If it's not clear by now, Michael Gbinije is going to be a very important part of the 2015-2016 Syracuse Orange basketball team.
The fifth-year graduate player is the elder statesmen of a squad that will be as big on talent as it will on question marks. He'll be splitting time at point guard with Kaleb Joseph and working in tandem with Trevor Cooney on the perimeter scoring attack. He's also going to be look at as a motivator for guys like Tyler Roberson, Malachi Richardson and Tyler Lydon. amongst others.
It's a role he's stepping into whether he likes it or not.
Donna Ditota profiled Gbinije last week about what might be the most intriguing thing about him headed into his final season with Syracuse: his personality. Mostly known as a quiet and reserved guy off the court, he's expected to become something many have yet to see from him, a leader on the court and in the locker room.
Or at the very least, a guy with an interesting personality.
Donna digs deeper than I've ever seen in regards to Gbinije's childhood and background and it all paints a pretty clear picture of an introverted guy who wants to excel at the things he's good at without feeling the need to be something he isn't. Or at least that's how he's been. Now, it sounds like Mike wants to become this kind of person that he's "supposed to be."
"To the public, he's shy. You can rarely get him to talk," said close friend Kevin Tiller, a VCU graduate assistant basketball coach who has known Gbinije since high school. "When he's around me, he's goofy, he's playful, he's a big kid. He's a different dude, especially for a high-level athlete."
..."I'm honestly working on that right now," Gbinije said in June from his home in Chester, Va. He cast a glance at his father, sitting on the sofa beside him, and smiled. "My dad is saying, 'Oh, God,' right now."
"If you've gotta work at it," Frank Gbinije mused, "that's not your personality."
I'm #TeamGbiniDad. Maybe trying to emulate Chad Ochocinco and Terrell Owens will do something for Gbinije, but, I don't see why it's a requirement. The Silent G nickname works because it actually makes sense figuratively as well as literally. Instead of trying to be an idea of what a leader looks like, I'd much rather Gbinije focus on being the best version of himself. I expect he'll play his best basketball when he does that.
It makes perfect sense to me that Gbinije is a hardcore gamer off the court. It's exactly what I'd expect a competitive introvert to be interested in. It's something that requires instincts, focus and determination without requiring human interaction with those you're competing against. To an extroverted personality, that might not sound like fun, but, that's who Gbinije is.
Maybe playing basketball in front of 30,000 people goes against that type, but clearly he's good enough to do that anyway. Like, Top 50 Players in CBB good. The last thing I want to do is fill his head with a whole bunch of concerns and issues that distract from the task at hand: winning basketball games.
Towards the end of Donna's piece, Gbinije sums up his personality perfectly:
"I think I'm really good," he said, then paused to reconsider. "I take that back because really good is like LeBron and all these NBA superstars. I think I'm a good player. I always thought about myself like that. But I never really did it, I never really came out and said any of those things."
Becoming the kind of guy who says he's as good as LeBron James isn't going to do anything for Michael Gbinije. When you're the kind of person Gbinije is, suddenly becoming "Swaggy G" sounds like a recipe for disaster. He doesn't have the internal fortitude to back up that kind of swagger. It'll backfire. He'll wilt the first time someone challenged his bravado in front of a stadium of crazed fans.
I say that not as an attack on him or his manhood. I say that because I've watched sports long enough to know how this works. Hell, I've lived long enough to see how this works in the real world, too. I've seen plenty of people try to be something they're not because of assumed expectations only to falter under that weight.
Michael Gbinije isn't Kobe Bryant. He isn't Nick "Swaggy P" Young. He isn't "Swaggy G." He's Michael Gbinije. This season, I just hope he's the best Michael Gbinije he can be.