Justin Bibbins always had a healthy belief in himself.
When you grow up in basketball life as a 5-foot-5 point guard, you’d better have self-confidence, because not many are going to be confident in you. But Bibbins shined at Long Beach State, figured he could play at the Pac-12 level, transferred to the University of Utah and promptly validated that belief by making all-conference and becoming one of the best point guards in college basketball.
“I was always confident in myself,” Bibbins said. “I knew I could play and that’s why I made the decision to move up. I wanted to test myself. I put in a lot of hard work and it showed up. So, I was always confident that I could play at a high level.”
Bibbins worked out for the Utah Jazz on Sunday morning, flying in on Saturday to his old stomping grounds. Typical of his rise through the high school and college basketball ranks, Bibbins knows fully how difficult a transition to a professional career will be.
He will have trouble defending taller and more athletic guards, even if he’s strong and quick for his size. He will likely have to latch on to a team in the NBA’s upcoming summer league, as he’s not likely to get selected in the June 21 draft. If he wants to play in the NBA, he will probably have to go the G League route. An overseas career may be best for him.
Bibbins knows all of this. He also knows he’s beaten long odds on multiple occasions. Five-foot-5 guys aren’t supposed to be top-10 overall players in a conference as good as the Pac-12. Bibbins was just that last season. Graduate transfers from Long Beach State aren’t supposed to lift a Pac-12 program on their backs to a fourth-place regular season finish and an NIT run that culminated in a title game appearance against Penn State.
But that’s what Bibbins was able to accomplish in his one season for the Utes.
The NBA will always need shooters, and Bibbins is a knockdown shooter. He can run pick and roll. He can pressure ballhandlers defensively, and he’s much better at getting into the lane off the dribble and finishing than he should be at his size.
Many of those attributes were on display with the Jazz on Sunday morning. He’s added an ability to shoot on the move to his standstill shooting. And he’s working on becoming a better playmaker.
“He shot the ball well and played pretty well overall,” Jazz VP of Player Personnel Walt Perrin said. “His size is going to be something that he will have to overcome. But he’s pretty strong for his size, so that will help him.”
Bibbins knows what the next few weeks will be for him. He will need to stay by the phone and stay ready. His bags will need to be packed, because he won’t know where he will end up, what league he will end up in or what opportunity will arise for him.
But all he wants is a shot, a chance to prove to yet another level of basketball that he belongs.
Years ago, when he was with the Compton Magic — his AAU team — Long Beach State took a chance. Last year, in a desperate search for a point guard to run his team, Larry Krystkowiak offered Bibbins a scholarship and the chance at a bigger stage. And now, it’s the NBA’s turn. Bibbins knows his road will be unconventional. But, at this point, all he wants is a path.
He figures he can do the rest.
Jazz workout facts
Justin Bibbins was a two-time All-Big West selection at Long Beach State.
William McDowell-White played in the Nike Hoop Summit in 2016.
Emanuel Terry averaged 17 points and 10.3 rebounds per game at Lincoln Memorial
Sunday’s workout roster
Justin Bibbins, 5-foot-5 point guard, Utah
Vince Edwards, 6-foot-8 small forward, Purdue
William McDowell-White, 6-foot-5 shooting guard, Australia
Ajdin Penava, 6-foot-9 power forward, Marshall
Emanuel Terry, 6-foot-9 power forward, Lincoln Memorial
Amine Noua, 6-foot-8 small forward, France