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If Gibson enters the 2006 NBA draft, one Eastern Conference scout says, "I have him as the Number 1 point guard on the board."
DANIEL WAS not the first member of his family to grace the courts at Fond�. His father, Byron, a 6'5" point guard with a lethal shot ("He could hit from a few steps inside half-court," Daniel says), is about as old school as it gets on the Houston basketball scene. Byron starred for Jones High in the '70s--with Cheryl, a cheerleader, supporting him from the sideline--and played for the University of Houston before the Phi Slamma Jamma era. When Drexler and Michael Young made their official recruiting visit to the school, Byron was their host. At 23 he signed up for the inaugural season of the Fond� Pro-Am league and went on to play for three of the rec center's title teams. ( NBA veterans Sam Cassell and Rashard Lewis played in the league last summer.) "[Back home] everybody knows my pops," Daniel says, "and if we walk around together, I'm 'Little Gib.'"
Little Gib emulated his father in every way, from Byron's humble demeanor (Byron calls Daniel the Quiet Assassin because his son shuns trash talk) to his choice of high schools (Daniel led Jones to its first state title since 1965) to his jersey number (Daniel wore 22 through high school) to his shooting ability. When Byron saw that his son relied too much on crossover drives, he forced Daniel to develop his outside game. "I told him, 'As you get older, you won't be able to get to the basket that easy, so we need to find you a shot from the perimeter that nobody can stop,'" Byron said. "And lo and behold, it was from 30 feet."
On a cool evening last month Byron, 48, stood in the backyard of the Gibsons' one-story house in Houston's tough Southpark neighborhood, gazing at the portable hoop he had put up years ago for Daniel, the youngest of his and Cheryl's four children. Daniel used to pound the ground around the basket for hours most nights, evading the family's ball-hawking dogs, Ice and Blue, as he perfected his trick shots--banking the ball off the roof, bouncing it off the chain-link fence and arcing it over the tree--and turned the grassy area into a dirt patch.
"Ever since Daniel went to Texas," Byron says, "we've got grass again."
EARLY ONE morning last December, Byron was awakened by a phone call from Daniel, who sounded desperate. "Get me out," the son said. Daniel had suffered through a sleepless night following a 1-for-7 shooting performance in an 85--70 win over Texas- Arlington, after which his coach, Rick Barnes, told his 7--1 team, "We know for a fact that every time Kenton Paulino"--Gibson's backup--"steps on the court, the Texas Longhorns get better." Gibson had started in every one of the first eight games, and those words hit him like a punch in the gut. "My eyes got all watery," Gibson says. "I was like, Man, why am I here?"
The quiet confidence Gibson exuded on the court began to waver. In Houston he had always been the golden child--at Fond�, at Dowling Middle School, with the Hoops, at Jones High--and he finished as the city's alltime leading high school scorer, then graduated sixth in his class. Ever since the seventh game of his freshman year, in which Gibson outscored Willowridge High senior Ford 23--21 (prompting then Texas assistant Rob Lanier to tell Barnes, "I've found your next great point guard after T.J."), Gibson was destined to follow Ford to Austin.
Barnes, however, was not about to turn over his team to the freshman point guard without first testing him. "I knew I had to get him ready quickly," Barnes says. "I challenged him every day"--sometimes when Gibson turned the ball over in practice, Barnes made the entire team run wind sprints--"but it was because I saw greatness in him."
Byron knew his son was being pushed as never before, but he would not allow Daniel to buckle. "You're going to stay there," Byron said in response to Daniel's crack-of-dawn plea. "And you're going to suck it up."
Two days later, in an 89--88 loss at sixth-ranked Wake Forest, Gibson scored 10 second-half points to keep the game close. He realized, "I'm no punk--I can play out here. Coach was trying to get me to that point." His coming of age came just in time. After the Horns improved to 14--3, they were suddenly stripped of two starters. Freshman forward LaMarcus Aldridge suffered a hip injury, and sophomore swingman P.J. Tucker was declared academically ineligible. Barnes says he was forced "to put more on Daniel than on any other freshman we've coached at Texas." The Longhorns finished the season 20--11 after losing to Nevada in the first round of the NCAA tournament. That early exit, says Gibson, "is not the legacy I want to leave."