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NEC Preview: Oft-overlooked Shane Gibson hopes to go from hidden gem to stardom

Jeff Eisenberg
The Dagger

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Sacred Heart's Shane Gibson averaged 22.0 points and shot 51 percent from the field last year (AP)

Enter the name of college basketball's second-leading returning scorer into a search engine, and the results may come as a surprise.

The first Shane Gibson that pops up is a metal guitarist. The second Shane Gibson is a politician in the Bahamas. And the third Shane Gibson is a little-known author and social media strategist.

It gnaws at Shane Gibson No. 4 that he hasn't received more national recognition for scoring an efficient 22.0 points per game as a junior last season, but the Sacred Heart guard knows he has the power to change that. If he can not only build on last season's output but also transform Sacred Heart into a winner, he'll have a much better chance of earning league player of the year honors, making All-America teams or hearing his name called on NBA draft day.

"I think I'd probably have gotten more recognition last year if we had won some more games," Gibson said. "I've watched other guys and I've seen the attention they're getting, and I'm just like, 'Are they not seeing the numbers I'm putting up over here?' Hopefully with more team success, some of that comes this year."

Although it would be a surprise if Gibson can lead Sacred Heart to its first-ever Northeast Conference title or first-ever NCAA bid, the 6-foot-2 senior has a better chance this season than any of his previous years in the program. The Pioneers return four starters and their top two reserves from a team that went 14-18 overall and 8-10 in the NEC last season.

To give Sacred Heart the best chance to move up in the standings, Gibson has focused on improving his all-around game. He has strengthened his legs in the weight room this offseason to give himself more stamina on defense late in games. He also plans to expend more energy attacking the glass and to do a better job setting up his teammates, especially when double-teams come.

Whether it's Weber State's Damian Lillard, Murray State's Isaiah Canaan or Lehigh's C.J. McCollum, the mid-major guards who have intrigued NBA scouts recently have typically come from winning programs. Sacred Heart coach Dave Bike hopes Gibson gets the same consideration if he propel the Pioneers into contention in the NEC.

"I'm convinced he deserves to be looked at by the next level," Bike said. "If we can make a little noise and win a big game here or there, I think a kid's individual stock goes up, and probably rightly so. People want guys that make a difference in winning or losing. That's important. So it's important for him, it's important for us and it's important for the school."

Being overlooked doesn't faze Gibson because he's accustomed to being an underdog.

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Shane Gibson (US Presswire)

Growing up in a small Upstate Connecticut town near the Rhode Island border, Gibson had to work harder than prospects from bigger cities to get college programs to show interest in him.

Gibson did everything for his high school team, from contesting the opening tip, to leading the team in rebounds, to scoring despite frequent double and triple teams. In a game his senior season against fellow league title contender Windham High School, Gibson's team nearly lost even though he went off for 51 points.

"Shane was never one who could hide his emotion," high school coach Scott Desrosier said. "You could always see the frustration and disappointment on his face. When Windham whittled our lead to a few points late in the game, Shane said to the kids on the bench during a timeout, 'Hey listen guys, I'm not going to score 50 points and have us lose.'"

Stories of Gibson's scoring barrages eventually reached college coaches in the New England area, but most of them still didn't show much interest. Not only was Gibson considered undersized to play shooting guard in college, coaches also put little credence in his gaudy high school stats because they came against small-town competition.

Gibson did play on the AAU circuit, but it's hard to say if that helped him or hurt him. Since he filled the role of spot-up shooter off the bench for a talent-laden team, coaches who scouted him often pegged him as a catch-and-shoot player who couldn't create off the dribble.

Sacred Heart assistant coach Johnny Kidd was one of the first to recognize Gibson was more than just a dime-a-dozen shooter. After stumbling across Gibson at a small AAU tournament in Connecticut the summer before his junior year and watching him a couple more times during the high school season, Kidd came away convinced the Killingly High standout had the potential to be one of the best scorers in Sacred Heart history.

"I could just tell right away the type of skill level he possessed at a very young age," Kidd said. "Being in there early obviously gave us a lead, but I knew sooner or later word was going to get out. You can't hide forever. I don't care how small your school is or where you're from. People are going to find out."

Thankfully for Sacred Heart, Gibson remained mostly a secret until the summer before his senior year of high school. Even then, Central Connecticut State was the only other school to offer him a scholarship, making it a fairly easy decision for Gibson to reward Sacred Heart for its faith in him with a commitment.

Gibson has spent the past couple seasons making it his mission to leave opposing coaches in the New England area feeling queasy for overlooking him.

He took advantage of the chance to redshirt as a sophomore by building up his upper body so he had the strength to absorb contact and still finish at the rim. He blossomed the following season, averaging 17.2 points per game and earning all-league honors. And he became a more efficient scorer last season, shooting 51 percent from the floor and 43.3 percent from behind the arc to pile up the fifth-most points of any player in the nation.

"I told myself after high school I was going to prove everyone wrong and be the best player to ever put on a Sacred Heart jersey," Gibson said. "Now when I go to games and I see coaches from other teams, I'm trying to dominate their teams and let them know they should have paid more attention."

It's safe to say word is out in NEC circles after Gibson erupted for 20 or more points in 15 of 18 league games last season. Whether Gibson can rise from near-anonymity to stardom nationally, however, likely depends on if his team can do anything to merit attention.

Since Gibson came to Sacred Heart around the time of Davidson's memorable Elite Eight run in 2008, he and his friends used to joke he'd have to "pull a Stephen Curry" to achieve his dreams of a pro career. An Elite Eight run seems a bit ambitious for a school that's never even played an NCAA tournament game, but Gibson isn't one to back down from a challenge.

"I'm so competitive I feel like I can do anything," he said. "Some people may look at it as being cocky, but I just feel like I'm extremely confident. My whole life I've been doing things people said I couldn't do."

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