UH forward Matt Gipson is contributing off the bench after a slow start.

Gipson follows
own beat

The Hawaii forward sticks out
for his taste in music and books

You don't find college basketball players like Matthew Gipson every day.

Six-foot-9 forwards who can both score in the paint and knock down 3-pointers are rare enough. But much of what makes Gipson unique has nothing to do with his abilities on the court.

While hip-hop fills the headphones of some of his Hawaii teammates, Gipson prefers the reflections of Bob Dylan.

As sales of MP3 players soar, Gipson treasures the subtle hisses and pops of vinyl records.

While folks spend their evenings tracking their favorite reality show, Gipson immerses himself in books ranging from studies on ancient Hinduism to the poetry of Sylvia Plath.

"He likes to read a lot," said UH center Chris Botez, Gipson's roommate. "He'll wake up and he'll read. Before he goes to sleep he reads."

Gipson's arrival in Hawaii this season marked the latest stop in a post-high-school journey nearly as far-flung as his reading interests, and his versatility on the court mirrors his eclectic tastes.

"It's kind of how my game is and how my life is," said Gipson, who is currently wrapped up in Dan Brown's bestseller "Angels and Demons."

"I try to dab into a little bit of everything and kind of feel it out, like what I try to do on the basketball court."

Gipson, not to be confused with guard Matt Gibson, joined the Rainbow Warriors this season after spending two years at Oklahoma and one at North Idaho College. He got off to a shaky start with the 'Bows as he struggled with injuries and learning the UH system. But he's steadily developed into a key contributor off the bench.

Known as "Big Matt," Gipson gives the Rainbows depth in the front court, averaging 8.6 points and 5.6 rebounds while backing up Jeff Blackett at power forward or filling in at center.

Although he can also float to the perimeter for outside jumpers, UH coach Riley Wallace wants him to focus on working in the post first.

"He's got to establish a good inside game before you turn him loose to be an outside player," Wallace said. "He's got to get tougher inside and then slide outside."

Gipson had a strong showing in the Outrigger Hotels Rainbow Classic last month, but is coming off an admittedly subpar performance against Nevada last Saturday.

Gipson and the Rainbows (8-2, 0-2), who have lost their first two Western Athletic Conference games, will try to bounce back in tomorrow's contest with San Jose State (3-8, 0-2) at the Stan Sheriff Center.

"You just have to stay level. You're never as bad as you think you are and you're never as good as you think you are," Gipson said. "So you just have to come in with a good head every day and be ready to go. When you wake up it's a new day, it's a new beginning."

If Gipson's non-basketball interests don't coincide with those of his peers, it's partly because he grew up removed from the media overload of metropolitan America.

He was raised on the outskirts of Burkburnett, Texas (population 10,927), where he could ride horses or play in the fields as a youth.

As he perfected his jump shot during hours spent in the gym, his passion for books and music also took root.

"My parents listened to folk and western swing and my dad listened to classic rock," said Gipson, who plays the harmonica. "I grew up listening to Dylan and I really got into him.

"I'm not really plugged into mainstream stuff. I mean, there's nothing wrong with it, it's just never been me."

While Gipson's love of music has been constant, his enthusiasm for basketball waned a bit while at Oklahoma. He said a lack of playing time with the Sooners factored into his decision to transfer to North Idaho, but the business of basketball also took its toll.

"It just wasn't fun anymore," he said. "I didn't even know if I wanted to play anymore. Then I went to JUCO and got it back, and started having fun and loving the game."

Gipson signed with UH while at NIC and went on to earn third-team NJCAA All-America honors last year. It took Gipson a while to acclimate to the lifestyle in Hawaii, but he now feels at home in the islands.

He said his UH teammates give him some good-natured grief about his choice of tunes, but he's working on converting at least one UH player.

"Little Matt Gibson's going to go with me to a festival this summer and some concerts," Gipson said. "The rest of them, I don't know if there's any hope for them. They respect it though."

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