Iupe: Happy He Took The Opportunity

At first, Joe Iupe was hesitant to take Mississippi State head coach Rick Stansbury up on his offer. But he didn't turn down the opportunity to walk-on the Bulldog's basketball squad the second time around.

Joseph Iupe, who played high school basketball at Madison Central High School, is currently involved in his first season as a freshman walk-on for the Bulldogs. And he's glad he grabbed this once-in-a-lifetime chance at the collegiate level.

"Coach Stansbury talked to me during the summer about walking on," said Iupe. "He wanted me to walk-on but I told him I just wanted to go to school and not play.

"But then he asked me again right before I started my first semester. I decided to think about it more and more and I knew I didn't want to regret not playing. So I told him I would and I haven't regretted a thing. I have enjoyed every minute of this experience, whether it's at games, traveling or in practice. I am so glad I took Coach up on his second offer."

During his prep days, Iupe was part of Madison Central's 2005 Class 5A state championship as well as a pair of Class 5A golf titles. But it only took one college basketball practice for Iupe to see the change of scenery out on the floor.

"It's really a lot of fun in practice," said Iupe. "The main thing is the players at this level and their athleticism. The skill level is not much different than mine or anybody else's. But their strength and athleticism is so much better than what you see in high school. That's the biggest difference."

And is being a member of State's basketball team something Iupe envisioned this time last year?

"Definitely not," said Iupe. "The biggest bonus is getting to travel and that makes it a lot of fun, going to places like Miami, Missouri, George Mason and then our SEC trips. It was such a different atmosphere in Miami with almost everybody talking Spanish. That was a neat experience."

Iupe didn't have to wait long to get his first taste of game action. Iupe played a couple of minutes in State's blowout victory over Nicholls State in the Bulldogs' season opener.

"It was an awesome experience," said Iupe of playing his first collegiate game. "The guys on the team were giving me a hard time. But it makes me feel good to get out there and hear the fans cheering. That makes any player feel good to see and hear people supporting them on the floor."

Iupe felt even better the next time out. In State's second game, Iupe recorded his first collegiate point, knocking down a free throw against Loyola Marymount.

"The main thing I was anticipating when I walked on was scoring my first point," said Iupe. "And I got to do that against Loyola Marymount, hitting one free throw after I missed my first one. That will probably be the biggest highlight of my career. Now I just have to make a field goal."

Iupe fully understand his moments on the floor will be far and few between.

Heading into Monday's game against Alabama State, Iupe has played in five games and a total of eight minutes, collecting one point and two assists.

But it has never been about playing, according to Iupe.

"As we start to pull away, I start to get more and more nervous," said Iupe. "And for me, it's not about playing time. I just enjoy being a part of the team and being around the team.

"Coach Stansbury told me at the start of the season that I could count my minutes this season on one hand. But I think I've already played more than Coach though I would and getting in games is just another bonus to me. It's never been about playing, just about being on the team."

Iupe's not the first member of his family to be on a Mississippi State team.

Iupe's father, Joe Iupe Jr., played golf at Mississippi State during the 1970's and was a two-time team captain.

Iupe recalls listening to Bulldog games over the airwaves and only dreamed of being there in person.

Now, years later, Iupe is living that dream.

"I have been a Mississippi State fan as long as I can remember," said Iupe. "I can remember being a kid and listening to games on the radio and wishing so bad that I was there, whether they were at home or on the road. Now I have that chance, sitting right there on the bench for all the games.

"I can't even imagine what it's going to be like warming up and doing pre-game drills at Rupp Arena later on this year. And then in high school playing basketball, we were riding buses everywhere. Now I am flying to games and riding charter buses. You can't beat that."

Iupe also has an up-close view of the young yet talented Mississippi State basketball team that is off and running with a 7-2 record.

Like die-hard Bulldog basketball fans, Iupe witnessed first-hand of States' inexperience at the first of the season.

But lately, he's seen an improvement in certain aspects of the team and is excited about the future of State's squad, not just for seasons to come but later this season in 2007.

"I think our chemistry is a lot better," said Iupe. "Coach has been preaching patience on offense and making that extra pass or two and now you can see it working better.

"I mean, we had 34 turnovers in our last exhibition game and I think we've just had 20 combined in our last two games. This is a young team and with more time and experience, these guys are only going to get better."

Paul Jones is a writer for the Dawgs' Bite, Powered by GenesPage.com website. Paul, also a sports writer for the Columbus Commercial Dispatch, can be reached by email at pjones@cdispatch.com.

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