PARKER - Nobody can blame Grace Gibbs from sometimes wondering what might have been.
Gibbs was the starting center last season on the Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology basketball squad, a Division III team in Terre Haute, Ind.
It is not a stretch to label Gibbs a surprise starter since she was a freshman and hadn’t played played competitive basketball for three years.
Gibbs played basketball and rode horses as a youth. During her freshman year at Ponderosa High School, she was the Most Valuable Player on the junior varsity basketball team.
But she turned in her basketball attire and put on riding boots for equestrian events and became accomplished in show jumping competition at Parker’s Colorado Horse Park.
“I broke my ribs riding horses the summer after my freshman year and I decided I needed to decide between the two and horses won,” said Gibbs.
“After looking at my friends who played all four years in high school, as soon as they graduated, they were done. They didn’t want to play anymore,” she continued.
“But I always wonder how different it would have been if I had kept playing. My friends and teammates would always say `come back, we need you’. They always wanted me to come back but at the time I was really dead set on riding horses.
Obviously I’m very happy with how things turned out.”
The big smile on her face was evidence that she’s pleased that she made the right choices.
Gibbs had applied to the University of Colorado and Rose-Hulman. She planned on going to CU. Then, she got a call from Kevin Robinson, Rose-Hulman’s assistant basketball coach who noticed that Gibbs marked basketball as an interested activity on her application.
Robinson invited Gibbs to spend a weekend at Rose-Hulman.
“I loved it,” said Gibbs. “I then changed my mind and decided to go to Rose.”
The transition back to competitive basketball, however, wasn’t easy.
“I can’t believe how much I forgot,” said Gibbs. “A lot of it came back but, man, I had to work hard to get the feeling and the touch back.”
A rash of injuries forced head coach Jon Prevo to push Gibbs, a biomedical engineering student who managed a 3.2 grade point average, into the starting lineup.
“As it went on she discovered she missed the game of basketball and fell back in love with it and really worked extremely hard to try to get back into the swing of things after being out of the game for three years,” said Prevo.
“Grace kind of got thrown in the whole mix early because we had a lot of injuries. Grace did a fantastic job.”
Gibbs, at 5-foot-10, finished second in the Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference with an average of 7.3 rebounds a game. She averaged 31.5 minutes, 5.1 points and 1.2 assists per game.
“When I was intimidated the most was the first game watching the other team warm up because I had no idea what to expect because it had been so long since I played,” said Gibbs. “Once I was on the floor, playing and not thinking, it was better.”
The bar of expectations has now been raised.
“Her offensive skills were the ones that were farthest behind but she continued to work and by the end of the year she felt more comfortable even on the offensive end as far as looking for things,” said Prevo. “Defensively and rebounding she was one of our top players.
“She was a pleasant surprise. We were hoping that she would work out and we would be able to get something from her and develop her into a player. She has a lot of upside and I know she is working extremely hard this summer. I think she would like to elevate her game and continue to get better.”
Gibbs has worked two or three times a week this summer trying to develop her wing skills.
“I had a really hard time finishing lay ups,” she admitted. “For some reason I would miss the first one and get my own rebound and make the second one.
“I’m working with an ex-NBA player, Rob White, in one-on-one training sessions. We are working on my ball handling and wing skills as opposed to post skills. It is helping me become a more well-rounded player. I’m very much looking forward to next season.”