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The next chapter

USF freshman guard Michael Bibby Jr. has averaged 8.8 points per game and has made a 3-pointer in each game in 2016. ORACLE PHOTO/JACKIE BENITEZ

Since the time he could walk, Michael Bibby Jr.’s life has revolved around the game of basketball.

Born into a bloodline that includes longtime NBA players Henry (grandfather) and Mike Bibby (father), it wasn’t long before Bibby Jr. was naturally drawn to the game. 

“There’s videos of me on YouTube when I was maybe a year old with a basketball and I was walking around, ‘Ball, ball. Shoot, shoot,’” Bibby Jr. said. “I feel like I just grew up wanting to play. 

“I mean they probably put a ball in my hands and I just fell in love with it, but they gave me the option that they would be by my side if I decided not to play basketball. So, I devoted my life to it.”

Now, he is beginning the next chapter of the Bibby legacy as a freshman guard for the USF men’s basketball team. Through five games, Bibby Jr. has averaged 8.8 points per game and has the second-most assists. He’s made at least one 3-pointer in each game and earned his first start on Monday against Kennesaw State. 

“Mike has done a phenomenal job in the roles and the amount of minutes we’ve asked him to play,” USF coach Orlando Antigua said. “Whether it be starting, or coming off the bench, he just has a great feel and IQ about him.

“He’s certainly someone who can space the floor with the way he shoots the ball and he passes the ball extremely well.”

Growing up with a father in the NBA, Michael Jr. had the unique experience of watching his role model play on the sport’s biggest stage. He met the game’s top stars and had an inside look at life in the Association.

But with all the benefits and perks of sharing the namesake of an NBA player, there also came the harsh realities that go hand-in-hand of the life of a professional athlete. 

Michael Jr. didn’t remember much about the first time his dad was traded  — Bibby Sr. was sent to the Sacramento Kings in 2001 from the Vancouver Grizzlies for Jason Williams — but when Bibby Sr. was traded to the Atlanta Hawks for a package of four players in 2008, the family didn’t follow. 

Michael Jr.’s mom was pregnant with one of his three younger sisters and the family had settled down in Phoenix. 

“It was a lot different, because growing up, my dad was always there,” Bibby Jr. said. “So, when he had to leave, I was really sad. I wouldn’t talk to him when he did have to leave because I was so sad and I didn’t want to talk about it or anything, it was tough.”

With his dad halfway across the country, Bibby’s mom was the do-it-all figure of the household, as she raised Michael Jr. and his three younger sisters. 

Even with the daily struggle of raising three girls and taking care of a house by herself, Bibby Jr. said his mom would often offer to rebound for him and never missed a single one of his games. 

When his dad retired from the NBA in 2012 at 33, the senior Bibby filled his new free time by supporting his son, who was a freshman playing high school basketball at Shadow Mountain High School — the same school Bibby Sr. played at years before. 

It didn’t take long before his passion for the game would be too much for the retired guard to contain. 

Just months into his son’s high school career, Bibby had to be removed from the stands by police officers for arguing over officiating with the referees. 

By the time the next season rolled around, Bibby had already found a new job to fill his time — serving as coach of Shadow Mountain’s basketball team.

“My freshman year, I had a different coach and we didn’t do that well,” Bibby Jr. said “He got fired or resigned or something, I’m not really sure. After that (my dad) came in and took over. We knew where he’s been that he has a great knowledge of the game.

“It was no different than him coaching me when I was 8, 10 years old. It’s a big advantage, I feel like that’s how I gained most of my IQ. Just being smart on the court, being aware of where passes are going to be, dribbling the ball certain ways, getting by defenders, just all the little things that help my game a lot.”

Despite undergoing two knee surgeries to first repair his meniscus and to then simply remove it altogether, Bibby Jr. bounced back to lead his team to state championships in his sophomore and senior seasons. 

After he averaged only 6.6 points and 3.9 assists per game his freshman season, Bibby Jr. went on to average 18 points and 6.8 assists in his final three years of high school. 

He was raised to be competitive at a young age, and it was only natural that his fire for winning translated to the basketball court. 

“Everything (my dad and I) do, we write it down who was first or second. We play video games, shooting games, we play Ping-Pong. Everything’s a competition with him.

“I’ve always been around winning. My freshman year in high school, they won eight games the year before, and then the next year we went 25-7. We won the state championship the next year, got to the semifinals my junior year when I didn’t play, and then won it again the next year. In AAU, we’d win a championship every weekend. I didn’t like to lose. My dad is competitive, I’m competitive, and my sisters are competitive. It just runs in the family.”

Not unlike his father’s journey with basketball, Michael Jr.’s path has taken him far from home sooner than he expected.

Though he won Player of the Year for the state of Arizona, his college recruitment took much longer than most, as it took him until August to sign with USF.

“I just wondered why no schools wanted me,” he told the Arizona Republic when he signed with the Bulls. “I’m not saying I’m the greatest thing that ever happened in Arizona. I got Player of the Year in Arizona. I thought I did pretty good and played some of the top teams in the country. No one on our team got any looks. We’ve been a top team for quite some time in AIA.”

He said he never thought he would be playing so far from his family’s home in Phoenix, but he still has the support of his parents even from thousands of miles away.

His mom, not wanting to break her streak of watching her son play, bought Apple TV so she could continue to watch all his games. After many games, he’ll talk with his dad on the phone and get a critique of his performance.  

Though he admits it’s taken some adjusting, he said his teammates have helped Tampa feel like home so he can tap into that hunger for victory that’s propelled generations of Bibby’s to athletic success.   

“I just want to help the team win,” he said. “I mean yeah, sure I want to do well scoring-wise and defensively, everyone wants to do well. But, I love to win. Like (Nov. 17), scoring 15 points, I really don’t care. I feel like I could have done better to help the team win, and that would have made the difference for me. I really don’t care about anything else other than winning.”