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A Leader Through it All
He was a leader in junior high and a leader on the court at Cedar Hill High School. However, since the 6-foot-7 junior forward has been at K-State, becoming the leader he is today has been a waiting game.
"I've always felt like I was a leader, but I was young the past two years. People were ahead of me and I had older guys that I had to play behind," Gipson said. "I just had to wait my turn to step up, and I think I've done pretty well of doing that."
When Gipson plays well, his team plays well. He has led both vocally and by example this season and is, perhaps, the most important player on the court when it comes to leading his team to success.
He's been playing patient and letting the game come to him. He's been disciplined, losing nearly 50 pounds and putting on muscle between this season and last, and he's taken it upon himself to carry his team on his shoulders.
"(Being a leader) has its perks, but it sometimes isn't fun because when things are going bad, it gets put on me because I'm not putting guys on check," explained Gipson. "It can take a toll on you, but you've just got to stay in that mental state - stay a leader no matter what happens."
Teammates see it in Gipson, too. K-State is a young team with its freshmen making an impact on the court. While seniors like forward Shane Southwell and guard Will Spradling are leaders in their own ways, they're quieter, so someone needed to step up and make noise.
"He's loud, he's big, he's Thomas. He's just been himself and he cares a lot," junior forward Nino Williams said. "When he talks, the younger guys kind of understand that he's been playing well and doing the right things, so he leads by example and he leads vocally. I think he's doing a good job at both."
Head coach Bruce Weber used words like "rock solid" to define Gipson, and said between this season and last, Gipson has matured into an entirely new player.
"They respect him, they respect his game," Weber said. "The biggest thing is just his maturity from last year - questioning and doubting, his weight up and down - but he made a decision and was very disciplined through the summer. He's been very, very coachable. He wants to do well, he listens and tries to really help the coaches."
Today, K-State takes on No. 15/18 Texas at 12:30 p.m., in Bramlage Coliseum. It will be a game of revenge for Gipson, as the last time the two teams faced off on Jan. 21, in Austin, Texas, he played one of his best games scoring a career-high 24-points, but it was capped off with one of his biggest mistakes.
Gipson's leadership was put to the test after K-State's 67-64 loss to Texas that night.
Part of begin a good leader is admitting to your mistakes, and despite the fact he played a solid game, he was caught off guard in the game's final seconds and the Longhorns' Jonathan Holmes threw up a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to take the game.
That one stung.
"I kind of fell asleep. It was pretty much my fault," Gipson said about Texas' final shot. "When coach asked me, I just had to tell him, 'I fell asleep.' I took the blame for that loss. It sucks, but I just have to move on and that's what I did."
Taking the blame when mistakes happen is what leaders do. It's what Gipson did when times were tough, and his ability to continue on as leader when tested did not go unnoticed.
"He took the heat on the last shot, and that's what you're supposed to do," associate head coach Chris Lowery said about Gipson. "He said, 'You know what, it's my fault and let's move on,' and when you've got guys who do that you've got a chance to be successful. It's obvious he's our leader."
So far this season, Gipson is averaging 12.2 points per game on 59.1-percent shooting from the field and a team-leading 6.3 rebounds per game. He scored 19 points last weekend in K-State's 81-71 loss at West Virginia, and is ready to get back in front of his home crowd.
K-State (15-7, 5-4 Big 12) comes home to Bramlage Coliseum today off of a much needed bye week to take on a Texas team (18-4, 7-2 Big 12) that is riding a seven-game winning streak to push its record to 18-4 overall and 7-2 in Big 12 play.
"This is a huge game for us," Weber said. "(Texas) has done a great job of playing hard, playing together and competing, and we're going to have to match that. You hope you get a second wind, reenergize, but we've got to get going."
Getting the team going today will be none other than its leader: Thomas Gipson.
According to Weber, "Two percent of us are leaders, ninety eight percent are followers."
And luckily for K-State, Gipson is in that two percent.
TIPOFF FOR TP:
K-State student-athletes and the Manhattan Emergency Shelter have partnered for the fourth annual "Tipoff for TP" event. Fans are encouraged to bring paper towels, trash bags and cleaning supplies to today's game against Texas. Items will be donated to the Emergency Shelter to help those in the Manhattan community who are homeless or seeking assistance. K-State fans, we ask you to help us in contributing to the home, heart and hope of those in need this afternoon.