Tamin Lipsey smiled and looked down at his brand-new white jersey with the cardinal and gold trim.
A smile spread across the freshman from Ames’ face as he considered the question. What did it feel like to put that jersey on for the first time?
“It’s surreal,” Lipsey told Cyclone Fanatic during Iowa State’s annual men’s basketball media day on Wednesday. “Seeing my name on the back of the jersey, just growing up all my life watching Iowa State. Yeah, it’s amazing.”
Iowa State under head coach T.J. Otzelberger is no stranger to playing a true freshman at point guard. The team did it with massive success a year ago as Tyrese Hunter emerged as one of the league’s best young players while helping the Cyclones reach their first Sweet 16 since 2016.
But, Hunter is gone, to Austin, Texas via the transfer portal.
And now, after an Achilles injury suffered by Temple transfer guard Jeremiah Williams, Iowa State is back in the same position it was at this time a year ago.
A true freshman will be playing a lot of minutes at the point guard spot for Iowa State, whether that be Lipsey or classmate, and Lipsey’s longtime AAU teammate, Eli King.
“Well, we knew bringing in guys like Tamin Lipsey and Eli King, we had a lot of confidence in the job that they would be able to do,” Otzelberger said. “Certainly, unfortunate for Jeremiah, a guy who had two years under his belt in the American Conference starting at Temple at that position. Yet at the same time, how we do things in our program and the belief that we have in those two young men is that they’ll step up and answer the call.”
When you talk about Lipsey with anyone, his teammates, his coaches, his former coaches, the people who watched his grow and become a star while leading his Ames High team to a Class 4A state title last season, there’s one word that comes up over and over again.
His game exudes winning. Most high school basketball stars showed up on any given night looking to prove their skill by dropping buckets.
Lipsey showed up every night looking to prove himself by making winning plays. He’s a true floor general, a player who doesn’t look to create for himself, but plays the game with the intent of setting up his teammates.
He’s not the kind of player who will show up and give you 25 points on any given night. He’s the kind of guy who can show up and give you 11 points, 1`1 rebounds and 10 assists, as he did during the Little Cyclones’ state championship win over Johnston last March.
“He knows how to win. He’s a winner,” Iowa State senior guard Jaren Holmes, a transfer from St. Bonaventure, said. “You can see every day in practice his competitive level, the things that he does to try to win every sprint or every loose ball, every rebound, every game, you can see that in him. He does whatever it takes, whether it’s getting into the teeth of the defense, making plays, different things of that nature. So I could tell that he’s that type of player. I’ve learned a lot about him from playing with him. He’ll do anything to win.”
It has been a long time since an in-state player on Iowa State’s roster made a significant impact on a Cyclone team across the entirety of a season.
Lipsey has a chance to do just that while trying to make his hometown proud by playing for the hometown school.
To some, that might feel like pressure.
To Lipsey, it feels like an opportunity.
“There’s always pressure in everything that I do,” Lipsey said. “Most athletes have a lot of pressure. I have a lot of experience just playing with USA and all types of pressure. I don’t really feel it. I just know that I’ve got to trust what I have inside of me, and trust my ability.”
Relieving any pressure that does come Lipsey’s way will surely be helped by being alongside his longtime friend in King. The two are roommates in addition to battling for the job as Iowa State’s starting point guard.
Winning has come naturally to King, too. The 6-foot-3 Caledonia, Minn. native helped his team finish third at the Minnesota state basketball tournament last season.
He scored 35 points, grabbed 14 rebounds, eight steals and dished four assists in that third-place game win after averaging nearly a double-double with 19.9 points and 9.7 rebounds per game as a senior while finishing as a finalist for Minnesota’s Mr. Basketball award.
King is an explosive player with the ability to dunk on someone and the ability to score from every level of the court while playing on or off the ball.
“We push each other a lot every day, just guarding each other, pressuring each other, making each other better every day,” Lipsey said of King. “Once we’re on the same team, we have that chemistry that’s been built up for the past couple of years. We’re there for each other.”
Luckily for both players, they’ve got veteran leaders like Holmes, Gabe Kalscheur, Caleb Grill and others who can help them navigate the rigors of the college basketball season.
Neither of them should feel pressure to be “the guy” for Iowa State, unlike Hunter was at times a year ago when the program seemed poised to be built around his explosive playmaking ability for years to come.
Even though Lipsey and King have never been in this situation, Iowa State’s program, Otzelberger and several members of this roster have. They know how they need to help bring along their young floor generals.
Odds are, they won’t need too much help.
They know what it takes to win.
“It’s awesome just to see those my young teammates just continuing just to strive and to grow,” Kalscheur said. “Myself, Caleb, all the veteran guys that continue just to help them throughout their tough times be there for him and uplift them the most we can do and I think that’s going to help them and help our team.”