Blue-chip basketball star Tamin Lipsey talks about getting an offer to play for the Cyclones Zachary Boyden-Holmes, DesMoines
AMES, Ia. — Holly Lipsey smiles when her husband, Rob, brings up the pogo stick.
"Oh yeah," she whispers, nodding.
Rob continues his story, remembering when he knew his son, Tamin, a freshman at Ames High considered to be one of the country’s top basketball prospects in his class, was an athletic wonder.
Some neighborhood children were playing with a pogo stick in the Lipseys' driveway. They'd get a few bounces in before falling off and trying again. Tamin decided to join them.
About 10 minutes later, Rob saw his son, who was maybe 7 or 8 at the time, bouncing like it was nothing. Perfect balance. It almost looked boring.
Then he heard what number Tamin was on — and realized this was still his first attempt.
He had never fallen off.
"He was at 1,100," Rob said. "Eventually he got to 1,200, and he just stopped when he could have kept going. He’s like, 'I’m done.' For me that was a moment when, 'OK, he just did that naturally.'
"That was special."
That's a good word to describe Tamin Lipsey. The 6-foot-2 point guard was one of 29 freshmen invited to USA Basketball's Junior National Team minicamp in October, and he’ll be at the next minicamp in April. As long as we're talking national achievements, might as well mention he's a three-time National Junior Olympics champion in the hurdles, long jump and high jump, too.
Lipsey is averaging 16.8 points, 4.2 rebounds, 3.8 assists and 2.4 steals per game for the Little Cyclones this year. He holds an offer from the regular-sized Cyclones at Iowa State. Iowa, Michigan, Tulane and North Carolina are also interested.
Not long ago, the 15-year-old was a young kid watching Ames basketball games, hearing about Harrison Barnes doing a 360-degree dunk on the radio and dreaming of wearing the same high school jersey one day.
Now he’s a budding blue-chipper here, just like Barnes was a decade ago.
"(Time) went quick," he said, smiling. "I never expected any of (this type of success) when I was younger."
Last July, Lipsey and his All Iowa Attack 16-and-under AAU team lost to MOKAN Elite, one of the country’s top programs. MOKAN’s coach approached Lipsey’s coach, Keith Moore, after the game.
"He said, 'Hey, that little guard is really good.' And I said, 'Yeah, he’s only in the eighth grade.' And he literally about fainted when I told him that."
"He said, 'What?!'" Moore continued. "I said, 'Yeah he’s only in the eighth grade. I think he’s got a chance to be really good.' And excuse my language, but the coach was like, 'No s---, he’s got a chance to be really good.'"
That stunned reaction was common last summer, Moore said, when Lipsey played up two age levels and outperformed high school sophomores on the AAU circuit.
It’s the same reaction spreading throughout Iowa as more basketball fans learn about Lipsey. He knows what people are saying ...
That he’ll be a nationally coveted recruit.
That he’ll be an Ames legend, like Barnes, Doug McDermott or Fred Hoiberg.
That he’ll be the next Marcus Paige or Kirk Hinrich.
He hears all that. And he wants it, too. He wants to be a college star. He wants to play in the NBA.
But Lipsey, whose parents and three older sisters raised him to have a tiny ego and level head, also knows he’s got a long way to go.
"I don’t like to get too far ahead of myself," said Lipsey, sitting between his parents on their family room sofa. "I like to stay where I’m at right now, so I don't really look to the future that much. I like to dream about stuff, but that’s really (it)."
Still, his dreams are closer to reality than the average 15-year-old's.
Vance Downs has been the head boys' basketball coach at Ames since 2003. He remembers one practice when Barnes, who eventually became the nation's top high school recruit, dunked so hard that he nearly broke the backboard. Downs said he turned around because he didn’t want Barnes, a freshman at the time, to see his jaw drop.
That was his "aha” moment with Barnes. He realized the 6-8 kid was elite.
Downs said he’s had several similar moments with Lipsey, like when he banks in 15-foot floaters at impossible angles. He believes Lipsey has a bright future because he and Barnes have the same kind of head on their shoulders.
"There’s no character flaws with these two guys," he said. "They’re A-plus on the character front, both of them. That’s a really neat deal. You don’t get kids that talented that have both of them, and they both do.
"There’s not enough positive adjectives I can throw at you to describe (Lipsey). He checks all those boxes. And then there’s really nothing on the court that he physically can’t do."
