicated with Gibson on the floor.
Returning to Ford’s mantra, none of the accomplishments mentioned are possible without a defensive impact. Which was the one major question of the recruit in the preseason, could Gibson be capable enough on D to justify his O?
Under promised and over delivered.
Gibson has proven himself to be not just an acceptable defensive option, but a premier one. Playing over 61% of possible minutes a game, Jimerson has passed Ford’s test on defense. Showing the hustle and understanding to stand out early.
That wasn’t always the case though. Travis Ford has praised Gibson on his commitment to defense and says that he has made leaps and bounds in his game on the defensive end since arriving in Mid-Town.
“He’s improved drastically defensively, drastically, now we’re not afraid to play him in tight situations defensively because he’s improved so much.” Travis Ford said about his guard’s progression on the defensive end, “He’s improved so much, that might not have been the case two, three weeks ago, but he’s improved immensely. That’s come through playing against Seton Hall and playing against good teams, that’s what’s made him improve and understand. We have great confidence in him.”
When Gibson committed to SLU, he understood what he needed to do to be a part of the Travis Ford culture. “Going back to High School, I was relied on as a scorer, defense was kind of an afterthought for me. I knew coming here that defense was what they hang their hat on, and being a part of the program now that was something I wanted to emphasize. He (Coach Ford) knows I can shoot and score, but he wants me to hold my own on the defensive end.” The freshman added, “I’ve become a lot more confident on the defensive end…just learning the team concepts, the language of our defense…I think that’s what will take me to the next level.”
The Billikens are off to a hot start. They are 7-1 and beating teams they weren’t expected to before the season, largely in part to Gibson’s contributing an increased role.
Jimerson is already receiving recognition for his performance by the A-10. Earning a co-Rookie of the Week nod for the week from November 25th to December 1st. A period of time that didn’t include his 25 point break out game against High Point.
“It caught me off guard because I didn’t think I played particularly well,” Gibson said about the honor. “I’m glad our team has been successful, and we’ve been winning games. I’m excited, but I think that’s the first of many this year.”