As Kansas State travels west for its first road trip of the season — a Friday game at Long Beach State (9:30 p.m. on FSKC) followed by the Maui Invitational next week — the Wildcats know who they will look to for both production and guidance.
That hasn’t always been the case for Bruce Weber’s teams, especially last year, but things are clearer now that Thomas Gipson is a senior.
The sturdy forward is averaging 19 points and 7.5 rebounds this season, and he has already led K-State to victory against a pesky opponent. On Monday, he dominated UMKC with 21 points and nine rebounds in 25 minutes, muscling his way past defenders for layups and trips to the free-throw line in a game K-State trailed at halftime. He led the turnaround.
“Gipson makes it look easy down low,” K-State guard Marcus Foster said. “It is great to have a guy we can get the ball to down low to get easy buckets. He has been working really hard. I cannot remember the last time he has had a horrible practice. When your leader does not have bad practices, it shows when he goes out and plays. He has good games.”
Added Weber: “Gip was rock solid for us. He has been rock solid the whole time. It’s great. He is playing like a senior.”
K-State coaches urged Gipson to take on a leadership role last year during the team’s first road trip, a frustrating tournament in Puerto Rico, and he embraced the challenge. On a team filled with freshmen, he was the unquestioned vocal leader.
Weber thanked Gipson for his service afterward, naming him the team’s co-MVP along with Foster. Still, on a more experienced team filled with transfers and talent, he wanted something else from him this season.
“Last year, I asked him to be very vocal and I think it took a toll on him as the season went on,” Weber said. “This year, we told Gipson and (Nino) Williams to lead by example. We need that type of leadership. You cannot take practices off.”
Clearly, the change suits Gipson.
“I think it is more natural to be a leader this year,” Gipson said, “and trying to lead by example and do the right things.”
New challenges await Gipson on the road, but he appears ready for them. K-State was one of the nation’s worst teams away from home last season, beating only TCU and Texas Tech in true road games. That killed their chances of competing for a Big 12 championship and obtaining a favorable seed in the NCAA Tournament.
The Wildcats want more this time around.
They will look to Gipson for guidance.
“Having a road game early in the non-conference will help us prepare for the Big 12,” Gipson said. “We did not have any non-conference road games last season, and I think it ended up hurting us in the Big 12. I am going to do my best to lead the team. I am the veteran and a lot of my teammates do not have a ton of experience playing in road games so I am just ready to lead us to some wins coming up.”