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Article Published January 23, 2020

Tibbetts Turns Into a Tremendous Defensive Stopper

By Chris Negrini/

John Tibbetts remade himself into an integral player on the Valley Regional boys’ basketball team. A 6-foot-1 big man, John was always a player who clogged up the paint, but now, he’s become a face-up shooter and an elite defender for the Warriors. Head Coach Kevin Woods uses John as a defensive specialist who starts games, so the senior can guard the opposition’s strongest offensive threat.

John started his basketball career as a center in his freshman year. John had an early growth spurt and was much bigger than his opponents, and his coaches expected that he would continue to grow as he got older. Now a senior, John is pretty much the same height that he was as a freshman, but can still be effective in the paint as a power forward.

“In earlier years, I used to be a center, but this year, I got moved to power forward. It was a big change. It required a lot of practice in the offseason. I was willing to put that work in if it would better the team,” John says. “I came in my freshman year at the same height I am now. They thought I would grow to be taller. My game grew to where I was making more than just lay-ups. I started making 15-footers and then threes, too.”

John’s shooting ability makes him into what’s known as a stretch four, because he can pull inside defenders out of the paint in order to stretch the floor. So far this year, John is averaging 5.6 points and 5.8 rebounds per game for Valley. Even though John can shoot the ball, he doesn’t always get his number called on a play.

“I’d say I get my shots in the flow of the offense,” says John, who lives in Essex. “Some plays, there are some spots for me to get a shot off, but we don’t have plays that are run exclusively for me.”

John’s main contribution to the Warriors is his defensive presence. John is a versatile defender who can guard the other team’s biggest threat to score, whether that be a point guard, a center, or any position in between.

“I’m usually placed on whoever the other team’s top scorer is, which is usually a guard on the perimeter. I’ve also guarded big men and people who play all over,” John says. “It took a lot of practice to be able to guard players like that. Chris Sparaco and Cade Ensinger have helped me with that. Cade is a guard type, and Chris is a very good big. So, being able to guard both of them in practice is a big help.”

As a senior, John knows that there is extra responsibility on him to set a good example for the younger players on the squad. John takes that role and runs with it.

“My responsibility is to show the underclassmen how to get to where I am,” he says. “Over the summer, I try to work with the younger kids alongside the seniors. I try to welcome them into the program and let them know what we’re all about.”

Coach Woods respects all the effort that John put in to alter his offensive game. Woods adds that John’s prowess on defense has always been there.

“John can really shoot, and he’s athletic, so we’ve tried to get him to play facing the basket more, and he’s been really effective this year. It seems like every time we need a big bucket, he gets them,” says Woods. “He’s also a luxury on the defensive end of the court. He can jump out of the gym, and he’s deceivingly long. He can guard bigs and guards. Small guards have trouble with his size, and big guys have trouble with his speed. He’s a matchup problem for teams.”

Outside of the basketball court, John loves music and plays a variety of instruments. Recently, he’s been playing more piano and learning pop rock songs after focusing on classical music for a long time.

“I picked up the trombone, and I’ve played in the band since the 4th grade. I’ve been playing piano for 10 years. I’ve also played cello for a few years,” John says. “I’ve been big into music my whole life. It’s been huge for me. I’ve been branching out recently. It used to be all classical like the Romantic Era, but recently I’ve been learning to play a lot of Elton John and Billy Joel.”

Looking back, John is amazed at how far he’s come as a basketball player. When he first started playing in middle school, John had trouble keeping up with the players around him. If John has learned anything during his career, it’s that hard work and dedication pay off because, without that, he would never have been able to get on the court.

“In 7th grade, I tried out for the middle school team. It was tough coming into that, because everyone else had been playing for years, and I wasn’t able to make the team,” says John. “I never ended up making the team, and I didn’t get a chance to play on a school team until my freshman year at Valley. It was my desire that kept me into it and kept me working so that I could play basketball.”