Figuring out where you belong is a universal struggle, and SRU redshirt senior guard Deleah Gibson knows the entirety of that journey firsthand.
Gibson played basketball for Shaw High School in East Cleveland, Ohio. She was a two-year letter winner, named a team captain during both her junior and senior seasons, an honorable mention selection for the Northeast Lakes All-District Division I team her senior year and graduated with honors.
Out of high school, Gibson chose to take her shot at Division I basketball with Youngstown State University where she would appear in 55 games over two seasons for the Penguins.
She had reached a higher level of athletic success than most, but she was not satisfied and knew she could contribute more. That was when she thought back to the backend of her high school years and reviewed her options once again, remembering one specific visit to Slippery Rock University with beloved former coach Bobby McGraw.
“We had a tournament down here either my junior or senior year of high school, coach McGraw fed us, he made sure we played and then he walked us to the bus and said, ‘you better come [to school] here,’” Gibson said.
As she was figuring out where the next step of her journey would be, she reached out to Slippery Rock to see if there was still mutual interest. There was.
“Once I knew they still wanted me I’m like, here’s my opportunity,” Gibson said.
McGraw had made a good impression on Gibson both during her high school years and as she began the move to SRU after her sophomore year of college. Gibson needed a coach to aid her development but also one who could understand that players are still people off the court, and she found that in McGraw.
“Coach McGraw, he’s himself no matter what. On the visit, practice, or out of practice. He doesn’t change who he is, and I needed somebody real,” Gibson said.
Gibson and McGraw immediately clicked, and Gibson understood why he was such a loved and respected figure on campus for his entire tenure.
“He taught me a lot… He taught me basketball and life situations as well,” Gibson said. “He made sure we were able to still be basketball players and also have a life at the end of the day.”
It appeared that Gibson had settled into the place she was meant to be upon arriving at Slippery Rock and it was time to focus on enjoying basketball. Then COVID-19 hit and added an unforeseen roadblock for everyone.
Thankfully, she had been able to transfer before the virus struck and as opposed to being stuck in uncertainty. It was simply a waiting game until she could begin her career where she was meant to be.
As for last season, it was clear that she was ready to play.
She started in 24 games as a redshirt junior, averaging 8.5 points per game and 2.3 rebounds per game. She also accumulated 23 steals, four blocks, led The Rock with 39 three-pointers and scored her season high of 18 points against Mercyhurst University on February 16, 2022.
The veteran players on that 2021-22 team played an instrumental role in her development. Center Jamiyah Johnson and guard Daeja Quick taught her a lot about the college game.
Gibson said they taught her, “When it’s time to show out, it’s time to show out,” and “When you have a big role to play, you’ve got to make sure you’re doing what you need to do.”
These ideas really helped mold her into a more well-rounded player. She realized that even if she is having an off-night for scoring, she can be just as big of a help to her team in other ways.
“Instead of me worrying about why I’m missing or getting mad, I play defense, I get assists, I get rebounds, I get assists. Everybody has off nights with scoring but there’s other things to do as well that help your team win,” Gibson said.
Gibson had played well and finally found her home, but just like each of the past few years, there were major issues in the offseason. This time it was more serious. McGraw, the universally loved coach that helped bring Gibson to Slippery Rock, passed away.
Gibson said that the team needed to stick together more than ever, providing both emotional support and an outlet to talk.
“We try to do little things together even if it’s just us going over to watch movies or play cards or have a potluck. We do little things to make sure we’re still seeing each other,” Gibson said.
Despite the continuous barriers shoved in front of her during her collegiate career, Gibson stayed focused, and she proved that her successful first year was not a fluke, quickly scoring at least 10 points in each of her first six games, including two where she surpassed 25 points.
It was impressive from a pure basketball standpoint but even more so when taking into consideration the passing of McGraw over the offseason.
Gibson went on to total her career high of 31 points against Clarion University on February 11, 2023, and a double-double against Edinboro University on February 22.
Additionally, she is second on the team in points with 409 despite appearing in 24 games out of 28 possible, being second on the team in points per game, first on the team in three-pointers with 56 and second on the team in three-point percentage with at least 20 attempts with .331. She does all of this while maintaining the highest average minutes per game with 35.6. If she was able to play, she was playing as much as she could and more than anyone else.
Gibson was also second on the team in assists and assist-to-turnover ratio with 66 and .89 respectively, meaning she was combining quality with quantity.
She even became part of a week where SRU Women’s Basketball accumulated both the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference (PSAC) offensive and defensive player of the week awards.
“We just do what we needed to do to try to get wins,” Gibson said.
Gibson attributes much of this to her relationship with her coaches at SRU.
“My relationship grew with Coach Wilson since I first came here,” Gibson said. “We are close.”
Now that she is in the right spot with coaches that are right for her, she feels she is in the best possible situation to excel.
“When you have people that believe in you, you want to do more, you want to play better. You can actually be yourself and have confidence on the floor,” Gibson said.
In another exciting turn of events, Gibson’s former high school coach, Dana Jeter, was brought on as the SRU women’s assistant coach.
“It’s full circle,” Jeter said, “It’s a joy.”
Having good communication with coaches adds an element to teams that others will not be able to replicate, and these three women have achieved that.
“I have a coach that believes in me,” Gibson said. “I’m close with both of them, real close.”
Gibson then doubled down on how she feels she has reached the place in her basketball career where she is most comfortable and able to be her best self. She urges others to take the time to do the same for themselves.
“Make sure you got to the school that believes in you,” Gibson said.
One of the biggest moments of the year, if not the biggest, was The Rock’s January 25 matchup against Indiana University of Pennsylvania (IUP), their sworn rival.
The game was back and forth until the very end.
“We missed a shot, so I was like, I got to do something,” Gibson said.
She would go on to score the go-ahead layup and the final two free throws that would put Slippery Rock up by four and prove to be the dagger.
It was the first time in 16 years that SRU women’s basketball was able to beat IUP.
Just as everything else this season, the squad did it for McGraw.
“It was emotional because Coach McGraw always wanted to beat them as well,” Gibson said.
The locker room shook with music and cheers after the game.
“I can’t explain that emotion,” Gibson said.
SRU women’s basketball went on to fall just one game short of making the PSAC playoffs, but Gibson commented on the evident strides the team has made. Sweeping IUP and finishing above .500 was the start of a squad hoping to return back to the playoffs next year.
“We made progress from last year, a lot of progress. We beat teams that we didn’t beat last year, we broke records, we had many PSAC athletes of the week. It feels great and I was able to build a relationship with everybody,” Gibson said.