‘Dreams and aspirations’: Why Keshon Gilbert quickly rose to stardom

Keshon Gilbert flexes his muscles after scoring two points against Iowa at Hilton Coliseum on Dec. 7, 2023.
Keshon Gilbert flexes his muscles after scoring two points against Iowa at Hilton Coliseum on Dec. 7, 2023.
Tyler Coe
Keshon Gilbert is warming up for the ISU vs. TCU game at Hilton Coliseum February 10, 2024

AMES — Before playing a single second for Iowa State, head coach T.J. Otzelberger was sure Keshon Gilbert would quickly become a staple in Iowa State’s most anticipated season to date. Fast forward to 2024, and Gilbert has made sure that every person in the nation knows how good he can be.

From his lights-out performance to bring home the Cy-Hawk trophy or the daggers he hit to upset Kansas at Hilton Coliseum to raining down threes in a near-upset win over Baylor on the road, Gilbert has become a household name for Iowa State fans.

Although Gilbert’s rise to fame might have surprised some, Otzelberger was one of the people who believed in him from the start. Whether it was his bubbly personality or his drive to achieve his goals, Gilbert had the makings of an elite basketball player since the start.

Keshon Gilbert is warming up for the ISU vs. TCU game at Hilton Coliseum February 10, 2024 (Sam Petri)
Milan Momcilovic walks off the court with Keshon Gilberts arm around his shoulder after Iowa State beats undefeated Houston 57-53 at Hilton Coliseum on Jan. 9, 2023.
Otzelberger’s unyielding belief in Gilbert’s potential

From the first phone call, Otzelberger was sure that Gilbert would fit into any team he coached.

“[I] felt like he and I hit it off from the start,” Otzelberger said.

Otzelberger was the first person to call Gilbert during his sophomore year of high school when coaches were allowed to start recruiting him. Gilbert said talking with Otzelberger was like talking with an old friend, even from the jump.

“He said I kinda shocked him when I got on the phone because it was kinda like, ‘Wassup, what we doing,’ type of phone call,” Gilbert said. 

Otzelberger needed Gilbert on his team while he was the head coach at UNLV, and he got just that.

Gilbert committed to UNLV because of Otzelberger, so when Otzelberger left to coach at Iowa State, Gilbert wanted to move on to bigger and better things as well.

Otzelberger was the first person to call Gilbert when he entered the transfer portal.

Given the past relationship the two had at UNLV, Gilbert was already on Otzelberger’s radar. Additionally, Otzelberger saw Gilbert’s accomplishments at UNLV and knew he would be great at Iowa State.

“I just feel like he embodies all the qualities and traits we look for,” Otzelberger said.

Iowa State was also at the top of the list for Gilbert. Otzelberger’s consistent interest in Gilbert and the belief he had in him was something that did not go unnoticed.

Gilbert bonded with Otzelberger during their times at UNLV because of how open they could be with each other.

“Everything’s real with us,” Gilbert said. “He keep it real with me, and I feel like I keep it real with him 24/7. I feel like that’s an underrated thing to have in college basketball—a coach that you can be real with, and a coach that’s real with you.”

Otzelberger’s confidence in Gilbert never wavered, which was apparent to Gilbert. Even if Gilbert’s confidence was lacking at times, Otzelberger was there to prove why he made the right choice believing in him.

“He just gotta different type of love for me, a different type of confidence in me that sometimes I don’t even have in myself… He been believing in me since I was a kid,” Gilbert said.

Milan Momcilovic walks off the court with Keshon Gilbert’s arm around his shoulder after Iowa State beats undefeated Houston 57-53 at Hilton Coliseum on Jan. 9, 2023. (Tyler Coe)
Goals and aspirations
Keshon+Gilbert+after+a+foul+is+called+during+the+Iowa+State+vs+Texas+Tech+game%2C+Hilton+Coliseum%2C+Feb.+17%2C+2024.
Keshon Gilbert after a foul is called during the Iowa State vs Texas Tech game, Hilton Coliseum, Feb. 17, 2024. (Matteo Bender)

Otzelberger’s belief in Gilbert started from the first phone call and grew even more when Gilbert talked about his goals.

Throughout his basketball career, Gilbert’s main motivator has been his lofty goals. He wants to make it to the next level and would do anything to get there.

Gilbert and Otzelberger had conversations frequently during their time at UNLV. In those conversations, Gilbert laid out his goals and how hard he was going to work to achieve those goals.

“That was something that stayed with me,” Otzelberger said.

Gilbert’s goals are what drives him. They are what push him to fight for buckets and put his body on the line to help his team win.

Playing as hard as Gilbert for 40 minutes is not easy to do. Motivation from his dreams and goals helps Gilbert put everything out on the court every night.

“I got dreams and aspirations just like everybody else. I wanna feed my family. I want my mom to stop working.”

