By BEN JOHNSON
Ethan Anderson knew something was up. He just didn’t know what to expect.
“After the game (on Saturday), when he said, ‘we have a meeting on Sunday at 5:45 — a quick meeting, maybe five minutes,’” Anderson recalled. “So I was wondering and thinking, ‘OK, that’s kind of sketchy because we’ve never had one like that before.’”
Sure enough, there was an impactful message to be delivered. NSU coach Larry Gipson told the RiverHawks that he was retiring at season’s end.
That means that tonight’s home clash with Pittsburg State could be Gipson’s final game ever coached in Tahlequah. Unless, of course, NSU vaults itself into the Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association’s top eight and picks up a home contest in the first round of the league tournament.
The RiverHawks (12-10, 7-8 MIAA) are currently in ninth with four regular-season games left to go.
So with Gipson set to call it a career, Anderson said there’s even more motivation now to land a home game in the league tournament and try to sneak into the NCAA tournament field.
“We’ve got four games in the regular season and then the conference tournament,” Anderson said. “The goal is to win all the rest of the games and the conference tournament and get into the (NCAA) tournament and win the championship.”
NSU enters the final four-game stretch trailing Emporia State and Washburn by a half game. The RiverHawks are a full game behind Nebraska Kearney.
Working in NSU’s favor is Pittsburg State’s current five-game losing streak. The Gorillas (7-15, 3-12) are coming off an 87-69 loss at Fort Hays State.
In the girls game, which starts at 5:30, NSU (10-12, 7-8) will face the hottest team in the league. Pittsburg State (19-6, 12-) has won eight straight games, including a 71-67 victory over Fort Hays State on Saturday.
NSU basketball notebook
Reason for retirement: Northeastern State coach Larry Gipson announced that he’s retiring at the conclusion of the current basketball season. That much is known.
What wasn’t known is why. Until he addressed it on Monday at a press conference to officially announce his retirement.
“I read an article about coach Bear Bryant, the legendary Alabama coach, and he said that when players came to him and asked if they should go into coaching that he told them that the only way you should coach is if you can’t live without,” Gipson said. “...When I wake up today, working with (the players) or organizing an offense or a defense, those things I feel comfortable with. Taking a bus trip to Kearney (Neb.) and Fort Hays — not so much.
“Suffering a tough loss and then getting in the car the next morning and going and recruiting, not so much.”
Gipson wanted NSU to have a coach that could remain committed to doing those things.
“I think it’s not fair to the university to not have a coach that can’t live without it,” he said. “Right now, I feel like I can live without it.”
And when? Gipson had always said that when it came time for him to reassess his time in coaching, he’d make that decision during the offseason.
But based on contractual details in the state, certain paperwork has to be completed by the first day of April. Gipson said that threw a kink into his plans.
“It’s not like I could finish the season and have a lot of time to think about it,” Gipson said.
Then a recent trip to the doctor had Gipson thinking about his career before the season was over.
“I got, say a C-plus report from my urologist, and I felt like, ya know, it’s the appropriate time,” said Gipson, who missed most of the 2011-2012 season after being diagnosed with prostate cancer. Gipson, though, returned to the bench for the RiverHawks in 2012-2013.
“Really, I remember we outscored Harding 9-0 in the last 27 seconds (on Nov. 30), and we had gotten beat the night before by Arkansas Tech and I was sitting there thinking the Arkansas Tech game hurt a whole heck of a lot more than this miracle finish makes me feel good; maybe it’s just time to think about doing something else.”
Gipson said he and his wife, Jennifer, plan to make a couple of trips to see friends once he retires. He also said he’ll spend even more time on the golf course than he already does.
Biggest compliment: When it came to mentors in Gipson’s career, there were none he held in such lofty esteem than Henry Iba, the legendary coach at Oklahoma State.
So of course when Gipson was asked about the biggest compliment he received during his career, Iba’s name came up.
“One of the proudest moments of my life was when we won the national championship in 2003, and Gene Iba at Pittsburg State called me up,” Gipson recalled. “Mr. (Henry) Iba used to start at NEO and watch us practice for a few days and then he’d go to Missouri and watch Norm Stewart practice. Then he’d go to Kansas State...and then down to UTEP; all these former players of his. Then he’d stop in and watch Baylor practice where Gene was coaching at the time — his nephew. Then he’d go to TCU where is son Moe was coaching. And Gene said he was at Baylor with him and he said, ‘ah hell, you guys don’t listen to me, I’m going back up to NEO. Larry pays attention.’
“Then after (the national championship game) Gene turned to his wife and said, ‘Larry did pay attention.’ That’s maybe the greatest compliment I’ve ever had.”