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Gibbons shares his love of basketball with Martinique youngsters

By Doug Gorman

dgorman@new-daily.com

The French territory of Martinique is crazy about its soccer.

However, some sports demographics on the island might be changing just a little bit, and Clayton State head coach Gordon Gibbons is responsible.

Gibbons' basketball relationship with the picturesque French West Indies island dates back almost 25 years when he made his first visit there for a basketball tournament.

Now, the Clayton State coach makes an annual soujourn to Martinique for a 10-day basketball camp.

Bringing his knowledge of the game to the French speaking nation goes along with a philosophy the Lakers' coach first came up with in the 1970s.

"If I ever got into college coaching and if I got a call from a foreign county, I would help them get exposure here in America. In return, I would go to their country and run a camp and help them get better," Gibbons said.

That led to Gibbons' first international trip to the country of Panama.

But in 1984, Gibbons hooked up with the director of Goldstar basketball in Martinique after he got a call from its director, Charles Feeland.

At the time, Gibbons had just left South Florida University and was coaching at Tampa Catholic High School.

Gibbons agreed to take his first team to the Island with some of Florida's most talented 15-and under-players.

"This was before AAU basketball," Gibbons said. "We played against teams from Martinique, Guadeloupe and St. Lucia."

Some members of that American 15-and-under team included Chris Corchiani, who later went to N.C. State, David White, who played at Florida State , Livingston Chapman and Renaldo Garcia, who went on to Florida.

Gibbons remembers the living conditions took some getting used to.

Players stayed in the police barracks where there was no glass on the windows and mosquito netting covered the openings.

Gibbons and his wife Joyce had a little better accommodations, staying at one of the local hotels.

Food consisted of fresh pineapple, bananas and fish with the heads still attached.

"There were no McDonald's," he said. "I think the only American place to eat was a Popeyes Chicken. So the kids spent a lot of time there, but they got to experience the culture, right down to the topless beaches."

Gibbons went back to the island with college teams in 1987 and 1989.

The Clayton State coach started his first camp in 1991.

He even got his young son Jay, a former player at Clayton State player and a current assistant coach at Savannah Sate into the act.

"Jay was only 11 at the time, but there were not other coaches at the camp, so he ran the ball-handling station. I told him he had been to camp for five or six years, and he knew about ball handling. So here he was 11 years old and coaching guys who were 17 and older. I guess it was his first taste in coaching."

This time when the Gibbons returned to the island, their hotel was a little nicer except for the shower.

" I had to use the outdoor shower at the pool and if you ever have used a pool shower, you know there is one temperature-cold. "From then on, Mrs. G, said 'if we are going back we would have to stay in a hotel with showers in the room."

Since then, the camp staff has stayed in the same hotel on the island, a nice resort with plenty of amenities.

All sports in Martinique are run through clubs rather than schools, and Goldstar, one of the island's basketball teams, has come to the United States for years to play exhibition games against other colleges.

"What keeps the relationship strong is they bring a team to the states to play college teams. I helped them get games. They have brought a squad here every year since 9/11. We had to cancel that year."

When Gibbons was at Florida Southern, his coaching stop before coming to Clayton State in 2001, he recruited three players off the island.

He hasn't brought players to Clayton State from the island, but he knows there is plenty of talent in Martinique.

"Recruiting has changed so much. At one time, we were the only game in town, but because of the Internet and e-mail, players can contact schools on their own," he said. "With satellite television, and the internet, players can watch games from the states. They get plenty of exposure now."

Gibbons admits basketball in Martinique received a huge lift in 1992 when the "Dream Team", a collection of NBA superstars such as Larry Bird, Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan began playing in the Olympics.

At the camp, Gibbons and his staff have as many as 200 boys and girls aged 7 to 20 take part in the week-long event. Many show up in NBA jerseys.

"One day a camper might come in an Allen Iverson jersey, and the next day in a Shaquille O'Neal jersey from his days in Orlando, so they know about the NBA," he said.

Starting in 1995 Gibbons began taking an assistant coach with him to help out at the camp.

Current Clayton State assistant head coach Brent Buchanan, who has been with Gibbons since he arrived on the Morrow campus, has been going with Gibbons for years,

This year, current CSU women's coach Dennis Cox also helped out at the camp.

If there is a challenge for Gibbons and his staff, it is the language. Most campers speak French.

That hasn't always worked in the staff's favor.

Gibbons remembers at the first camp, a female interpreter worked with them. She knew English, but had no clue about basketball lingo.

"When we said things like pick and roll, she had no clue what we were talking about," he said.

That made it difficult for the veteran coach to get some of his points across.

He has overcome that one draw back.

"There are some older players who speak some English now, so they are able to help us out," he said.

Regardless of the language barrier, the camp has turned into a success.

The progress I have seen is unbelieveable. When we first went down in the 1990s, the level of basketball was terrible. Athleticism was there, but there was no basketball skill. Soccer is huge. You see pick up soccer games, but now the young people have really jumped into basketball, especially the tall and lanky guys. They all want to go on to college or play professionally in Europe. The French Federation has done a good job to see that the really good players develop and play for the national team."

Gibbons hopes his relationship with basketball players in Martinique continues to grow.

Clayton State is expected to again play members of the Martinique Goldstar Club as one of its exhibition games later this year as Gibbons continues his relationship with Martinique.

"We haven't set a date yet, but we know they will be back," Gibbons said.