Moore has been coaching with All Iowa Attack since 2008. He was there for Barnes, who graduated in 2010, and the Linn-Mar product Paige, another eventual North Carolina star, who graduated in 2012.
"When you look at Tamin and you look at Marcus Paige, those guys just saw things before other people saw them — know what I mean?" Moore said. "They anticipated people being open, or they anticipated the next play before that play even happened. And then you put in Tamin’s athletic background with his basketball IQ, and you just have something really, really special."
Steve Prohm invited Lipsey to his office last June during an Iowa State-run team camp. When Lipsey walked in, he immediately spotted two photos of Monte Morris and Cameron Payne, former Prohm point guards now in the NBA, perched on the wall by the Cyclone head coach's desk. Then, Prohm offered Lipsey, who hadn't even begun high school, a scholarship.
"I didn't know if I had heard him right," Lipsey remembered. "I was going to ask, but I waited until after when he said it again — just to make sure I knew."
This offer bumped Lipsey's profile in Iowa, but college coaches had known about him for a while. The Tar Heels first expressed interest last January, when assistant coach Steve Robinson pulled Lipsey aside during an All Iowa Attack campus visit.
Robinson was the main recruiter for Barnes and Paige, and he’s kept relationships with both Downs and Moore through the years.
"They’re well aware of him," Moore said.
The North Carolina interest obviously jumps out, especially in the city that produced Barnes. Robinson recently asked for film from Lipsey’s high school games, the freshman said.
Tamin Lipsey shows off shooting and play-making in these highlights of Ames' game versus Johnston. Matthew Bain, Sports writer
When North Carolina notices somebody, other schools pay attention. Iowa, Michigan and Tulane are the additional programs that have reached out, but Lipsey is no doubt on the radar of many Midwestern schools.
And now that he’s firmly on the map, AAU ball becomes more important. Lipsey will play with All Iowa Attack’s 17-and-under team this spring and summer — a rarity for someone his age. Moore said the team will play at NY2LA tournaments (thought of as the best circuit for non-shoe-sponsored teams) during the weekends that NCAA coaches are allowed to watch.
Translation: Lipsey will have a chance to play in big games in front of big-time coaches.
"I would be shocked if, by the end of the summer, he doesn't have like eight to 10 pretty high offers," Moore said.
The Lipsey family watches Iowa State basketball and football games together in their living room. Well, mostly. If Tamin gets nervous, he’ll go to the basement to watch alone. During one football game in elementary school, Tamin got so nervous that he went out to the backyard to play. That is, until 10 minutes later, when his parents saw him peeking through the sliding glass door to check on his Cyclones.
"I always watched them on TV," said Lipsey, who makes no secret about his Cyclones fandom growing up.
Throughout his childhood, Lipsey was a Junior Cyclone Club member and went to as many Iowa State sporting events as he could. He religiously watched the Cyclones at home and still remembers being awe-struck when he attended an Iowa State basketball practice in third grade.
His sister, Phaedra, is a senior at Iowa State. Tamin’s parents both work at the university, and the family often attends football and basketball games.
But that doesn’t mean he's a lock for Ames. It’s still very early in Lipsey’s recruitment, and he is open to all options.
"Right now, I’m not really sure," he said. "But it’s Iowa State. I grew up watching them, cheering for them. So I’m honored to have an offer from Iowa State. I live in Ames. I love the fans. And I’ll just keep on with the recruiting process.
"But I’m still looking at my options."
That doesn’t mean Cyclone fans can’t dream, especially considering the last blue-chip talent from Iowa State's backyard wound up playing for Roy Williams.
Holly Lipsey even said her colleagues at school ask about Tamin.
"A lot of positive comments. Just good vibes," she said. "They always want to know if he’s going to go (to Iowa State). 'Is that his No. 1?' That’s usually what they ask. 'Where does Iowa State rank?'"
Fandom aside, Lipsey said Iowa State is appealing because of Prohm’s success with point guards.
"That’s really what (Prohm) talked about," Lipsey said. "How he really likes his point guard on his team because the point guard can control the team and control the whole game. Since I’m a point guard, that really gets to me — that I can just be the next one.
"I think that’s really my dream: to be the next great point guard at whatever college I go to and just make my mark and be one of the best."
So far, so good.
Matthew Bain covers college football and basketball recruiting for the Des Moines Register. He also helps out with Iowa and Iowa State football and basketball coverage for HawkCentral and Cyclone Insider. Contact him at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @MatthewBain_.