UNCASVILLE — If he had lesser character and a more selfish attitude, Alex Gibbens would not have been in the position — or likely had the opportunity — to play a starring role in the run to the New Canaan boys basketball team’s first state title in 57 years.
The highest profile player on the Rams at the start of the season, Gibbens went through a slump and at midseason was moved by coach Danny Melzer from the starting lineup to coming in off the bench.
Gibbens could have been a disruption to a team that used cohesion as its biggest weapon. In this era of parental overstep, Melzer could have been confronted with a “start him or lose him” headache.
Instead, Gibbens decided he was going to be the best sixth man he could. So it was fitting that the junior played two of his best games at the end of the year, highlighted by making all five of his field goals and scoring a team-high 13 points in the Rams’ 55-39 win over Granby for the Division IV title on Saturday at Mohegan Sun.
“Luckily my shots were going in,” Gibbens humbly said.
When Gibbens struggled early, Melzer thought back to him own playing days at Stamford and a conversation he had with his coach, Jim Moriarty. Melzer had an idea to jump-start Gibbens and help the team.
“I called him in my office and I told him I was in a similar situation my junior year,” said Melzer. “I had a pretty good sophomore year and my junior year I got off to a slow start. Mo sat me down and said listen, I’m going to bring you off the bench, maybe change things up a little bit. Try to get you going a little bit. From that point of the season on I played much better.”
Melzer said he gave Gibbens a choice rather than an edict. Gibbens decided to put team over ego.
“It was pretty hard. Coach thought it was best for the team so I listened to him and it worked out eventually at the end, but I did have spurts where it was in my head,” Gibbens said. “I got out of it eventually. I just wanted our team to win so I was happy to play the role that coach gave me.”
With this New Canaan team, which relied so much on the balanced contributions from so many, Gibbens’ minutes were really just reallocated. The Rams were a rare team where most points scored and minutes played varied from game to game.
Gibbens’ attitude made an impression on his teammates and his coach.
“It’s very hard to be an upperclassman and lose that spot, but he bounced back better than anyone could imagine,” said Matt Brand, who scored 12 points in the final. “This kid loves basketball and that’s exactly what we need on a team like this.”
Added Melzer, “To his credit he said ‘Coach, whatever you think is best for the team, that’s what I want to do. I’ve come off the bench on AAU teams.’ In 2019, that’s rare.”
Gibbens might not have been on the court at the start, but he played an important role at the end of games. Gibbens hit a long game-winning 3-point shot at the buzzer against Brien McMahon. In a state semifinal win over St. Joseph, Gibbens finished with 16 points.
Playing his best in New Canaan’s final two games was a fitting reward.
“I just felt we need to win,” Gibbens said. “I wanted to win so bad and I did everything I could to help get us there.”