Ballard entered the 2022-2023 boys basketball season with a couple of huge question marks.
The Bombers, state Qualifiers from 2019-2021 and a 16-7 team a year ago, lost the last big pieces of that amazing four-year run with the graduation of 6-3 guard Ashton Hermann and powerful 6-7 center Kale Krough.
Hermann, now at Drury College in Springfield, Missouri, led all of Class 3A in scoring last year at 27.1 points per game. Krogh, now a member of the Iowa football team, averaged 11.3 points, 9.5 rebounds and 2.2 blocks.
Enter Jude Gibson.
Gibson has taken the basketball court by Storm for Ballard to start off his freshman year.
“Jude has got it all,” Ballard senior guard Austin Shoen said. “He’s got the athleticism and he can shoot, score and pass. But on top of that his attitude is really good. He’s got accountability.”
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Through Ballard’s first two games Gibson is averaging 20.0 points, 5.5 assists and 4.0 steals.
The first game of Gibson’s varsity career saw him put up 21 points, six steals, five rebounds and four assists in a thrilling 64-62 comeback win on the road over Adel-Desoto-Minburn Dec. 2. Four days later Gibson recorded 19 points, six assists and two steals in a 75-69 home loss to Bondurant-Farrar.
As lofty as those numbers appear, Gibson is nowhere near satisfied with where he is at.
“Even after a quite successful first night and following it up with another good night he was texting me asking me what we saw that he could improve on,” Ballard Coach Jeff Schertz said. “He’s got some big goals for himself. We can help him get there, but he’s the one that’s going to make it happen.”
Ever since he started playing AAU ball in fourth grade, Gibson has been in his comfort zone on the basketball court.
“It’s having a confident mindset and playing hard,” Gibson said. “Believe in yourself and put work into it. Over time that work shows off.”
As the point guard he has embraced being the team’s quarterback on offense. It’s a lot to handle, but Gibson has been more than up to the challenge.
“I don’t see it as a load,” Gibson said. “I’ve been working on playing point guard all my life. It just kind of comes natural to me — handling the ball and controlling the game.”
His ability to slash, drive and dish has created havoc for every opposing team he’s ever faced.
“I like to drive,” Gibson said. “Finishing off two, off one or kicking it out when I don’t have a layup. I’ve just got to remember where my teammates are at, what I’m going to do with the ball and who’s guarding me. I like finding open cutters and getting them open looks. A lot of times when I’m driving teams are helping off and I’ll see that.”
If his opponents sag off him to cut off his passing Lanes Gibson usually makes them play with his speed and ball-handling skills.
“He’s got a burst,” Schertz said. “That’s hard to teach. There probably aren’t too many people who can keep in front of him.”
Schertz also loves Gibson’s ability to take care of the basketball.
“He’s got very few turnovers relative to how much the ball is in his hands,” Schertz said. “I think he’s at 2-1 with his assist to turnover ratio, but there are a number of other good passes in there.”
As good as he is on offense, Gibson may stand out even more defensively.
“His defense is crazy,” Ballard senior guard Mason Gorsh said. “You’ll know when he turns it on. He can get steals whenever he wants.”
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Gibson said he learned a lot from watching Hermann and listening to what he had to say. Gibson recognizes he may go too fast at times or get out of position on occasion, but he is willing to be patient and listen to Schertz and his older teammates.
“Just believe in your teammates and your Coach and what he’s running,” Gibson said. “You just have to trust in each other a lot.”
As good as he’s looked so far, Gibson is just getting started.
He and the rest of his teammates are playing with a big chip on their shoulders this season.
“In a way we are starting over,” Schertz said. “The past few years we’ve had multiple guys returning with in-game varsity experience and this year we’ve got one guy with legitimate varsity experience. We are kind of turning a page into a different time in Ballard basketball.”
Many Outsiders expected Ballard to take a step back after losing Hermann and Krogh, but Gibson and the inexperienced Bombers are determined to prove their doubters wrong.
“People talk about it all the time saying we don’t have Ashton, so we won’t be good,” Gibson said. “For us that’s motivation to play Harder and show we are still up there and still compete and win games. ”
Gibson knows his best days are still way ahead of him. But he’s ready to make an impact right now and help show the rest of the Raccoon River Conference and the 3A field that Ballard isn’t going anywhere.
“Our goal is obviously to win state,” Gibson said. “I want to get better individually and as a team. People are doubting that we won’t be good, so we have to work extra hard.”