STEPHENVILLE – Tarleton Men’s Basketball put a stamp on its inaugural Division I season with four Texans honored by the Western Athletic Conference with end-of-season awards.
Freddy Hicks headlined the Texan award winners taking home the WAC Freshman of the Year honor. Montre Gipson was named to the All-WAC Newcomer Team while Gipson, Shakur Daniel and Tahj Small were named Honorable Mention All-WAC. All-conference awards were voted on by the league’s head coaches and coaches could not vote for their own players.
“To have four guys recognized by the WAC head coaches in our first year of transition is rewarding for our program and the players,” said head coach Billy Gillispie. “I’m proud of and happy for Freddy, Montre, Shakur and Tahj and the job they did this season and continued to get better all year.”
Hicks was a staple in the Texan starting lineup as a true freshman and led all WAC first-year players in scoring with 8.2 points. The Searcy, Arkansas native averaged 23 minutes per game and finished second on the team with 5.2 rebounds, first in blocks (0.6) and also averaged 0.7 steals. Hick also led the team in double-doubles with three, all of which came in conference play on the road. As the schedule turned to conference play, Hicks continued to elevate his performance, averaging 8.6 points and a team-high 6.4 rebounds. Hicks had seven double-digit scoring games, including three in the final five WAC games.
“It’s a great honor for Freddy to be a player that is considered to be the best person in his class in a league as distinguished as the WAC,” said Gillispie. “It’s quite an honor for him to receive this award. Freddy played really good from start to finish but he improved every game and played his absolute best basketball of the season down the stretch.
“I’ve coached a lot of really great college freshman, but no one has had as good of a game as Freddy did in the second to last game against UTRGV with 21 points and 11 rebounds on the road,” Gillispie added. “He was a dominate freshman in a league dominated by redshirts and transfers. I’m so excited about him this year as a freshman and it’s exciting to even think about what he might become in the future. He’s a great person, player and teammate with unbelievable things ahead for him.”
Gipson was not only Tarleton’s leading scorer on the season, but one of the top producing players in the conference. Gipson averaged 15.3 points, 3.8 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 1.4 steals in 19 games while playing a team-high 32.8 minutes. He ranked fifth in the WAC in scoring, ninth in assists and sixth in steals. What makes the numbers even more impressive is the efficiency in which he shot the basketball. Gipson shot 55 percent from the floor, which ranked fourth in the WAC and first among guards, he ranked first in the WAC in 3-point shooting at 50 percent, and second in free-throw percentage at 85.2. The DeSoto native had six 20-point games, including a career-high 30-point performance against Grand Canyon. Gipson also became the first player in program history to claim WAC Player of the Week honors on March 7.
“I always thought when the first time I saw Tre play that he was going to be one of the better players I’ve been around,” Gillispie said. “I’ve seen all the great point guards in the state of Texas in my career and thought he placed himself in that category. He’s really going to benefit from two more years instead of one with us. What makes Tre even more impressive is every team we played knew they had to stop him but never did. What he was able to do for us this season was phenomenal and as a team-first guy, he’s deserving of these accolades.”
Daniel has been labeled as the “glue guy” on this Texan roster and the head coaches around the league took notice, too. Daniel played in all 20 games, averaging 32.4 minutes and played all 40 minutes eight times. Daniel did it all for the Texans, averaging 7.0 points on 43 percent shooting, 3.2 rebounds, 2.7 assists and 1.6 steals. The Toronto, Canada native scored in double figures six times, including four in conference. The versatile Daniel had at least five rebounds five times, four assists six times, and at least three steals six times. While in charge of ball-handling duties for much of the games, Daniel had double the amount of assists (54) than turnovers (26), including 13 games with one or zero turnovers.
Small was one of Tarleton’s leading scorers off the bench this season, posting 9.2 points in 21.6 minutes on 52 percent shooting from the floor and 46 percent from 3-point range. Small led the Texans in rebounding at 5.8 while also dishing out 1.6 assists and 1.2 steals per game, which ranked ninth in the WAC. The junior from Durham, North Carolina ranked third in the WAC in 3-point percentage and ninth in field goal percentage. The 6-foot-5 Small posted two double-doubles in his debut season with the Texans, which came on back-to-back games, including 11 points and a career-high 14 rebounds against WAC co-champion Grand Canyon that featured three players 6’10 or taller. Small had seven double-digit scoring games with four of the games coming off the bench.
Tarleton finished the season with a WAC-leading three straight wins and seven of its last nine to go 10-10 overall and 5-7 in the WAC. In its Division I debut, the Texans defeated co-WAC Champion Utah Valley on the road for its first conference victory. They also topped three-time defending WAC champion New Mexico State and swept UTRGV, a team projected to finish third in the preseason poll, on the road.