[ WARRIOR BASKETBALL ]
working to shorten
The UH newcomer is becoming
familiar with a new system while
recovering from surgery
Matt Gipson has been playing catch-up from the moment he stepped on the floor for his first practice with the Hawaii basketball team.
The Rainbow Warrior forward had surgery to remedy a creaky knee in the offseason, and although the procedure didn't reveal a tear in the ligaments, it hampered his preparation for his first season in Manoa.
Now, two weeks into the 'Bows' early-season practices, Gipson is gradually working his way into shape and displaying some of the skills that helped him earn junior-college accolades last season.
"I hated that. It set me back a lot," Gipson said of the surgery. "The coaches didn't know what I could do coming in and my legs still aren't there. I'm not where I want to be right now, but it's going to come."
Gipson, not to be confused with guard Matt Gibson, arrived at UH after garnering NJCAA third-team All-America honors at North Idaho College. Although behind in his conditioning, he showed an ability to score using an array of post moves and to knock down outside jumpers over the last week of practice.
"These last three days have been a lot better for me," Gipson said after Friday's session at the Stan Sheriff Center. "The plays aren't hard, it's just a lot to retain right now. But I'm getting a better concept of it. In a couple weeks I'll be there."
Gipson, a 6-foot-9, 235-pound junior, and senior Jeff Blackett are vying to replace four-year starter Phil Martin at power forward this season. Blackett has the advantage of a year in the UH system, while Gipson is learning the various reads and options built into each offensive set.
"He's got to get all that down," UH coach Riley Wallace said. "If you're thinking before you do stuff it slows everything down, that's expected with new guys. If you know what you're doing then you can put in your back-cuts, your quick-cuts, and you know how to find your shots. That takes time.
"He's got great skills, just like we thought he did, but he has to pick the stuff up."
This is Gipson's third stop since graduating from Burkburnett High School in Texas. He began his college career at Oklahoma, where he played sparingly as a redshirt freshman in 2002-03, and transferred to NIC last year.
He averaged 16.3 points and eight rebounds as a sophomore at NIC and said his college journey has already netted him some important lessons.
"I'm coming in here with a lot better attitude than I did the first time around (in Division I)," Gipson said. "I'm coming in here a better basketball player and a better teammate.
"I was just a basketball player coming out of high school, I didn't have any concept of how to play basketball team-wise. These three years of college have taught me how to play within a system and within a team."
Gipson was highly recruited coming out of high school and again at NIC, and his addition to the UH roster didn't go unnoticed by Western Athletic Conference coaches, who voted him the conference's preseason newcomer of the year.
"I don't really care about that stuff, I just care about winning games, what's in that left column," Gipson said. "They brought me in here to be a part of the team and win games. As far as everything else goes, it's good in a way, but I don't really care about it. That's not me."
Pointing the way: Wallace hasn't completely abandoned the concept of the two-headed point guard, but said junior Deonte Tatum has taken the early lead in the chase for the starting spot.
Tatum and sophomore Kris Groce have been competing for playing time at point guard. Both signed with UH after Logan Lee, UH's assist leader last season, left the team in July. Lee shared time with Jason Carter at the point last year.
Tatum (6-2, 175) is a tough defender and is establishing himself as a leader on the floor. While not physically imposing, Groce (5-9, 140) can zip to the basket on drives and has a smooth shooting touch from outside.
"(Tatum's) ahead. He just knows what we want and he's strong," Wallace said. "(Groce) shoots it better and can penetrate and kick pretty good. ... (Tatum) will probably get more minutes, but they'll both play."
Although some positions have come into clearer focus after two weeks, Wallace isn't ready to declare a first five yet.
"We have until Nov. 23 to make that decision," he said. "A lot can happen between now and then with the guys who are learning stuff."
Groce may fall behind even more after hurting his knee during a closed practice with Brigham Young-Hawaii yesterday in Laie. He will have an MRI tomorrow to determine the extent of the injury.
The Rainbows did get some good news yesterday as center Chris Botez was cleared to rejoin the team for today's practice. Botez had an MRI performed on his left knee on Friday after hurting it earlier in the week. Wallace said the injury was diagnosed as a deep bruise and will not require surgery.
NCAA rules allow schools to participate in closed scrimmages, but the workouts cannot be publicized and no official score is kept. The Rainbows have an exhibition game with UH-Hilo on Nov. 14.