By BEN JOHNSON
Larry Gipson has coached in close to 900 basketball games. And that’s just as a head coach, not counting games an assistant.
Yet, during the 2011-2012 season at Northeastern State, he encountered the greatest challenge during his coaching tenure.
The longtime hoops coach announced in early December of 2011 that he was taking a medical leave of absence after finding out he had prostate cancer.
“A year ago at this time, I was just reeling,” Gipson said. “I got the news in late October about having prostate cancer. I went through a series of doctors appointments that said I needed surgery.”
Gipson, though, labored through the first month of the season before handing the reigns to assistant coach Jon Havens.
“In retrospect, I tried to stay focused on the team,” Gipson said. “But I couldn’t for obvious reasons.”
The RiverHawks went and recorded a 5-21 season, all while Gipson was relegated to watching from his office, which overlooks the floor at Jack Dobbins Field House.
“I really did miss it last year,” Gipson said. “But, it reenergized me for this season. Now, I’m excited about practice every day and I’m excited about interactions on a daily basis on campus.”
At one point last season, Gipson tried to sit on the bench during NSU’s game against Central Oklahoma. But even that wore him out.
“That game told me I couldn’t do that; I had to get healthy,” Gipson said. “It wore me out.
“I was frustrated for Jon Havens and frustrated for the players, but there wasn’t much I could do about it at the time.”
That was then, this is now.
Gipson is back — with Havens also on the bench still — as NSU prepares to open its season Monday at home against Northwest Oklahoma State.
“I like our team,” Gipson said. “I think we’ve really been practicing well and practicing with a purpose.
“The new guys we brought in have come in and made contributions on a daily basis. Veterans have been very comfortable. I’ve seen things in two scrimmages that make me optimistic.”
As for NSU’s worst season, record-wise, during Gipson’s tenure, he said the RiverHawks have to learn from it and put it in the past.
“I want us to understand what we need to do on a daily basis to avoid what we went through last year,” said Gipson, whose club lost games last season by an average margin of 4.5 points. “We don’t talk about it, but we know it’s unacceptable. We need to be a tight-knit team that’s thinking about the team on and off the floor. We also want the seniors to take some ownership of the team this year.”
Those seniors for the RiverHawks include Ethan Anderson, Jon Miller, Jermaine Bransford, Zach Jones, John Schneider and Christian Mack. Also in the rotation for NSU will be Landon DeMasters, Marcus Sheppard and Bryton Hobbs.