Guts to glory
It was the preference of Darnell Hinson, a former Muskogee all-stater and redshirt junior on that team, that the players take care of it themselves.
“I was scared of Gipson,” he said. “When something happened it was always one of our faults. And you didn’t want Gipson mad at you.”
Gipson like now — with his shaven scalp, deep voice and dark-eyed stare — would blend in well with a mob. He had that intimidating sense about him.
He was demanding in action and voice. Hinson saw it the moment he got there.
“We had what we called a gut mile which we’d run following a mile run and seven 200-yard runs,” Hinson said. “It was called that because you’d feel it in the gut.
“One day I couldn’t finish it and coach told me I’d be back out the next morning at 6 to do it until I got it done. I remember telling Justin I couldn’t do it, that I was just going to quit. I wasn’t playing basketball, this was some kind of track team.”
Hinson would end up redshirting his freshman year.
“But by my sophomore year, I was the best gut-miler ever,” he said.
Barkley, Hinson and Jon Shepherd, a Tulsa Union grad who would become a two-time All-American, were part of the same class. Gipson remembers those gut miles and other gut checks.
“Darnell and I had this conversation recently and he reiterated how those three as freshmen, coming into a veteran team they were practicing against and starting day one with conditioning, two would quit and one of the three would tell them no, they were sticking it out. Over time they’d take turns as to who was quitting and who was going to encourage them.”
For Barkley, it was the physical demands and the culture adjustment.
“I came from a high school with one hall (Inola) to a campus of 7,000-8,000 and players from the east coast to the west coast. Then those workouts were grueling. We’ve come from going against 16-17 year olds to battling against grown men. It all was both mental and physical.”
It would pay off in 2001-02 with a Lone Star Conference championship, a school record for consecutive wins (15), a No. 1 ranking during that streak and a host role in the South Central Regional. Rockhurst won its opening game to get NSU, and prevailed 75-70 in double overtime.
“That stuck with us,” said Shon Robinson, a Baylor transfer out of Baton Rouge, La. “We were better than that and it was pretty bitter to not only come up short, but do as the host.”
“It was really tough to digest, just a horrible call that fouled Shepherd out at the end of regulation,” Gipson said. “Earl Sanchez, who had been a starter for most of the year broke his foot with 10 games to go. Robinson had a severely sprained ankle at the end. Guys were really hungry returning. Our challenge was not to allow complacency to set in.”
They began 2002-03 with an 86-69 win over Bacone then rolled off seven consecutive wins before losing 73-56 at Missouri Southern. Then came a new record for consecutive wins, an 18-game win streak that included a 61-48 win at home against then-No. 1 Tarleton State. Tarleton would return the favor in Stephenville, Texas, to end the streak and then after a two-point win over Midwestern State, came the worst loss of the year.
Then the transformation.