Lipski leaves Montana to return to first love - hoops

It took Matt Lipski a season of Division I football and a few intramural basketball games to determine which sport he loved and which he could live without.

The answer may surprise you.

A former Ashland High two-sport standout who earned a full-ride scholarship to play football for the University of Montana, Lipski has left the gridiron to play basketball for College of the Redwoods, a two-year junior college in Eureka, Calif.

Lipski will be the starting center for the Corsairs when they open their 2009-10 season Friday at a tournament in San Luis Obispo, Calif. He expects to play a major role on the team, to improve his post skills and to continue to shed weight. But mostly, Lipski expects to have fun playing the game he loves.

"It was a great experience," Lipski said of playing offensive line for Montana during its march to the 2008 NCAA Division I-FCS championship game, "but, I could tell that there was something I was missing and it took me a while but I finally figured out it that it was basketball, and I needed to get back into it.

"I kind of realized that if I'm working this hard for football every day, I might as well do it for basketball because that's my passion."

Lipski will join former Ashland High teammate Austin Raymond at College of the Redwoods, which competes in the Golden Valley Conference against the likes of Shasta College, Butte College and Feather River College.

At AHS, Lipski was an all-star in both basketball and football, but gained attention from football recruiters who were impressed by his 6-foot-9, 330-pound frame. After deciding to accept Montana's scholarship offer, Lipski quickly made the move look like a good one on both sides by breaking into the regular rotation at right guard. He ended up seeing limited action during the Grizzlies' playoff run, which ended with a championship game loss to Richmond.

Lipski's attention turned to basketball in the spring. Once he discovered that Raymond had similar aspirations, the two decided that College of the Redwoods was a good fit.

"We both felt like it was the right spot and we're very, very excited about the upcoming year here," Lipski said.

The switch required a major overhaul of Lipski's body, however. Built to withstand the pounding on the offensive line, Lipski changed his diet and hit the gym hard over the summer in an effort to lose weight and regain the mobility that made Ashland a tough matchup during its 2008 run to the state basketball quarterfinals. The results have been startling.

Lipski has lost 60 pounds since leaving Montana.

"I can certainly say that I'm moving up and down the court a lot faster than I used to and jumping up higher than I used to, which is nice," said Lipski, who is listed at 270 pounds on the Corsair's roster sheet. "It has definitely improved my athleticism a lot."

So much so, that Redwoods coach Rich Mendoza said he would not have guessed that Lipski was a former Division I football player.

"Matt moves well," Mendoza said. "He's not a jet, but he's not a slug out there. I think he could maybe in a year's time get down to 255 or so, and he's a very good athlete."

The Corsairs' season runs through February and their first home game is Dec. 5 against Southwestern Oregon Community College.

Mendoza said Lipski will get plenty of opportunities to prove himself again on the basketball court.

"He's the main centerpiece of our team," Mendoza said. "I wasn't sure if he was going to be good enough to build everything around, but he's definitely a big part of what we do and will be a focal point this year. I know he's going to get better because he wants to get better."

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