The Latest from Priority Sports
The Latest from Priority Sports
LAS VEGAS—Before participating in Team USA’s Olympic training camp as a member of USA Basketball’s Select Team, Taj Gibson knew he was a good player.
His performance during the week-long camp, however, convinced him that not only was his stock on the rise, but he was already a player that people around the NBA thought highly of, a fact that he may have been the last to know.
“I’m getting good feedback from the coaches, good feedback from the players. It’s been a great experience,” Gibson told CSNChicago.com Thursday, on the campus of the University of Nevada at Las Vegas, following the Select Team’s final practice.
“It’s crazy, just coming in and most of the superstars in the league talking to me on a personal level — Kobe talking to me, different guys — just talking about the game, things I can do better and it’s been great. The coaching staff, just meeting new coaches, meeting GMs. It’s been fun.”
Nate McMillan, a member of Team USA’s coaching staff and the former coach of the Portland Trail Blazers, expressed a great appreciation for Gibson’s blue-collar game.
“Gibson is solid. He’s been solid in the last couple of years with Chicago. I thought he stepped in and played well for them coming off the bench. [Carlos] Boozer had some kind of up-and-down games, but Gibson came in there and played very well,” McMillan told CSNChicago.com. “Even here, being with the Select group, there’s been conversation about him. They like what he’s doing, he’s played well here and he’s a guy that is going to be a solid pro, and I think 30 teams in the NBA — or 29 teams in the NBA — would love to have him.”
Minnesota Timberwolves power forward All-Star power forward Kevin Love, who battled against Gibson in college as part of the crosstown Los Angeles USC-UCLA rivalry, concurred: “I think Taj is a great player that I’d love to have on my team, really a sparkplug for the Bulls. Tough guy to play against, a guy who can score, a guy that’s a high-riser, always blocking shots. I have a lot of respect for his game.”
Indeed, with the NBA’s hectic free-agency happening simultaneously, it’s no surprise that Gibson’s peers have been sweet-talking the power forward, a restricted free agent next summer. While the 27-year-old would love to stay in Chicago, he admits that all the attention from some of the league’s upper-echelon players — not to mention rival coaches and executives who have observed the proceedings in Las Vegas — has been flattering.
“It’s crazy because I try not to think about it, but it’s hard when you’re playing against all these stars and they constantly say things to you like, ‘Yo, come to our team,’ and things like that. It’s real fun, but I try to just keep my mind clear. When the time happens, it’ll come. I’m patient, but I understand what this league is about, so I just focus on getting better and helping my team win games,” he explained.
“Even when I think people aren’t watching, they’re watching. They’re watching my every move, they’re seeing my statistics, how I’ve grown as a player and especially this week in this camp, I think I’ve grown even better, as far as being a leader, as far as scoring the ball, showing I can post up, showing everything I can do without the basketball and it’s been fun.”
Gibson attributes his strong play over the week to advice he received from teammate Derrick Rose, who himself participated with the Select Team back in 2008, prior to the last Olympics.
“I haven’t talked to him since I’ve been out here at USA, but everything he told me has been dead on. He taught me the things I need to do when I come out here. He told me to be really aggressive, guys are going to try to come at you and thanks to him, I came in really prepared,” said Gibson. “Just more confidence. I was scoring the ball well, in many different ways, running the floor well. It just felt real great to be back on the floor after a long injury late in the playoffs. I just had a good time.”
Though Gibson has been focused on performing at a high level against some of the NBA’s best players, he’s also been keeping a watchful eye on the comings and goings in free agency, especially his Bulls.
The laid-back New York native is attached to his teammates from the past two seasons, but after three seasons in the league, Gibson — who himself could be one of the top players at his position on the market next summer, assuming the Bulls don’t sign him to a long-term contract extension beforehand — knows it’s a business and regardless of who suits up with him when the 2012-13 campaign begins, he’ll remain devoted to continuing to improve his game.
“You never know what’s going to happen. I just try to sit back and watch what’s going to happen, try to stay in touch with the players and just hope for the best because I know it’s tough trying to keep a group of guys together for a long time and it’s a lot of ups and downs, but you’ve just got to stay focused and work on your game. For the most part, I just kept working on my game, kept working with Coach Thibs. I just came in this week with a high emphasis on working on my game and it’s paid off in dividends,” he said.
“Just keep playing basketball. Don’t take any days off, just keep working on my game. I’ll probably go back home, play in a couple tournaments, go to California, work out. Just keep it moving, just keep playing back and forth. I might even play in summer league, who knows? I just want to keep playing because after a great experience like this, I don’t want it to weather away. I just want to keep going.”