A Lady Pioneer on an arduous trail
Most right-handed kids would look at their coaches sideways after hearing such a request. Shoot with my left hand? What, are you crazy?
Western Mennonite boys basketball coach Gary Hull posed the question to a player on his eighth-grade girls team with an injured right wrist three years ago. Emma Gibb said yes, because saying no meant not playing basketball, and that goes against the fundamental being of Emma Gibb.
“She’s always wanting to learn, always working with little details,” says Robby Gilliam, the girls basketball coach at Western Mennonite. “She’s constantly wanting to get better. It shows the hunger that she has.”
Emma remains right-hand dominant, but she has gotten proficient at using her left hand to dribble, and even shoot if need be. As a 6-foot-2 forward on the Lady Pioneers basketball team who has been known to lead a fast break or two, Emma keeps coaches up at night with her skill.
This season, Emma has averaged team highs of 13.5 points and 10.1 rebounds in 21.5 minutes of court time per game. On Wednesday night, Emma racked up 19 points, 17 rebounds and two blocks (on 7-of-11 shooting) as Western Mennonite defeated Union in the OSAA Class 2A state tournament in Pendleton. (The Lady Pioneers play Class 2A Tri-River Conference rival Santiam tonight at 6:30 p.m.
Emma, the daughter of Ryan and Charlene Gibb of McMinnville, is working to become one of the best female basketball players in the state of Oregon, at any level. At Class 2A, with its mix of private schools and small-town public schools, she is already there. She has led the Lady Pioneers to runner-up finishes in the Tri-River Conference in each of the past two seasons. (Regis of Stayton, Western Mennonite’s arch nemesis atop the league, has won a state championship in each of the past four seasons.)
“She went through a period of leading us as a freshman floor leader,” Gilliam says. “We had numerous seniors on the team last year – it was less having to say, ‘You need to accept this freshman,’ and more of them accepting her with open arms.
“Any time as a player, when you see the biggest girl diving on the floor, selling out for loose balls, it really energizes the team.”
Emma began playing competitive basketball in fourth grade and started attending Western Mennonite School as a sixth-grader, following in the path of her older brother, Momo. (Momo, 24, is an adoptee from Liberia; the Gibb family also adopted a daughter, Jaypu, who is playing three sports for Western Mennonite as a freshman). Hull convinced her to join his traveling basketball team as a seventh-grader and immediately broke her game down into granular pieces.
“Emma’s always been tall, so there’s always been these comments about tall people and basketball,” Charlene Gibb says. “Initially, her time with Coach Gary Hull on those seventh- and eighth-grade teams, she learned the fundamentals. She was tall, but it didn’t matter if you were four feet tall or six feet tall, you learned to dribble the ball. You learned to shoot with your left hand. You learned to dribble the ball with both hands.
“She was forced to learn how to really shoot the ball correctly. That got her noticed.”
Western Mennonite has four girls on its roster listed at 6-feet or taller this season, a dangerous combination at any level of girls basketball. Emma prefers to play in the post but is equally adept at handling the ball and even shooting jump shots beyond 10 feet. (She is shooting 61.9 percent from the field on 239 attempts this season.)
“I think she’s become a really amazing player,” says Elizabeth Logsdon, a sophomore on the McMinnville High School girls basketball team. “She’s honestly an inspiration. She helped teach me some things and we kind of learned together. She’s great at keeping control of the ball and being smart.
Logsdon has been Emma’s best friend since the two met as second-graders at St. James Catholic School in McMinnville. Emma soon realized that her next-door neighbors were Logsdon’s grandparents, and the two girls would meet at the fence dividing the properties and talk about life and all it entails.
“Every chance we got, we were hanging out,” Emma says. “It was always this tall blonde girl and this tall brown-haired girl running around together.”
“Seeing who would be taller was a competition,” says Logsdon, who is 6 feet tall herself. “We just kind of went back and forth for a while. Eventually, I just stopped growing and she outgrew me. People always ask if she’s my mom or if we’re sisters.”
Emma and Elizabeth will attend each other’s games if the schedule allows and root on one another. Occasionally, Emma attends an open gym session out of season at McMinnville High School. Ryan Gibb says that Emma and McMinnville girls basketball coach Sean Coste have developed a cordial relationship. (“I know she’s a good player,” says Coste, who adds that he has not seen Gibb play in a high school game. “Every kid makes a decision on where she’s going to go.”)
As her game has grown at Western Mennonite and within the Oregon Elite AAU program, where she plays for coach Gary Lavender, Emma is attracting attention of four-year colleges.
The mail has trickled in slowly. Louisville has written her, and Oregon State maintains consistent contact through assistant coach Mark Campbell. Westmont College (Calif.) the reigning NAIA national champion, has also sent along mail. (Hey, it’s best to have options.)
Emma has not spent much time deliberating on college; she has not spent much time deliberating on many things beyond school and basketball. (Emma is also a goalkeeper on the Lady Pioneers soccer team; she earned first-team all-Class 3A/2A/1A Special District 3 honors in 2013.)
When the time comes to make a big decision, Gilliam is confident that Emma will handle herself appropriately.
“She’s really one of the nicest girls you will ever meet,” he says. “She really just lights up a room when she walks into it.
“But she can flick a switch. She’s got a tenacious attitude to her.”
Western Mennonite 66, Union 40
PENDLETON – Emma Gibb led all players with 19 points and 17 rebounds, and Madison Hull added 15 points and five assists as the Lady Pioneers routed the Lady Bobcats at the Class 2A state tournament at the Pendleton Convention Center on Wednesday.
Jenna Christenson added 11 points for Western Mennonite and Emily Loyd had six points and 13 rebounds. The Lady Pioneers led 34-12 at the half.
Sarah Good led the Lady Bobcats with 17 points and seven rebounds.