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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Emotions help ignite UH's fiery point guard

By Dayton Morinaga
Advertiser Staff Writer

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

"You can teach fundamentals, like how to dribble and how to shoot," Matt Gibson says. "You can't teach how to have heart, how to play with energy. I've always felt like that's how you can make up for mistakes or missed shots."
Photo Illustration by Minette McCabe.

JOAQUIN SIOPACK | The Honolulu Advertiser

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POSITION: Point guard

HOMETOWN: Oklahoma City, Okla.

WHAT’S ON HIS iPOD: "A whole plethora of music. I like to study to classical music ... I'm from Oklahoma, so if I didn't listen to country, they'd ex-communicate me ... some rap, some rock, some techno."

MUST SEE TV: "I'm not too big into TV. I watch certain shows because of my girlfriend. Cashmere Mafia, Grey's Anatomy, Desperate Housewives."

VIDEO GAME ON: "NCAA Basketball 2008 because I like to be Hawai'i."

HOOP DREAMS: "I'm the kind of guy who likes to jump on the bandwagon of the team that's the most fun to watch. Right now it’s the (Denver) Nuggets or (Boston) Celtics."

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1, Chris Gaines 1,734

2, John Penebacker 1,519

3, Alika Smith 1,415

4, Predrag Savovic 1,414

5, Melton Werts 1,314

6, Phil Lott 1,290

7, Carl English 1,259

8, Phil Martin 1,231

9, Julian Sensley 1,230

10, Tom Henderson 1,082

11, Matt Gibson* 1,071

12, Anthony Carter 1,070

13, Reggie Cross 1,013

14, Bobby Nash *997


1, Predrag Savovic 178

2, Carl English 162

3, Alika Smith 161

4, Mike McIntyre 159

5, Michael Kuebler 143

6, Bobby Nash* 139

7, Matt Gibson* 126

8, Trevor Ruffin 122

9, Tes Whitlock 109

10, Julian Sensley 102


1, Troy Bowe 412

2, Anthony Carter 403

3, Kalia McGee 392

4, William Colston 352

5, Tom Henderson 347

6, Alika Smith 344

7, Mark Campbell 343

8, Chris Gaines 332

9, Matt Gibson* 303

10, Julian Sensley 289


1, Tom Henderson 160

2, Alika Smith 152

3, Troy Bowe 146

4, Tony Webster 143

5, Anthony Carter 142

6, Matt Gibson* 137

7, Chris Gaines 127

8, Phil Martin 113

9, Phil Lott 111

10, Julian Sensley 108

*Active player

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This Is The Way I Live

Matt Gibson does everything at full throttle.

Like a speed demon, he is equal parts exciting and dangerous as the point guard for the University of Hawai'i men's basketball team.

It is why he is one of the most beloved and bewildering Rainbow Warriors of all time.

"The first day I met him, I knew he was unique," teammate Alex Veit said. "He's like his own category."

Gibson, a 6-foot-5 senior, is in the stretch run of his collegiate career. The 'Bows will close the regular season with road games at Louisiana Tech tomorrow and then at New Mexico State on Saturday.

The Western Athletic Conference Tournament is scheduled for March 11 to 15 at Las Cruces, N.M.

Hawai'i, which is 11-16 overall and 7-7 in the WAC, will be the No. 5 seed for the tournament, regardless of what happens this week.

"As a senior, as the point guard, I feel like a lot of the responsibility for how we do is in my hands," Gibson said. "The fact that we're not No. 1 in the WAC right now, I place a lot of the blame on myself. But this season's not over. We make a run here at the end, and all those losses will be forgotten."

This Is The Way I Live

The words are part of a tattoo on Gibson's left arm. The rest of the tattoo features a young man sitting on a bench, his face buried in his hands, a basketball at his feet.

"I don't like tattoos, and every time he gets one, I let him know I don't like it," said his father, Lon Gibson. "But that one bothered me more than the others. It just looked so sad."

Gibson had the tattoo done prior to this season.

"It represents the times of me persevering through my struggles," he said. "It reminds me that life isn't always easy or fair, but all I have to do is open my eyes and basketball will always be there."

Just like the tattoo, Gibson can be an enigma.

This Is The Way I Live

Gibson leads the 'Bows — and is at or near the top of the WAC — in scoring, assists and steals.

He is sixth in the conference with 16.8 points per game, third in assists 5.2 per game, and first in steals with 1.9 per game.

"I think he deserves to be first-team All-WAC," Hawai'i head coach Bob Nash said. "He's put up the numbers."

What's more, Gibson has done it while playing the entire season with a sore left knee. He injured it before season started, and has missed five games because of it.

He will likely have to undergo surgery once the season is done.

