Naji Hibbert has never been to Gardner-Webb, and he didn’t know much about the small Division I school in Boiling Springs, N.C., until a few weeks ago.
But despite his relative lack of familiarity with the university, Hibbert quickly discovered that Gardner-Webb was a “good fit academically and on the floor.” Hibbert, an East Baltimore native who played three years at Texas A&M, announced his intentions to transfer to the Big South school late last week.
“I feel pretty relieved, just getting another chance to play basketball again,” Hibbert said. “I came here to get an opportunity to go somewhere to have fun and smile.”
Hibbert signed with the Aggies out of DeMatha in 2008. A four-star prospect and Rivals.com’s No. 97 player nationally, Hibbert picked Texas A&M over offers from several high-major schools, including Clemson, Florida State and Miami. But despite his high profile, playing time for Hibbert was scarce, as he averaged just 1.9 points as a freshman and 5.2 points as a sophomore.
When Aggies coach Mark Turgeon left for Maryland after the 2010-11 season, Hibbert could have asked for his release. But the 6-foot-6 shooting guard “stuck through” Billy Kennedy’s first year in College Station.
“Unfortunately, it just didn’t go the way everybody planned,” said Hibbert, who averaged 3.8 points in 19.2 minutes as a junior. “It was pretty tough. But I just knew that I could give more on and off the court. I think that being away from my family, going through a lot of adversity down there was kind of rough on me. … I think that getting closer to home will help me out.”
Several programs expressed interest in Hibbert after he announced he would transfer, but because he has just one year of eligibility left, his options were limited. Boston University was a serious contender, but Gardner-Webb proved to be the most interested program.
“They want me to be aggressive and just try to make plays, be the best player I can be,” said Hibbert, who will visit Gardner-Webb this weekend. “[They want me to] try not to look over my shoulder and be confident. I think everything will take care of itself.”
Hibbert, who will sit out the 2012-13 season per NCAA rules, will also use his transfer as an opportunity to switch his course of study. At Texas A&M, Hibbert said he felt “kind of rushed” when he selected agriculture as his major. At Gardner-Webb, he’ll study sociology and potentially minor in business.
Sociology will be a “more versatile” degree, Hibbert said. “I have a lot of things I’m looking forward to [studying]. … [By] sitting out, I’ll work [more] in the classroom, and get stronger and work on my game. The year off will be real helpful because I didn’t get a chance to play as much last year. God did give me a blessing to sit out and work hard, no stress.”
Even though he’s a former Top 100 recruit coming from a high-major program, Hibbert said he won’t be overconfident when he starts at Gardner-Webb, which finished 12-20 last season.
“I’m going in there humbly, just thankful for another opportunity to play and just have fun,” Hibbert said. “[I’ve only got] one year. So I’m going to make friends, have a nice time, but also work hard on the court and try to prove other people wrong.”