MANHATTAN — One look at Thomas Gipson is all it takes to realize he is a rare basketball player.
From his 6-foot-7, 275-pound body to his age and eye-popping numbers — he leads K-State in scoring (14.0) and rebounding (8.1) —the 18-year-old freshman forward is unlike anyone Frank Martin has recruited during his time at K-State.
The last freshman to match his type of production was current NBA forward Michael Beasley. The last freshman able to equal him in the weight room was former center Luis Colon. But he isn't comparable to either.
All of that makes him atypical, yet it fails to describe him as a player.
In order to do that, Gipson says you need to watch the way he calls for the ball in the paint, muscles his way to the rim with his back to the basket and tries to score the way big men used to 25 years ago.
"I don't think there are a lot of real posts that will do things like that," Gipson said. "Most everybody tries to be a guard now and wants to face up and dribble and shoot. I think I'm unique in that way."
Martin began heavily recruiting Gipson moments after watching him play for the first time.
Old-school post players are hard to come by these days. When Martin saw one with a full, thick beard powering through high school defenders in Cedar Hill, Texas — overlooked by some colleges in his home state — he saw a player who could help K-State right away.
"When I say that I saw something there that we didn't have, that's what I'm referring to," Martin said. "We didn't have a guy who played with his back to the basket. We had guys who played there because we asked him to. It's not like we had somebody that is real good at doing it. That's his strength.
"I love guys that play with their back to the basket. The game starts at the rim. And if you can't play at the rim, it's going to be hard for you to be a good team."
Gipson has helped K-State start 6-1. Outside of a rough first game against Charleston Southern, in which he scored two points and had no rebounds, he has been the Wildcats' best player.
Opposing coaches have called him a significant matchup problem inside. The Big 12 honored him as freshman of the week after double-doubles in games against West Virginia and North Florida.
"He is letting us know that we have a presence down low," senior forward Rodney McGruder said.
Gipson credits his coaches, and his devotion to his throwback playing style, for his success.
"My first real game was nerve-racking a little bit," Gipson said. "From then on, I talked to a lot of people. A lot of people were disappointed in me. They just said my main focus is to rebound. If I rebound more, I don't really need to get the ball as much in the post. If I rebound, I'm right there and I might as well put it back up. Since then my main focus is rebounding. I don't care about points."
Teammates appreciate that attitude, and have become so confident in him that they are passing him the ball late in close games.
Martin still has a long list of things he wants Gipson to improve. He thinks Gipson needs to come up with more defensive rebounds, start using his size to his advantage on defense and better learn K-State's system.
Once he figures all that out, though, there's no telling how far his game could take him.
"I hope in four years we can talk about him the way we talked about Jacob (Pullen)," Martin said, "that he can put his thumbprint on this program."