"I'm happy with my performance this year, considering all the circumstances," Gibson said. "I feel like I did a better job as a point guard than in my previous years. I just wish we could win more games."

Gibson will finish his career ranked among UH's all-time top 10 for scoring, assists, 3-pointers, and steals. He will also likely finish second all-time in turnovers — behind Anthony Carter.

"Sometimes he can be his own worst enemy," Nash said. "He plays with so much emotion and sometimes he rushes things a little too much. But you can't fault the effort. That's always been there."

This Is The Way I Live

In his first workout with the 'Bows in 2004, Gibson got into a scuffle with then-teammate Julian Sensley.

Gibson weighed around 175 pounds at the time; Sensley is 6-9 and around 235.

"Yeah, that wasn't very smart," Gibson said. "But I came in with the cocky attitude. I wanted to be the star and I knew Julian was the star. But it all worked out. Julian and I became friends. We still talk."

Perhaps more than anything, it signaled the fiery arrival of "Little Matt" — the nickname has stuck ever since he arrived in Honolulu in the same recruiting class as "Big Matt" Gipson.

In the four years since, Gibson hasn't stopped diving for loose balls, pumping his fists after big shots, or mugging for the crowd after a fancy pass.

"I don't back down," he said. "You can teach fundamentals, like how to dribble and how to shoot. You can't teach how to have heart, how to play with energy. I've always felt like that's how you can make up for mistakes or missed shots."

This Is The Way I Live

Gibson fouled out of his "Senior Night" game in the final minute of a 78-71 loss to Boise State last Saturday.

The crowd at the Stan Sheriff Center responded with a rousing standing ovation.

"That touched my heart more than I can explain," said his father, who was in the crowd. "I knew he was popular here, but I had no idea."

Chuck Gaty, president of the UH men's basketball booster club, said Gibson is "right up there" among the program's all-time favorite players.

"His personality, the way he plays the game, the fans appreciate that," Gaty said. "You can see he's giving everything he can give you, no matter what the score."

Former Hawai'i head coach Riley Wallace said Gibson's all-out style fit the local crowd.

"Hawai'i people love and appreciate hustle," Wallace said. "And Matt plays with hustle. He loves the game and plays it how it should be played."

Gibson said he played as much soccer as basketball while growing up in Oklahoma City, Okla., and thinks that is where he may have built his stamina.

His father said: "He played soccer the same way. Other guys might have been bigger and faster, but he was going to get that ball no matter what. He'd chase you all day if he had to."

This Is The Way I Live

Gibson might also be UH's career leader in suspensions, including two this season.

"I want to emphasize that he's not a bad kid," Nash said. "He just does some immature things sometimes. It's not things that are a detriment to society, but things that need to be addressed if you're a part of a team."

Gibson also clashed with Wallace several times during his sophomore and junior seasons.

"Coach Wallace had all kinds of reasons and causes to get rid of me," Gibson said. "But he stayed patient with me and was loyal to me. That helped me as a player and a person. I can never say enough about the lessons I learned here."

Lon Gibson said: "I think Matt can handle situations a little better now. He still has to learn to not let his emotions spill over so much. He's made his share of mistakes, that's for sure. But I think he's grown up as a man for it."

This Is The Way I Live

People see the tattoos, the spiky hair and the cockiness from Gibson on the court. A few have seen the other side.

Gaty said he will "never forget" Gibson for making visits to the hospital when his wife, Barbara Ann, was battling cancer. She passed away last July.

"When she was in chemotherapy, he'd just show up and talk to her," Gaty said. "Some days, he'd call her on the phone. This wasn't a team thing. He did it on his own."

Gibson said he has a spiritual side, and his right arm bears a tattoo of a cross.

"Sometimes, when I don't know who to turn to, I read my Bible," he said.

This Is The Way I Live

Gibson is on schedule to graduate with a degree in history in two months. His father is a high school history teacher; his mother, Linda, is a former special education teacher.

"I don't know if I'm going to follow them and teach," Gibson said. "But I hope I have a chance to play professional ball first."

Lon Gibson once played professional basketball in France.

"I'd love to do what he did — travel around the world and play basketball," Gibson said.

Lon Gibson said he'd like to send his second son — Hunter, who is a junior in high school — to UH because of Matt's experiences.

"The Gibson family truly thanks Hawai'i," Lon said. "The people there really helped Matt grow up. No matter what he does, where he goes, he'll always be part-Hawaiian."

Gibson said: "I was shown a lot of tough love here, and we didn't win the way I wanted this team to win. But it was the most fun I could have had. I wouldn't trade it for anything."

Reach Dayton Morinaga at dmorinaga@honoluluadvertiser.com.