E.A. Sports Today

Making his own way

White Plains post following in his father’s footsteps, but is definitely his own man

Jonathan Gilbert (left) is the only White Plains player to sign a Division I basketball scholarship, but his son Nathan could soon add to the family legacy. Below, Nathan (24) prepares to make his move in a recent game against Jacksonville. Nathan averages 19 points and nearly 10 rebounds a game this season.

Jonathan Gilbert (left) is the only White Plains player to sign a Division I basketball scholarship, but his son Nathan could soon add to the family legacy. Below, Nathan (24) prepares to make his move in a recent game against Jacksonville. Nathan averages 19 points and nearly 10 rebounds a game this season.

By Al Muskewitz
East Alabama Sports Today

WHITE PLAINS – When Nathan Gilbert gets called to the principal’s office – not that it happens often – it’s not always because he has misbehaved in class.

Most of the times, they end up talking basketball.

That’s what happens when the man behind the principal’s desk is your father and was a pretty good player in his day.

Gilbert the younger is the agile post player on the second-ranked White Plains basketball team making his own name while following in his father’s footsteps.

The elder is regarded by many longtime basketball followers in their community as the most talented player White Plains has ever produced. He is the only player from the school to sign a Division I basketball scholarship, a piece of Wildcats trivia the son seems destined to change.

So, naturally, when the two get together, whether it’s after White Plains plays or just watching a game on the tube, the conversation turns to basketball.

“Usually the day before a game or sometimes the day after we’ll talk about what all happened,” Nathan said. “We talk the most probably right after the game trying to figure out what happened and how I can fix what.”

It’s only natural for a father to encourage his son, especially if he can come at things with a high-level practical personal point of reference, but Jonathan Gilbert is mindful of the boundaries between a parent and a coach.

Chris Randall is responsible for coaching the Wildcats, and it’s his direction the players follow, but he doesn’t feel undermined in the least and actually is appreciative of the approach.

“The way Mr. Gilbert handles Nathan is great; he’s a big-time encourager,” Randall said. “He lets me coach him hard and he couldn’t be more supportive.”

Of course, they have different games. The dad was more of a perimeter player, a fierce scorer who could mix it up inside when needed, while the son is a more back-to-the-basket type player with some nice moves down on the block.

The dad, the principal at White Plains Elementary School, could fill up a box score in his high school days. As a college player at Alabama State, he scored 386 points in 75 games and was at his best in a stretch early in his senior year when he went for 22, 20 and 28 in three games against Jacksonville State and Troy.

Nathan is a prolific scorer as well. He goes into the Wildcats’ Sandestin Beach Blowout opener against Paxton (Fla.) Saturday averaging 19.3 points and 9.6 rebounds a game. He has had eight double-doubles this season. The Jacksonville State coaches are said to like him with a little more seasoning, but he’s on the right track with his pedigree.

“You’re coaching a kid who has grown up around it his whole life; he’s heard the stories, he knows the importance of what the game means to this community, that’s already built into him,” Randall said. “The pride already has been instilled; that makes it easier.

“He sees things (from a basketball perspective) a lot more naturally, he feels the game a lot better, he knows situations a lot better because he’s talked the game his whole life with his dad.”

But that can be a double-edged sword. It can be overwhelming at times following in the footsteps of a famous dad and Nathan admitted there was a time he felt that pressure. His father’s answer to that was to not worry about those expectations, rather go out and make his own name.

That’s what that drives him now.

“Growing up everybody told me you’re going to be just like your dad, you’re going to play basketball,” Nathan said. “It used to really get to me; I don’t think I’ll ever be as good as he was at playing.

“One day I told him I don’t know if I’m going to play basketball anymore. He asked why and I said because I don’t think I’m ever going to be as good as you were. He said I don’t want you to be as good as me — I want you to be better than me.

“Now my goal is to show that it wasn’t just him (who could play); I could do it, too. That’s kind of been my main emphasis.”

Jonathan didn’t push his son to excel. Instead, being the educator he is, he challenged him. They’d play pickup games in the driveway as sons and fathers often do, but Jonathan would give no quarter. If Nathan was going to beat the old man, he was going to have to earn it.

Call it tough love, basketball style.

Eventually the scores of their games got closer and as they did Nathan grew increasingly “ready to beat some tail.” No one will own up to an exact tally of the results of their games; not that it really matters in the end.

“Those games were intense,” Jonathan recalled. “Playing in the backyard I wouldn’t give him any mercy. I said if you want to play I’m not taking it easy on you – because that’s how I learned to play.

“I think if you’re going to try to get better, you can’t get better unless you’re being challenged, so why not challenge you. If I wasn’t challenging them, I shouldn’t expect them to get any better.

“I’ve tried to share with him that it’s not always going to be easy; you’ve got to fight for anything that you want. Nobody’s just going to come up and give you something. If you want it, you’ve got to go take it; you’ve got to have that type attitude with whatever you’re doing.”

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