Adair County eighth-grader Dawson Gilbert had the chance to participate in the John Lucas International Middle School Combine this past weekend.
The combine is described as an “invitation-only camp for elite seventh- and eighth-grade basketball players wanting to take their game to the next level,” and Gilbert was one of only around 130 players in attendance.
He received his invitation after the camp’s scouts watched him play in a tournament in Lexington a few months ago.
Looking back on his experience, it was an opportunity he was glad he and his family decided to accept.
“It was actually a really good experience and helped me a lot,” Gilbert said. “Seeing all of the talent — and I’d seen some good talent — but this was just next level, with players from all over the nation, all kinds of different types of players.”
Gilbert said he played some of the best basketball of his career at the camp, and his team even won a 3-on-3 tournament. In the tournament title game, he hit “five or six 3-pointers” with “a good amount of rebounds.” Those feats were even more impressive because the championship game was just 10 minutes long.
He added that his performance and playing style helped him receive several comparisons to Tyler Herro, a former UK player and current Miami Heat guard who just received Sixth Man of the Year honors.
“That championship game was probably my biggest accomplishment (at the combine),” Gilbert said. “I was playing against some good talent, and I felt like I needed to do something big … Most of the scouts were there for the main game, and it felt really good to do that in front of them.”
Those in attendance agreed with Gilbert’s assessment of his play.
The camp stated that it would give players the opportunity to be “recognized by some of the top evaluators in the country.”
Some of those scouts took to Twitter and included Gilbert on their lists of standout players during the camp.
“I’m really happy I was able to have that opportunity,” Gilbert said of getting recognition. “Anything can happen. They have your name written down, they might be watching you and keeping up with you now … It makes me feel like I need to step my game up and keep it consistent.”
For Gilbert, seeing Lucas — an assistant coach/director of player development for the Houston Rockets and the No. 1 pick in the 1976 NBA draft — on the sidelines helped elevate the whole experience.
“It was just a really good moment and surreal to be able to play in front of an NBA coach and a No. 1 pick in the draft,” said Gilbert, who also got to meet Lucas after the combine.
Gilbert is a 5-feet-11-inch, 150-pound guard who will be a freshman next season at Adair County High School. His parents are Eric and Amanda Gilbert.