When talking to Master Gunnery Sgt. Jeff Gibson, you can’t help but to think that he is the definition of a Marine. Gibson, a strategic mobility chief with the II Marine Expeditionary Force on Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, joined the Marine Corps in 1996. Two years later, he turned down a chance to play for the All-Marine basketball team, opting instead to advance his career in the Marines by accepting an opportunity for promotion, a choice he says was a no brainer.
Gibson recently finished up his first competition as head coach of the All-Marine women’s basketball team at the Armed Forces Championship that was held at Naval Station Mayport, Florida from June 2-8. The Marines went 1-6 over the course of the tournament and lost to the Air Force in the 3rd place game 76-70, but this year was just the beginning of what Gibson plans to be the rise of a gold-medal winning All-Marine women’s basketball program. What Gibson may have missed out on when passing up a spot on the ‘98 team, he has found in coaching. Gibson, who says God led him to coaching, lives to compete.
“The spirit I get from being around other competitors, it just gives you a different sense of life,” Gibson said. “It gives me some type of youthfulness. It gives me a different type of energy. I love being around people that love to compete in a game that I truly love.”
Two of Gibson’s players on the All-Marine women’s team from MCB Camp Lejeune who share a similar passion for the game of basketball are Sgt. Kapree McGowan, non-commissioned officer-in-charge (NCOIC), passenger travel office, and Sgt. Brittney Porter, NCOIC attached to the installation personnel administration center, both first-time All-Marine team members. The two shooting guards grew up about an hour away from each other in northern Illinois. For Porter, who led the team in three-pointers made at the Armed Forces Championship with 14, basketball was at the core of her life as a kid.
“It’s a part of my culture,” Porter said. “Growing up in the westside of Chicago, that’s what you did to stay out of trouble, and when you become attached to it, you become good at it. So I play for family and the people that couldn’t really make it out I guess you could say.”
McGowan plays for family, too.
“My mother taught me how to play when I was in second or third grade,” McGowan said. “She passed away when I was a freshman in high school, so I still play in remembrance of her for the most part. I also have an extreme love for the game. It’s just one of those things you get attached to. You just can’t let go.”
At the Armed Forces Championship, the Marines were competing against former college players and players who have had professional careers overseas. There was a big height difference between the Marines and the other branches as well, but what they might have lacked in height they made up for with their warrior ethos that has long been developed by the camaraderie shared throughout the Marine Corps.
“The difference between us and the outside world, and no offense, is we are family,” Gibson said. “We are in the business of saving lives and in saving lives you have to be willing to be intimate with a person.”
Both McGowan and Porter agree that Gibson is the best and most motivating coach they have ever played for.
“He is inspiring,” Porter said. “Not just as a basketball coach but as a Marine, as a leader. You aspire to be like him, to be better every day.”
A mantra that Gibson has given to the All-Marine team is, “You may have brought a lot of ball players, but we brought more warriors than you.” Warrior is a word you will hear a lot if you spend any amount of time around the team. It is that battle-ready mentality the helps separate these Marines from their competition.
"[Coach] is very serious about being a warrior,” Porter said. “When you go to war you have to be ready. Can I trust you to my left and right? Can I trust that you will take that bullet for me or vice versa? I know that he’d do that for certain, without a question, without a doubt.”
Other members of this year’s All-Marine women’s basketball team who are stationed at Camp Lejeune are Cpl. Vanessa Davenport, Sgt. Adrianna Billups and Sgt. Alyshia Crawford. Gibson, who is also a coach for the Camp Lejeune basketball team, says the All-Marine women’s team could use all the talent they can get.
“We are calling for all warrior athletes that can compete at this level to submit your [application] package, to be good Marines so that you can receive the support from your command, so that you can leave for only three and a half weeks to go represent the Marine Corps proudly,” Gibson said. “In doing so, you may be the next person that is going to represent Team USA in the World Games.”
LCpl. Zatorya Cook was chosen to represent the Marine Corps on the All-Armed Forces team at the International Military Sports Council (CISM) Military World games in China later this year. Cook was the first woman Marine selected to the team in 10 years. Cpt. Veronica French, LCpl. Mercedes Suarez and Sgt. Crawford are Team USA alternates.
If you are a woman Marine interested in competing on the All-Marine women’s basketball team, Coach Gibson asks that you reach out to him today at firstname.lastname@example.org.