West Chicago's Bibbs worthy of all the attention
Like the defenses West Chicago's Tai Bibbs faced, the college recruiters were relentless.
Representatives of such diverse schools as Stanford and Dartmouth, Northern Illinois and Texas-El Paso came to watch Bibbs practice basketball or play in a game. Wildcats assistant coach Brian Ricci remembered 21 college programs that visited throughout the season. He admitted he may have forgotten others.
The still undecided sweepstakes even pitted brother against brother. The Mullins boys from Downers Grove South - Brendan an assistant at University of Illinois-Chicago, Bryan at Loyola - vied for the attention of the Wildcats' 6-foot-3 senior point guard.
The attention was met by souped-up defensive schemes and hounding foes determined to dim the spotlight on Bibbs and his 16 college offers.
"Honestly, it's been difficult," Bibbs said. "Mentally and physically it's kind of taken strength to get through it. But it's definitely going to prepare me for what I have to deal with in the future, so I'm thankful for it."
If frustrated, Bibbs didn't show it.
"He's a classy kid, just handled himself exceptionally well on the court the last four times we played them. He's a tough competitor, but he kept his composure," said Glenbard East coach Scott Miller.
Admiration at the high school level was widespread and profuse.
"Every single team that we have played the opposing coach has come up to me and said, by far he's the best player we've faced the entire year," said West Chicago coach Bill Recchia.
And that makes Tai Bibbs the captain of the 2016-17 Daily Herald DuPage County All-Area Boys Basketball Team.
First, the numbers
A three-year starter - teaming his first two seasons with older brother Mikey - Tai Bibbs averaged an even 26 points a game for the 16-12 Wildcats, racking up 701 points.
He made 74 3-point baskets, converting a solid 38 percent from beyond the arc. Conversely, he attempted 240 free throws and made 77 percent of them. Bibbs averaged 4.7 rebounds and led West Chicago with 1.6 steals a game. Maybe most amazing is that for a player who had the ball in his hands as often as he did, Bibbs was credited with more assists than turnovers.
He finished with 1,390 points, West Chicago's third all-time scorer behind John Konchar, now at Indiana-Purdue-Fort Wayne - where Bibbs holds an offer - and his own coach, Recchia.
"From an athletic standpoint Bibbs is tough to defend," said Glenbard South coach Wade Hardtke. "You can't put a 'big' on him because he's too quick. You can't put a guard on him because he jumps over you."
The most valuable player of West Chicago's Thanksgiving tournament and Upstate Eight Conference Valley Division player of the year despite his team tying for fifth place, Bibbs displayed his full arsenal at DeKalb's Chuck Dayton Holiday Classic, earning all-tournament honors while leading the Wildcats to the consolation title.
In four games Bibbs averaged a tourney-best 32.8 points, made 48 percent of his 3-point shots and 59 percent from the floor overall. He surpassed 1,000 points in a 33-point effort against Hampshire and scored his high of 41 points on 15-of-20 shooting in the consolation win over Belvidere North.
"I was aware of his numbers, and his numbers are amazing on their own. But I did not realize how much everyone is doing things out of the ordinary to get the ball out of his hands," said Glenbard West coach Tim Hoder, whose hours of film study paid off by eliminating West Chicago in the Class 4A playoffs.
Box-and-1, triangle-and-2, faceguarding, double-teaming in full- and half-court, sending an extra man at him off ball screens. Bibbs kept coming. He elevated for 3s and feathery pullup jumpers. He drove for epic tomahawk dunks, picked people's pockets for breakaway slams.
"You can do a fantastic job on him and he still may score, and there's just not that many high school kids you can say that about," Hoder said.
"He is as humble as if he was the last man on the bench," Ricci said. "Your best player has to be your hardest worker, Tai fits that also. He leads drills and usually works harder than his teammates. He understands he is under a microscope and acts accordingly."
Recchia noted Bibbs' ability to accept coaching, being the first to arrive at practice and the last to leave. He praised Bibbs' desire to work with younger players; Bibbs himself called sophomore teammates Isaac Nelson and Jordan Wilkins "my younger brothers."
Those traits started at home. His parents are the former Sarah Meyers, once a star track athlete at West Chicago, and Chris Bibbs, a self-described attitude problem on the court at Lake Park.
"I was definitely more of the type of basketball player who couldn't be told anything," Chris Bibbs said. "I tried to teach my kids to be the exact opposite of who I was in high school."
It's worked. Tai Bibbs, who said his grade-point average is around 4.7 on a 4-point scale, handled all those recruiters, all those clutching defenders, with style.
"Everyone always says to try to enjoy your senior year the best you can and try to avoid all the distractions and focus on the important things," he said. "School, family and basketball. Obviously, that's important to me."