On an off the basketball court, guard Temple "T.J." Gibbs had a laudable freshman year at Notre Dame this past season.
On it, he was named Notre Dame’s 2017 Newcomer of the Year while playing about 15-20 minutes a game in head coach Mike Brey’s veteran oriented program. Off it, Gibbs made the 2016-17 ACC All-Academic Team.
Overall, he carried his weight as a rookie — and then eventually too much of it. At a robust 205 pounds by the end of the season, the 6-3 Gibbs’ stout frame hindered his overall progress.
Through the first 19 games, Gibbs converted 36-of-78 field goals (46.2 percent) , including 14-of-35 (40 percent) from three-point range. That stretch hit its peak with back-to-back 13- and 12-point performances in a victory at Virginia Tech and a close loss at top-10 Florida State in mid-January in which he shot a combined 9-of-12 (3-of-4 beyond the arc).
From there, the proverbial freshman wall seemed to hit. Over the final 17 games, Gibbs connected on only 15 of his 58 field-goal attempts (25.9 percent), and was 3-of-18 (16.7 percent) from three-point distance.
On the defensive side, Gibbs and current junior Rex Pflueger continued to provide energy and production, but the expenditure there helped result in a drastic fall-off on offense.
“He had gotten in great shape when he got here,” said Brey last week of Gibbs after an open practice for the media. “He kind of creeped up [in weight] at the end of last season. Of course, you’re not playing the heavy minutes, and we’re not practicing two hours [later in the season to save legs].”
Basketball strength and conditioning coach Tony Rolinski provided no slack to Gibbs after the season. His off-season work and vastly improved dietary habits resulted in Gibbs checking in this summer at a svelte 190 pounds after shedding 15 pounds and dropping his body fat to under 10 percent.
“He handled that like a man,” Brey said. “Tony really hit him about it. When he walked into the office when he came back for summer school, he was ready to go. ...He’s moving great. He’s bouncing, he feels fresher. I think we have him locked into this weight because I told him you’re going to have to play 28-30 minutes now, so you really need to be ready.”
“I knew I had to get down, and the we had to figure out what’s a good size for me,” Gibbs said. “I like where I’m at now, and maybe try to lose a little more. I got a little faster, a little bit more mobile. I can get to the hole better and get through tight spaces.”
With the graduation of V.J. Beachem and Steve Vasturia, Gibbs and Pflueger are currently looked at as the first options to help replace the 29 points per game that has been vacated in the lineup. The obvious leaders this year will be two more seniors in AP third-team All-American Bonzie Colson and point guard Matt Farrell, with Pflueger and Gibbs getting groomed for similar roles in 2018-19.
While the 6-6 Pflueger and Gibbs have found their niche with their defensive presence, the jury remains in session on whether they can supply consistent scoring punch. Both averaged 4.7 points per game last season. With Gibbs, Brey for now sees more of a scorer than shooter.
“One thing I liked about T.J. Gibbs last year is in limited minutes he always scored,” Brey said. “He played 12 minutes and maybe scored eight points. He played 10 minutes and would score 10. He’s going to score for us. I think Pflueger will score more with a bigger role offensively and more minutes.”
Scoring is in the Gibbs’ bloodlines. One older brother, Ashton Gibbs, averaged 15.7, 16.8 and 14.6 points per game in his last three seasons at Pitt from 2010-12. Another brother, Sterling Gibbs, averaged 13.2 and 16.3 points per game in two seasons at Seton Hall before finishing with a 12.3 average at UConn in 2015-16. The two older brothers were three-star recruits not rated by Rivals, whereas T.J. was given four stars and the No. 62 national ranking.
As a sophomore, Gibbs’ priority is maintaining consistency and confidence rather than put more pressure on himself to take up the slack left by Beachem and Vasturia.
“I’m not looking to do anything that is out of character,” Gibbs said. “We’ll discuss what [Brey] thinks I can do on the court and I know what I can do, and then make sure they line up. He has the utmost trust in me, and I trust him.”
Playing sound defense also remains crucial in his efforts to enhance his production on offense.
“Rex and I have talked about it multiple times about how stops on defense will be what starts our offense,” Gibbs said. “We can really contribute on that end of the court and we’re going to be looked at to defend and get after it.”
Gibbs also could have an expanded role on occasion at the point to help Farrell, the team’s best outside shooter, get a few more looks. He said his brothers and father — Temple, who played football at Temple — remain his toughest critics and biggest backers.
“Every season has its ups and downs, and that’s the one thing they preached to me: No matter what, you have to stay confident in yourself and not let the season get to me,” Gibbs said. “Last year was definitely a learning experience, and now it’s time to grow a little more.”
Without the added weight, of course.