Whenever Tim Thomas walked into the gym during his first year as the head coach at Cedar Hill High School, there was always one constant — Thomas Gipson’s presence.
“Every time we opened the gym, Thomas was here,” Thomas said by phone Thursday morning. “He would call me and say ‘Coach, I want to open the gym. He’d get other kids to come to the gym. There would be kids from other schools coming, there’d be ex-players coming just to play. Thomas would call them, text-message them, he would get his teammates up here. Thanks to Thomas, I never had to worry about stuff like that. I miss that.”
Gipson is Kansas State’s stud freshman. He’s 6-foot-7, and for the most part, 275 pounds of muscle.
“He’s an ox and he loves (to do work in the weight room) — just absolutely loves it,” K-State coach Frank Martin said. “He’s become Scott’s (Greenawalt) pet in there.”
Gipson leads the Wildcats in both scoring and rebounding, averaging 14 points and 8.1 boards per game. He does it the traditional way. Equipped with a back-to-the-basket game and brute strength, Gipson is off to a quick start to his college career.
“I enjoy it. I don’t think there’s a lot of real posts that will do things like that,” said Gipson, who has recorded three double-doubles in his last four games. “Mostly everybody tries to be a guard now, wants to face-up, dribble and shoot. So I think I’m unique in a way.”
Martin said it’s rare to come across a traditional post player nowadays, and that’s what initially caught his eye when he was recruiting him.
“He had a willingness to do something that none of these kids want to do these days and that’s play with his back to the basket,” he said. “When you see a guy like him that goes and puts people on his back, understands angles, has the footwork to catch the ball and go finish a play — I don’t know about other coaches but I enjoy that part of the game. When I see people do that I immediately become attracted into trying to recruit that young man.”
Gipson starred at Cedar Hill, where he led his team to a 33-4 season his senior year. His success throughout his high school career made it seem like he was a player who would just never go away.
“Around here there were a lot of people that thought Thomas was playing varsity basketball here for six years because he made that kind of impact on the program,” Thomas said.
But there were some rough patches along the way, something he and his coach acknowledged.
Thomas, who took over as the head coach at Cedar Hill in 2010, suspended Gipson for a critical game last season, which the Longhorns still won in overtime without their star player. But it was the way Gipson responded following the suspension that showed his internal makeup.
“He would get upset out there when he played at times. I thought that hurt him as a player,” Thomas said. “We had our moments. After the suspension, he came back and apologized to the team, ‘I’m not using my talents like I should to help the team.’ From that moment on he started to really pick up his game. In the last 10 games he went from averaging about 14 points and six rebounds to 20 points and 10 rebounds. Midway through the season he was the best player every time he stepped on the floor.”
Thomas, regarded as one of the top high school basketball coaches in Texas, had a significant impact on Gipson in their one year together. But Thomas, who also served as an assistant coach at Central Florida and Texas Pan-American, gives all the credit to Gipson.
“There’s a quote out there, when you call on a mule, he kicks, when you call on a thoroughbred he gives you all he’s got,” Thomas said. “(Gipson) is one of those kids who gives you all he’s got.
“He’s special. He cares about other people. His dedication, he’s always trying to help others and support his teammates and other people who have problems. He’s a big, strong, physical guy and can be intimidating but he’s really a great person. He’s grown into that.”
That’s translated over to the college game. Thus far, Gipson ranks eighth nationally among freshmen in rebounding.
But his maturation has also carried over into the classroom, among other things.
“Over the summer (players) get here, then they start with their daily responsibilities we put on them,” Martin said. “So you see how they’re willing to attack it. Academically he was off the charts as far as his willingness to be where he needed to be at whatever time consistently. And then his willingness to go in there and work — the weight room — he bought into that from day one. He goes out of his way to do things to the best of his abilities and the way you try to coach him to do it.”
It’s because of all of this that Gipson’s presence is missed in his hometown.
“I can tell you this: I miss him — I miss him,” Thomas said. “Not just because of his massive presence on the court, but because of his sound understanding and understanding of ‘okay, this is what’s expected, and this is what we’re gonna do and I’m gonna meet those expectations.’ And not only that, I’m gonna make sure my teammates meet those expectations.
“But I’m thrilled to death at the success he’s having at K-State. When he played his first game he called me and said ‘Coach, I started!’ He’s a humble person, he’s not one of these kids where he’s doing well and then he starts to change. He still texts us, he calls. I’m just proud of him.”
So are his coaches at K-State.
“He’s about all the right things,” Martin said. “He’s consistent with his approach, he pushes himself daily. He’s making a ton of mistakes but his commitment to get better is phenomenal. As the season wears on he’s becoming one of those guys I can’t take off the floor.
“We’re extremely excited about him. I think what you’re seeing is just the tip of the iceberg right now.”