Gibson gets it done -- the right way


analysis by John Ring

You’ve got to give Matt Gibson a lot of credit.

Gibson just finished his third season as the coach for the womens basketball team at Carl Sandburg Junior College. In that short period of time, he has done the following things.

Matt Gibson put together a wildly successful team this season that was recruited and built mostly on local area talent. Let’s be very candid here. There’s a lot of successful high school girls basketball teams in the Galesburg area. Gibson didn’t recruit far and wide to build a winner. He stayed home and for that, he should be commended. The farthest recruit for this Gibson-team was in Wisconsin. Five of his 13 roster players were from either Galesburg or Knoxville. Another two were from ROWVA and Roseville. This is an area-wide junior college, supported by taxpayers of this area. Our taxbase doesn’t quite extend to Latvia and Estonia like it does in East Peoria.

"Local players bring local fans," said Gibson. "Don’t get me wrong. I won’t recruit an average player on a local team. I want good players. But I’d like to build this program up and sustain with local players."

The Chargers coach also put this team together and won without the usual controversies and traps associated with junior college basketball. When the Chargers had to forfeit four games this season because of the use of an ineligible player, Gibson stepped up front and took the blame instead of trying to hide anything. Sandburg College had nothing to hide and Gibson was smart enough to realize that the coverup is worse than the crime itself— only in this case, the mistake was an honest one.

"A lot of junior colleges wouldn’t have been up and up with that situation. She is a good kid and a good student but it was part of the learning process. When we found out, I went up to [Athletic Director]Steve Norton and said we need to step up and address this and be public with it. Was I sick to my stomach? Yes, but it’s something we wanted to do."

Finally, Matt Gibson has established a positive rapport with local area high school coaches. If you coach junior college basketball by Lake Storey, this should be a no-brainer. But it hasn’t always been that way.

A graduate of Knoxville High School and Knox College, Gibson’s arrival at Sandburg’s campus couldn’t have come at a better time. Nor could the college have picked a better person. Matt is married with two children, lives on a farm, has an eye for talent and has established roots in the area.

"We’re not at the level yet where we can be called a great program because we’ve had success for what, a year and a half? You have to do it three, four years in a row. Jerry Hise, a guy I admire and respect a lot, did it that way. The Silver Streak girls program is that way. They’ve earned everything they get because of what they have accomplished. If we keep winning, I think our support will fall into place."

"We’ve surrounded ourselves with great players who have a great attitude and are great students. What a positive that is because you can just focus on basketball."

Chargers womens basketball still has a ways to go, off the court as well. They need to promote their product and be more media and fan friendly. That’s something that Gibson admitted on Tuesday as well.

But Matt Gibson is on the right track. He loves basketball, loves to coach and wants to do the right thing— make Sandburg College a valuable tool in the continuing education and athletic progress of his players.

That’s the very concept of junior colleges and why they were created in the first place. JC’s help working class families afford an education for their children. They save money in tuition and book costs. Sandburg provides a quality education in the core basics of any Bachelors Degree.

Winning basketball is a natural fit for the Chargers. For too many years, there were nasty scandals, soap opera stories and a script with flawed characters.

The Chargers don’t need to compete with the Silver Streaks. If they put a competitive team on the court with some name recognition, everything should fall into place.

Matt Gibson is well on his way in doing this.


The Chargers womens basketball team capped off an amazing season with a ceremony at Sandburg’s campus in which the team was presented the trophy for their Arrowhead Conference championship.

"We had two goals before the season," said Coach Matt Gibson. "Win the Arrowhead Conference and advance to the NJCAA National Tournament. We fell one game short."

Sandburg— officially— finished with a record of 27-6. "But if I talk to a guy out on the street, I tell him we were 31-2," said Gibson. Because an academic discrepancy on a reserve player rendered her ineligible in four games, the Chargers had to forfeit them. "She’s a good student and a good person," said Gibson. "We all learned something on that. It was a mistake and we went on from there but we wanted to be very up front about it."

The Chargers not only won the Arrowhead Conference but also finished with a perfect 12-0 record. They placed two players (Amanda Cook and Laura Witherspoon) on the All-Conference first team and two players (Casey Berry and Danielle Steck) on the second team. Cook, a sophomore, was named as the Most Valuable Player in the conference.

Sandburg graduates four sophomores from the team and Gibson expects Steck to forego her sophomore season at Sandburg and transfer to Illinois State University to concentrate solely on her academics. But the Chargers will return Berry, who averaged a double-double and was the team’s leading rebounder and Witherspoon, who was having an excellent freshman season before knee injury late in the year slowed her down. Both players benefited from the more wide-open game that the junior college venue provides.

"We’ll have several players returning for next year who had great seasons for us," said Gibson. "Carissa Derham was probably our most improved player and we’ll be announcing some new recruits in a few weeks."