Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Gipson, Johnson proving vital to Wildcats’ season

The Kansas State men’s basketball team is still trying to find itself, but it should know one thing already.

Without Thomas Gipson and DJ Johnson, they’d be in trouble.

Staff photo by Sarah  Midgorden
(With very little size this season, Kansas State is having to rely on Thomas Gipson and DJ Johnson to do the heavy lifting inside).

In fact, it’s already shown to be true for the Wildcats. Without Gipson, K-State lost its season opener to Northern Colorado. With him out of the starting lineup, and playing limited minutes in foul trouble, K-State lost to Charlotte.

K-State will have both on the court when they take on Central Arkansas today at 3:10 p.m. in Bramlage Coliseum.

The Wildcats have a tough situation in the post, with just two true players at the position. Without much depth, until next season, Gipson and Johnson will play a vital role in the team’s success.

Johnson said the need for quality post play has pushed them to go even harder in practice.

“There’s a lot more pushing between me and Thomas, especially in practice because we’ve got to be better and we want to be the best we can,” he said. “Me and him are the only true fives, so we have some work to do.”

The Wildcats really shouldn’t have been in such a post conundrum, but they took big losses due to roster issues. Forward Adrian Diaz transferred in April, and then recruit Neville Fincher didn’t qualify.

Combine that with the graduation of Jordan Henriquez, the team’s 7-foot shot blocker, and the Wildcats were in trouble.

“Jordan, when he was really motivated he was pretty successful for us, but that kind of came and went with different games,” K-State coach Bruce Weber said. “But he seemed to always rise up when we played the higher ranked teams and teams with big guys. So we are not going to have that luxury.”

The key to the Wildcats’ season, though, from the post perception, is in the rebound battle. It’s one K-State hasn’t won very many times, but Weber said they must be strong defensively in the post to do so.

“The big thing that we have to do is to be a better team defensively,” he said. “We’ve got to give help — we’ve got to protect the lane with bodies and making them make an extra play. We are also going to have to rebound.”

Gipson is barely 6-foot-8 and Johnson is listed at a generous 6-10. But Gipson had taken steps to become more athletic, and more powerful.

During the offseason, Gipson shed pounds and worked to get stronger and faster.

“I can jump higher, move faster, be quicker, I’m lighter on my feet, just being more mobile, and having more endurance running up and down the court,” Gipson said. “Sometimes I just couldn’t get off the ground, now I can do that. I remember my freshman year I couldn’t even get off the ground.

“I have a lot more confidence. People think because I got slimmer I lost my strength and all that, but it’s still there. I just have a lot more endurance than people thought I would.”

The Wildcat expected to get production from Gipson, though, and they have recently. Gipson is averaging 10 points per game and led K-State in scoring in the final two games of the Puerto Rico Tip-Off.

But it was Johnson they were somewhat unsure of. He’s responded by averaging around five points and five rebounds per game.

“He’s improved a lot, he’s always been a hard worker and a good rebounder and an energetic guy,” Gipson said of his teammate. “I think he’s improved more by having more touch around the rim and finishing better.”

Johnson also worked to get stronger in the offseason, and he said he’s noticed his chest get bigger over time.

The key, Johnson said, is to make sure they can be tough when they go in the paint.

“You have to be physical at all times, you really can’t take a break at any point because once you do that guy is going to go after you,” he said. “There’s really no down point when you can rest in the post.”

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