The Bulls held Wednesday’s practice on the USC campus, so the whole day was a homecoming for rookie Taj Gibson, who played three seasons for the Trojans.
Gibson was delighted to be back, but the trip also provided some prime fodder for the veterans to use against him.
The ribbing began in the locker room in Sacramento on Tuesday following the Bulls’ 101-87 win over the Kings when someone said: “Taj, when we get to USC, we’ll see how big you really are there.”
At the time, only Gibson knew how prophetic that statement would prove to be.
The Galen Center, USC’s new state-of-the-art basketball arena, has two practice courts. One is used by the men’s team and has huge, larger-than-life photo banners of players hanging high on all four walls, including three of Gibson. The other gym is virtually identical except it doesn’t have any photos.
“They didn’t have a clue about the pictures and I was like when we were walking in the building, ‘Please don’t go in the big gym,'” Gibson said after practice. “When we went in here, I was like, ‘Oh, no.'”
The players and coaches were barely through the door when they noticed all photos of Gibson – including a 10-by-40 foot banner of him celebrating in the crowd with fans following one game.
“As soon as we got in here, everyone started,” he said.
The ribbing continued throughout the practice session, and some dubbed the three-year-old Galen Center as the house that Taj built.
It’s only been a few months since Gibson left school, but the trip back was surreal.
“It’s kind of weird because you think about all the times when you were in here practicing and it’s just a totally different feeling right now,” he said. “You’re a pro, a totally different team and different coaches. You think about all the times you came here at night to work on your game and all the sweat.”