SYRACUSE — There was a time in January when it seemed almost every night, Brock Gilbert put his signature on a basketball game.
A driving underhand layup through four taller players for a game-winner.
Ten of Syracuse’s final 13 points in a late comeback win.
A stepback, game-winning jump shot with mere seconds on the clock.
There was seemingly nothing he couldn’t do.
The Titans’ senior guard dazzled, weaved, twisted and drove his way to a stellar season where he averaged 19.9 points per game, 7.2 rebounds, 7.1 assists, 2.3 steals — and is the Standard-Examiner’s 2017-18 All-Area Boys Basketball Most Valuable Player.
ALL-AREA: 2017-18 boys basketball All-Area teams
How did he do it? For starters, a little piece of advice from his former eighth-grade basketball coach Trent Whiting played in his head before games.
“‘Every time you step on the court, you need to think and know that you’re the best player on the court.’ This year I said that a lot, every time I stepped on the court I felt like I was the best player,” Gilbert said.
There’s a certain confidence, an edge, about Gilbert that fueled the tough shots and drives into traffic.
But Gilbert’s story isn’t only about the barrage of midair, pump-fake layups, game-winners, deep 3-pointers, tough shots, off-handed floaters, off-handed layups and pinpoint passes over the top of and right through defenses.
It’s also about his mother, Wendy.
‘Not a greater woman out there’
Syracuse’s basketball roster lists its 15 varsity players with their jersey numbers, height, position, year in high school and as a nice touch, each players’ parents.
Next to Gilbert is just one name: Mrs. Wendy Gilbert.
When Brock was six months old, his father died in a car crash. When the family was tossing around the idea of moving from Syracuse to North Ogden, it was now dealing with tragedy.
When senior night at Syracuse came this February, Brock and Wendy, who works as a nurse at Davis Hospital in Layton, walked on the court, Wendy received flowers and they hugged.
“Words can’t describe how important she is to me, just the fact that it would’ve been real easy for her to just give up, but she didn’t want to and she cared for us and she’s loved us, and, I mean, there’s not a greater woman out there,” Brock said.
The game started and, like most other basketball games, Wendy was seated three rows back, about halfway between the bench and scorer’s table.
Brock said he didn’t think his mother has missed any game he or his older siblings have played.
“I tried really hard to not make him suffer because I was by myself, to not miss having the parent there, and I made it work,” Wendy Gilbert said. “Besides, I love watching all of them play, it’s so fun for me, it brings such happiness to watch him.”
After the crash, Wendy became a single mother of three children with Brock being the youngest. But there have been impactful father figures in his life.
When younger, Brock played football on a team coached by Jed DeVries, a former NFL, Utah State and Weber High football player. DeVries was one of Brock’s father figures.
So was Travis Burke, the coach of his competitive basketball team. And Whiting, Brock’s eighth-grade basketball coach who recently moved to Idaho to coach at Burley High.
Still, Brock would look around and see dads playing with their kids.
“Sometimes I think about what it would be like to have a dad, everything would be different and stuff like that. My mom’s always said I’ve had so many father figures bless me in my lifetime and those three ... if your dad was still alive you would’ve never known those three,” he said.
The clutch factor
When Gilbert was a freshman, Syracuse head coach Troy Anderson brought him up from junior high to play on the varsity team.
Gilbert didn’t start but played in nearly every game that year. His first points came Dec. 13, 2014, against Madison (Idaho), which is where his game-winner prowess began.
The Titans won 52-49 when Gilbert stole a pass, made a layup while fouled with two seconds left and made his free throw — three of his nine points that game.
Nearly the same thing happened last year at Springville. Gilbert stole a pass in the final seconds of a 59-59 tie and went to the other end to make a layup with almost no time left. Syracuse 61, Springville 59.
“He understands the game, he sees the game, he’s so dedicated to it, arguably — as far as me being a head coach and the players that I’ve coached — he’s by far the best guard I’ve ever had,” Anderson said.
His late-game heroics hit another gear this season.
On Jan. 9 against Davis, the Darts led 61-53 late in the fourth quarter until Gilbert scored 10 of the Titans’ next 13 points in what was eventually a 66-63 Syracuse win. He scored 31 points that game.
Three days later at home, in a game tied 50-50 against Layton in the final seconds, Gilbert drove at four defenders and somehow scooped a game-winning layup past all of them with two seconds left.
“There were other times in that game where I tried layups like those and they got blocked or I was just short on them and I thought just try it again because everyone jumped,” he said.
Eleven days later at home — against eventual region champ Fremont and not quite a few days after getting creamed by Northridge — Gilbert hit a step-back jump shot in the final seconds that proved the decisive basket in a 61-60 win.
There was some bittersweetness for Gilbert, though. Syracuse went 10-13 overall and 5-7 in Region 1, finishing in sixth place and missing the playoffs by two games.
It was close, and Gilbert demonstrated why when he held out his hand.
He held out one finger for a 60-59 loss to Fremont in which he had a 50-footer at the buzzer to win the game that missed going in by about a foot. In particular, he remembers missing a free throw that would’ve tied the game earlier.
Gilbert held out another finger for the 70-69 overtime loss to Northridge where he missed a layup at the end of regulation that would’ve put the Titans ahead.
“I beat myself up for that one probably the most (of all of them),” he said.
He held out two fingers for the 56-54 loss to Weber on the season’s final day that marked the end of Syracuse’s ride.
Four points plausibly separated Syracuse from being a 5-7 team to an 8-4 team splitting the region championship with Fremont. Such was life in a particularly competitive region where there were six playoff-worthy teams.
Gilbert’s basketball career didn’t end with that close loss to the Warriors. He recently committed to Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon, to play basketball there next year before serving a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Gilbert says his height wasn’t as big a deterrent for Umpqua as it was for other schools in the recruiting process.
At 5-foot-8, Gilbert has heard the jabs his whole life: ‘You’re too short for the college game, imagine if you were taller.’
This season, Gilbert showed time and again that height was misleading: the game-winner through four Layton defenders averaging 6-foot-5, his 7.2 rebounds per game and the lasting impression he made on a roller-coaster basketball season.