IN THE SPOTLIGHT
It’s hard to keep anything secret these days.
Thus, Ben Gibson’s play in last week’s season-opening Thanksgiving Tournament was hardly a surprise.
There had been some preseason rumblings about him on Twitter.
It was out there in 140 characters. The kid can play. The kid can fill it up.
That little Blue Dove … didn’t lie.
Gibson, a virtual unknown during his first three years at Lake Forest High School, created a buzz, when he started tearing it up in a local Fall League.
Not bad for a former sophomore “B” player.
Not bad for a no-name player who rarely found the floor during his junior season. Gibson appeared in just nine games and tallied an unspectacular 11 points for the 2016-17 Scouts.
Growing nearly three inches in the offseason — he has shot up to 6 feet, 5 inches — can do wonders for a basketball player.
It did for Gibson.
He’s now a know-name.
“His body is completely different,” said Lake Forest head coach Phil LaScala. “But his [transformation] started at the end of last season.
“That’s when he stepped out of his box,” the coach added.
Having a deep love for basketball also has worked in his favor.
Gibson is utterly smitten by the game’s charms.
No. 23 can’t get enough of the game. He’s basketball 24-7.
“He’s thirsty for basketball knowledge,” noted Lake Forest High School assistant coach Austin Scott.
Parched, in fact.
“He always wants to learn more,” Scott added.
He’s become a basketball opportunist. Always looking to add to his suddenly extensive repertoire.
Gibson increased his basketball IQ by — get this — flooding his brain with NBA and college basketball.
“Whenever I’m home, I’m watching high-level basketball,” he said.
Just watch Gibson in the paint. It’s hard to detect his dominant hand.
Which is a good thing for a basketball player at any level.
Is he a lefty? Is he a righty?
“Yeah, he’s ambidextrous, but don’t mention that in print,” said LaScala, with a smile. “That makes him real hard to defend inside.”
“I like that they can’t force me to go one way,” said Gibson, who spent a big chunk of the offseason working on post moves. “[Being ambidextrous] allows me to use both sides of the court. It gives me a chance to be a little more creative with the ball.”
In the four-game set at the New Trier-Loyola Thanksgiving Tournament last week, Gibson cashed in on his opportunities to average a little more than 15 points per game.
“He’s come a long way in a short time,” said Scott. “And I believe his best basketball is ahead of him.
“He’s a very skilled inside and outside player. Very versatile,” Scott added. “And being ambidextrous, he’s hard to scheme against.”
Gibson finished with 19 points, six assists and three rebounds in a 65-53 loss to Lincoln Park on Nov. 21. Then, a night later, in 51-40 setback to St. Ignatius, he popped in a team-high 16 points with four rebounds.
And, in the tourney finale — a 41-32 victory over U-High in the fifth-game at Loyola Academy on Nov. 25 — he proved his authenticity by coming up with a team-high 15 points to go along with three rebounds and two assists.
“He’s more aggressive. More confident. More physical,” said LaScala. “Every time he touches the ball, he’s a threat.
“He couldn’t post up on people last year,” the coach added. “But he can now. He lived in the weight room [in the offseason].”
Jed Thomas, a returning starter for the Scouts, loves Gibson’s turnaround.
“He’s not only 6-5 and ambidextrous, but he also has a great IQ for the game,” said the LF senior point guard. “It’s been incredible to watch him. All of sudden, he developed into a great shooter, who also can drive to the basket.
“And I love knowing that he can catch every pass that I throw to him,” Thomas added.
It’s early, but Gibson also has shown the ability — and mentality — to carry a team.
In the game against St. Ignatius, he opened the fourth quarter with a personal 8-0 run. And he loaded up the net in a variety of ways: one baseline drive, two drives down the lane and one fast-break layup.
Gibson also was the author of all eight of his team’s points during an 8-0 run in the fourth quarter in the win over U-High.
Stretches like that don’t go unnoticed. Most likely, the advantage of anonymity no longer exists for Gibson. He won’t be able to sneak up on opposing teams.
Which is just fine with him.
“I went into the season just wanting to get on the floor and help the team win,” said Gibson.
Who knows where the game will take him.
The game of tennis took his mother, Susie, pretty far. She played Big Ten tennis at the University of Michigan.
“I plan to keep my options open,” said Gibson. “I’ll see how the season goes.”
Notable: Lake Forest’s Mead Payne had a great start to the season. He opened the tourney with 20 points, five rebounds and four assists in LF’s 65-43 win over Butler Prep on Nov. 20. Then, against Lincoln Park, Payne tallied a career-high 26 points to go along with nine boards. In the tourney finale against U-High, he finished with eight points and 11 rebounds. He capped the four-game set by earning all-tourney honors. … The Scouts also received solid contributions from Jed Thomas, Sean Trkla and Jack Van Hyfte. … Thomas had six points and four assists in the fifth-place game. He contributed five points and six rebounds against St. Ignatius, while he put seven points and four rebounds on the stat sheet against Butler. … Trkla’s best effort came against St. Ignatius: 11 points, three rebounds and two steals. He had six assists and eight rebounds against Butler. … Van Hyfte turned in a solid work against U-High: seven points, two steals. He had eight points in the win over Butler.