By COREY McMULLEN
For most athletes to make it to the collegiate level, it took a lifetime of practicing their craft.
Kaylon Tippins isn’t most collegiate athletes, however.
At 6 feet, 8 inches, the Aztecs starting forward didn’t start playing basketball until his junior year of high school.
Born and raised in Fort Worth, Texas, Tippins was a football player who never thought about playing basketball.
Tippins started high school in Fort Worth at North Crowley High School. He was 5 feet, 5 inches. By his sophomore year, he was standing 6 feet tall, and when he graduated, he was 6 feet, 5 inches.
Tippins and his family moved to Tucson his junior year of high school to be closer to his mom’s side of the family.
Tippins says the transition from Texas was a tough move. He didn’t expect to move, but he didn’t want to be a hard kid for his mom. He attended Cholla High School and earned a Division 2 football scholarship as a wide receiver to Western New Mexico University.
Tippins never played any sort of organized basketball before his junior year at Cholla, where he started on its junior varsity team.
“I was probably averaging 5 to 6 points in high school,” Tippins said.
Being from Texas football has always been a huge part of the Tippins’ household. Tippins says the real reason he started playing basketball was to get quicker feet for football. Now Tippins believes his years of football are helping him on the basketball court.
“Things from football help me on the court,” he said. “When I’m sprinting the lanes and they throw the ball over the top, it’s easier for me to locate the ball.”
He decided to leave Western New Mexico and walk away from the sport because of a phone call from a basketball coach at Tohono O’odham Community College. He asked Tippins to come down and play basketball next time he was in Tucson.
At first, Tippins thought the person on the phone was just a friend because he didn’t have the number saved.
Then the man said, “We want to offer you a scholarship,” and Tippins realized he didn’t know who it was.
Undecided on what to do, Tippins talked to the running backs coach at Western New Mexico and told him he was planning to go back to Arizona to play. The coach challenged Tippins to a game of one on one. If Tippins lost, he had to stay, but if he won, he was free to make his own choice. He won.
When he transferred to Tohono O’odham to play, Tippins found himself not enjoying the program as much as he had hoped.
He then received a phone call from Pima assistant coach H. Hendrickson. The two discussed what Tippins’ plans were, and if he wanted to gray shirt, which means he’d miss a year of eligibility because the two schools are in the same conference. After the call, Tippins packed his bags and left the next morning to enroll at Pima.
So, Tippins sat out his first year with the Aztecs. During his first week with the team at practice, he broke his ankle.
Tippins had to miss three months, but he still sat behind the bench and attended every game.
Tippins praised Hendrickson on being a huge help for him on and off the court, especially with his academics.
“Our relationship is different compared to a lot of other people just because I have had to do a lot of extra stuff with Kaylon, whether that means getting him a little more motivated to doing his schoolwork (or) motivated to want to see a different aspect of the game of basketball,” Hendrickson said.
He believes Tippins fully has bought into the system and will do whatever it takes to win.
Aztecs Head Coach Brian Peabody said Tippins is one of the most improved players both on and off the court.
“He had some struggles academically when we got him,” Peabody said. “He’s a way better student. In high school, he was a football player first, a basketball player second. I think he’s really made the transition into being a student athlete more so then any of our guys.”
Tippins has been described as the hardest working player on the court. He never takes off a practice or play.
“He comes in, he plays hard,” Peabody said. “He’s our best practice player. He only knows one way to go and that’s hard.”
As a liberal arts major, Tippins wants to go into sports journalism and find out why so many great student athletes struggle so much with academics.
He plans to move to the next level and continue his basketball career at a four-year university.
Tippins comes from a big family that includes four brothers and two sisters. When he graduated high school, Tippins’ family moved back to Texas, but as soon as he started playing basketball at Pima, they moved back to Tucson to watch him.
When he’s not focusing on Pima basketball or his schoolwork, Tippins is playing basketball or 2K. If he’s doing something non-basketball -related, he’s most likely with his mom.
“My family is competitive whether it’s Uno, basketball, kickball,” Tippins said. “Whatever we’re doing, we’re competitive.”
Tippins believes the Aztecs have everything it takes to win a championship.
“I love playing with these guys,” he said. “I have a good group behind me.”