By Doug Gorman
When Gordon Gibbons took over the Clayton College and State University men's basketball team in the summer of 2001, it was in disarray.
The Lakers had won just 20 games the previous two seasons, including 13 in the Peach Belt Conference.
Jump ahead three years later, and Gibbons has turned the Lakers into a perennial conference power, leading them to a 20-win season this year.
As Clayton State heads into the Peach Belt Conference tournament starting today against UNC Pembroke at 8 p.m. in Augusta, the Lakers are enjoying their best season yet under the direction of one of the most successful NCAA Division II coaches in the history of the game.
With a good showing in the Peach Belt Conference tournament, Clayton State could receive its first-ever bid to the NCAA Division II tournament.
Clayton State enters the postseason with a 20-7 record and a 10-6 mark in league action.
Gibbons recently captured his 300th-career college win during the Lakers' 71-57 victory at North Florida.
Gibbons' trek to the 300-win milestone was the fastest in NCAA Division II history.
The coach's ability to produce winning basketball teams was what led CCSU athletic director Mason Barfield to offer Gibbons the job three years ago.
"He knows what it takes to put winning basketball teams on the floor," said Barfield. "He's done a great job of promoting Clayton State basketball in the community. We have set records for attendance this year."
Gibbons came to the attention of Barfield while coaching at Florida Southern.
During his 10 seasons at the school, Gibbons posted nine 20-win seasons, and led the team to six NCAA tournament bids, two appearances to the Elite 8 and one trip to the Division II Final Four.
Gibbons wasted little time resurrecting the Lakers' program when he arrived on the Morrow campus. In his first season, the squad finished with a 19-9 overall mark and a 15-4 record in the Peach Belt Conference standings.
The strong showing propelled the Lakers to the regular-season PBC title.
"He really set the bar high for our program that first season," said Barfield. "The thing about it, and I think he would tell you this, we are still not where we want to be. Our goal is to make the NCAA tournament every year, and bring back the national championship trophy to Clayton State."
Gibbons has had a definite impact on the players and assistants who have come through his program. That includes his son Jay.
The younger Gibbons played three years at Florida Southern before transferring to Clayton State for his senior year when his father signed on with the Lakers.
Jay has now entered the family business.
After serving as a graduate assistant with CCSU last year, Jay is in his first season as an assistant at Georgia Southwestern College in Americus.
"He didn't ever push me to coach, but he had a great deal of influence on me," said the youngest of the Gibbons coaches. "I see how much he loves coaching and teaching. We both have friends who make big money, but hate their jobs. We love going to work every day."
In addition to his success on the court, Gibbons is also involved in the community. His camps and clinics are a success. He has also been known to send players to speak at local schools.
"We want area students to become familiar with Clayton State basketball," said Barfield. "If there is a high school player who is a good fit for Clayton State we want them to know about us."
Assistant coach Cory Baldwin is in charge of recruiting the Southern Crescent and Clayton State's reputation is growing.
Adamson Middle School coach Charlie Fraizer, who set the school record for career starts with 104 while playing for the Lakers from 1998-2002, has been impressed by what Gibbons has done for the local college basketball team.
"When I played we had people come to the games, but not like they do now," he said. "It's been great to see the fan support grow like it has since he has been there."
Jay Gibbons calls his dad one of the most competitive men he knows.
"He plays by the rules, but he hates to lose. Even when he is coaching against one of his best friends he barely speaks to them before the game. After the game they are friends again," said Jay.
When describing Gibbons, those who know him tend to freely use the word passionate in some form or another.
"You never enjoyed his practices because they were so intense, but you could always tell how much passion he has for the game of basketball," said Frazier. "That rubbed off on his players. I hope as I continue to coach, I will be able to keep that passion for the game the way he has over the years."
University of Mobile head coach Joe Niland calls Gibbons a student of the game.
Niland served as Gibbons' assistant coach at Florida Southern and has always been impressed by the Clayton State coach's knowledge of the game.
Niland comes from a long line of basketball coaches, including his father, brother and cousins, but he says Gibbons had a huge impact on his coaching career.
"The game of basketball has changed, and he has changed with it. He is always studying the game. Even if he's watching a game on television for fun, he keeps a notepad near by," Niland said. " There has been many days where he would come in after watching a late game on television with some new play, but more than anything else it's his love for the game that has made him so successful."