By Travis M. Smith | KBEC Sports
One Waxahachie basketball alumnus made a little history Monday evening, by becoming the first-ever student-athlete to sign a national letter of intent to play Division-I men’s basketball at Tarleton State University.
And he’ll take the court under a new head coach with four NCAA March Madness tournament appearances already under his belt.
Montre Gipson, a 2018 Waxahachie graduate, officially signed that NLI with Tarleton State University on Monday morning. Tarleton State will enter its 121st year as a university in the fall and will do so under first-year head men’s basketball coach Billy Gillispie.
“I feel like it’s best for me,” Gipson said of the opportunity to sign with Tarleton. “[Going Division I] means a lot to me. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do since high school, or middle school, really. I was given the opportunity to do it and I took it. I’m excited.”
Gillispie was hired as Tarleton’s 15th head men’s basketball coach on March 30. He is charged to lead the Texan basketball program into its Division-I and Western Athletic Conference era.
Gillispie formerly served as the head men’s basketball coach at Kentucky, Texas A&M, Texas Tech and Texas-El Paso and has posted an overall career DI coaching record of 148-108. He had spent the previous four seasons at Ranger Junior College, his alma mater, where he compiled a 103-24 record.
It was there that he met Gipson, who transferred to Ranger from Midland College for his sophomore season.
Gipson started in 28 of the 31 games he appeared in for the Rangers, though the majority of his time was spent playing as a forward in the low post of the often-four-guard lineup.
“It’s very important to know every position, and I was willing to do whatever the team needed to do,” said Gipson of the learning curve and new role. “I feel like I know my team can count on me.”
The shift from playing a traditional point or shooting guard led to the 6-foot Gipson shooting just 28 three-pointers on the season — nearly 140 fewer attempts than he took the year prior at Midland College.
Even still, Gipson averaged 9.6 points per game on 52.2% shooting from the field (107-205). He also averaged 5.3 rebounds per game with 88 assists and 46 steals.
Gipson converted on 85.4% of his attempts from the charity stripe (76-89), which ranked 27th in the country. He was ultimately named to the Northern Texas Junior College Athletic Conference second-team for his efforts.
Waxahachie head boys’ basketball coach Greg Gober, who coached Gipson and is a close friend of Gillispie, detailed a recent conversation he had with the newest Tarleton head coach after the season.
During that discussion, Gillispie pulled back the curtain a bit on just how much Gipson has matured on the court.
The talk began with Gillispie acknowledging that Gipson possesses a unique leadership trait. The guard can run the floor — both vocally and by dominating possessions — and has a way of getting teammates in the best position to succeed.
“At the end of the year, they (the coaches) talked with each player about, you know, ‘Who’d you like playing with the most,’ or ‘which one of your teammates do you respect the most,'” Gober explained of the talk with Gillispie. “And there were some other guys on the team who had a lot better stats or whatever, but it came down to who worked their butt off.
“And Billy said you’d be amazed at how many of them said that guy was Tre. They told him that ‘Tre is a difference-maker,’ so that helped set the stage too. When your teammates — instead of the guy who is the leading scorer or the one guy who is automatic or whatever — say that they want to play with Tre. That’s a good thing.”
Those same leadership traits helped Ranger College to a 28-3 record on the season.
Ranger fell to Western Texas College in the NJCAA Region V tournament, 80-58, on March 4. Gipson and the Rangers were then slated to play Columbia State Community College on March 16, only to have the season cut short due to the COVID-19 outbreak.
“One of the things that he had to overcome was just being really serious about what it takes to get to this level,” Gober said. “Whether it’s on the academic side of it or the commitment side of it, no one is going to hold your hand through it. You are either going to do it or not.
“[…] Billy really, really has a lot of stock in Tre, as far as a lot of belief. Tre came in with a lot of baggage with people saying that he, you know, he’s a gamer, but he doesn’t practice that hard. And he has changed Billy’s mind on that. He is committed and understands what he has to do to maintain his grades. Billy told me how proud of Tre he was just a couple of days ago. I’m happy for Tre.”
A small portion of the pride Gober has for Gipson came just days after the 2019-20 season was suspended due to the COVID-19 outbreak. He explained that Gipson spent a few days at home, only to call his head coach and ask to return to Ranger so that he could focus on his grades and training.
“That was a big deal for Billy to see how much he was committed,” Gober added. “He proved that he is going to get it done one way or another.”
Prior to Ranger, Gipson spent his freshman season at Midland College, where he racked up 18.0 points per game on 43.7% shooting from beyond the arc, knocking down 73-of-his-167 attempts from deep. He also pulled down 3.8 boards and dished out 3.3 assists per game.
Gipson’s points-per were 10th most in the NJCAA DI Region V and 71st in the country, while his three-point percentage was eighth-best in the region and 66th across the NJCAA. He also shot 81.1% from the free-throw line (117-143), good enough for the 71st-best mark in the country.
Gipson scored 20 or more points 11 times that season, which included a four-game stretch in early Nov. 2018 and a career-high 36 against Phoenix College on Dec. 28, 2018. He was selected to the All-Western Junior College Athletic Conference Basketball first-team.
Backtrack one year prior, Gipson scored a game-high 21 points in his final game donning Waxahachie green.
The output came during a heartbreaking 75-67 loss to Lancaster in the 5A regional quarterfinals. The Tigers went on to fall to Midlothian in the 5A Region II final a few days later.
Gipson was part of a “big three” that led the Runnin’ Indians to a USA Today Super25 top-15 national ranking, No. 1 ranking in Class 5A, 2017 5A regional final and back-to-back undefeated District 10-5A championships.
Gipson, who was a 2018 TABC All-Star, played alongside fellow District 10-5A first-team selections Larry Wise (UNT) and Qua Grant (West Texas A&M). Grant is arguably the top Division II player in the country.
“That group was incredible,” Gober said. “And just like I said back then, all three of them are Division I players and that’s been proven. What they did, really, was set the stage for a lot of other people because a lot of coaches kind of missed on them. So, now they [scouts] look back and think ‘well maybe these kids that don’t really pass an eye test sometimes, they can really play.’ […] A lot of people now have a lot of respect for our guards and how they play and the way they play. Overall, today, I am excited for Tre and think he is going to do great things with Billy Clyde at Tarleton.”
Travis M. Smith, @Travis5mith