— Keshon Gilbert

Gilbert wants to play in the NBA and said that he just loves the game of basketball, so making money alongside that is a win-win situation.

With how important family is to Gilbert, if he can provide for his family and play basketball, that is what he will do. With how much his mother has helped him throughout his life, Gilbert knows she deserves to see his hard work pay off.

“I feel like I owe her that,” Gilbert said.

Gilbert’s basketball journey started like most kids. Around second grade, he picked up a basketball at the local YMCA and never looked back.

In high school, he started to work on his craft more and more. His older brother was a walk-on at UNLV, and his family consistently pushed him to improve.

Growing up shorter and smaller than his brothers, he always had to work hard to compete with them. They would always beat him up when they played because of their height.

“So when I got tall, it was like, ‘Yeah. I’m here now,’” Gilbert said.

Gilbert’s “why” is his family. Gilbert fondly remembers the times playing with his brothers and how supportive everyone was of his dreams.

His parents are the ones that keep him level-headed, and his brothers pushed him to improve his basketball skills. Making it to the NBA would help pay off the support his family gave him all his life.

“Nobody really made it out of my family. Everybody livin’ regular,” Gilbert said. “I wanna be able to tell my family I made it.”

Gilbert does not need extra motivation when he has his goals in mind. He knows where he wants to get and does not plan on settling for anything less.

“I ain’t gonna lie. I don’t have a plan B. Plan A gotta work.”

— Keshon Gilbert

Keshon Gilbert suggests Iowa to take a timeout after he scored two three pointers at Hilton Coliseum on Dec. 7, 2023.
Keshon Gilbert suggests Iowa to take a timeout after he scored two three pointers at Hilton Coliseum on Dec. 7, 2023. (Tyler Coe)
Keshon Gilbert high fives his teammates prior to the game against Lindenwood at Hilton Coliseum on Nov. 9, 2023.
Home at last

From the second Gilbert got to Iowa State, it was clear to him that he made the right choice. Stepping out on the Hilton court for the first time was surreal.

“It felt like magic. I ain’t gonna lie,” Gilbert said.

Although Gilbert has had impactful nights on the regular, especially during Big 12 play, the magic was felt the most before the annual Cy-Hawk game. 

Two hours before the game, the student section was already filled. When Gilbert walked out to warm up, he saw the crowd and heard the cheers, and he thought to himself, “This is it. This is where I’m supposed to be.”

The Cy-Hawk game was one of Gilbert’s best games of the season. His 25 points and consistent daggers propelled Iowa State to a comfortable win.

His most notable moment in that game was when he turned into a one-man show. In a matter of seconds, he knocked down a tough layup, saw Tamin Lipsey steal the inbound and set himself up to hit a deep three to get Hilton on its feet.

Gilbert bounced down the court, taunting the Hawkeyes into calling a timeout. They did.

His energy flowed into the crowd and made the night special for him. As Gilbert sat in the post-game press conference, he was at a loss for words. All he could say was:

“I’m so happy right now, I ain’t gonna fake it,” Gilbert said.

Although Gilbert was too excited to cobble together answers, he had teammates to speak for him. Robert Jones said that the consistent effort of Gilbert was what pushed the Cyclones over the Hawkeyes.

“That’s when you know you gotta step on the other team’s throats—bring that same high level of basketball play,” Jones said. 

As Jones rattled off an answer for Gilbert, Gilbert joked to Tre King about Jones’ well-crafted answers. Jones could easily come up with the words that Gilbert couldn’t. 

The three chuckled about Gilbert’s amazement before moving on to the next question. That one would draw the biggest laugh of the three.

When asked how it felt to take down Iowa State’s biggest rival in his final year with the team, Jones said, “It’s delightful.”

As Jones uttered those words, Gilbert could not contain his laughter. After chuckling for a few seconds, he leaned behind Jones to get King’s attention. 

“He said delightful,” Gilbert joked to King while the three laughed about it.

Gilbert smiled at Jones after the press conference and said, “I don’t know how you do that.”

Although Gilbert could not put his feelings into words at the time, he didn’t have to. One thing was for sure: Gilbert was having fun. 

He finally found a home, and he found another family to push him to achieve his goals.

Keshon Gilbert high fives his teammates prior to the game against Lindenwood at Hilton Coliseum on Nov. 9, 2023. (Tyler Coe)
1
View Comments (1)
Donate to Iowa State Daily
$2650
$2500
Contributed
Our Goal

Your donation will support the student journalists of the Iowa State Daily. Your contribution will allow us to purchase equipment, send our student journalists to conferences and off-set their cost of living so they can continue to do best-in-the-nation work at the Iowa State Daily.

More to Discover
Donate to Iowa State Daily
$2650
$2500
Contributed
Our Goal

Comments (1)

All Iowa State Daily Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  • B

    Barbara Arthur | Mar 4, 2024 at 8:06 pm

    Love this

    Reply