Irish guard TJ Gibbs embracing larger role
Over the past several years, Notre Dame men's basketball has become a national name, with success on the biggest stages.
With each passing season though, new faces are needed to step in and take the torch. This year, that role has been filled partly with the emergence of TJ Gibbs.
"It's definitely been a roller-coaster of ups and downs," Gibbs told ABC57 ahead of Wednesday's game against North Carolina State.
The sophomore guard has started every game this season, and has seen a vast increase in minutes and responsibility since his freshman year.
"[I've been] leaning on my teammates and trying to get it done," he said. "Just trying to find a way to fit in with everyone else."
While Gibbs may be a new face to a casual fan, even he feels different this year, having transformed his body in the offseason.
"It was a long process," he said. "I lost about 20 pounds, which was something I'm really proud of."
When asked if he missed any specific foods during the season, there was an easy answer.
"Chicken fingers," he replied immediately. "I'm a big chicken fingers guy. Had to lay off of those and lay off the potato chips."
Now that he has shown his motivation, Mike Brey has added Gibbs into the fold by pairing him with another so-called "I-95 Guard" in Matt Farrell.
"With me and Matt, the first thing we always talk about is having the Jersey toughness," he said, describing what he believed to be an I-95 guard. "I think that carries through it with all of I-95. Just having that toughness and the will to win."
With two older brothers who played college hoops in their own right, Gibbs came to Notre Dame with an understanding of what it takes to succeed at this level, but he says that relationship with Farrell has only pushed him even more.
"Matt is our leader, our guard leader, our team leader," said Gibbs. "Leaning on him and seeing that toughness only makes me more confident."
With the Irish backcourt now the focal point of a roster without Bonzie Colson, Gibbs will have to earn his success more than ever.
However, he says Brey convinced him from day one that he could become the latest in a long line of talented Irish guards.
"[I loved] how open and truthful he was throughout the experience," Gibbs said of the recruiting process. "Everything I'll get here, I'll have to earn. That's something I loved to hear from him. You can see it through the way he taught Pat [Connaughton], Jerian [Grant] and Demetrius [Jackson], the way they all know how to win. It shows from him and how it trickles down. "
Now without the team's star and captain, Gibbs and the rest of the Irish are tasked with upholding that tradition through the gauntlet of ACC play.
"If we have an off night or don't play as well as we want to, things don't go our way, we know we have to get ready and get focused because we'll have another tough opponent to prove ourselves again."
The Irish cruised past North Carolina State, winning 88-58. Farrell left the game in the first half with an ankle injury, but Gibbs stepped up once again, scoring a game-high 22 points.
Notre Dame is now 2-0 in ACC play, and will travel to Syracuse this weekend for the first conference road game.