Rhymer reason for UMass turnaround
By Mark Murphy, The Boston Herald, 1/4/1999

Kitwana Rhymer comes from what now qualifies as a UMass pipeline.

The 20-year-old native of St. Thomas played his high school basketball at St. Raymond's in the Bronx, following the path of UMass teammate Charlton Clarke and former Minuteman Dana Dingle.

This is the 6-foot-9 sophomore's first season in a UMass uniform. The advice he received from others was appropriately scarce for a raw power player.

With Lari Ketner and Ajmal Basit ahead of him in those two spots - and with 6-foot-10, 285-pound newcomer Anthony Oates cutting an interesting profile - Rhymer knew what to count on as far as his playing time was concerned.

``People told me not to expect much, but it's worked out,'' said Rhymer, who has recently shown flashes of giving the Minutemen some life under the basket.

And that's surprising.

Ketner, the preseason All-America candidate, rarely shoots these days. Basit could sense his own ineffectiveness when the junior asked Flint to return him to the sixth-man role that suited Basit so well last season.

Chris Kirkland has emerged as a solid defensive substitute for smaller matchups, but there's nothing like the sight of someone clearing house inside.

This characterized Rhymer's play during some prime moments in the Minutemen's 55-40 win over Virginia Tech on Saturday. Much more, certainly, than might be indicated by his 2-for-3, six-point, two-rebound, two-block, 12-minute stat line. His second-half block helped fuel a UMass surge that put the game away.

The bottom line was that, for one of the rare times this season, the Minutemen had someone who could push back, as evidenced by five aggressive fouls.

``Thanks to this guy and that block of his, we were able to get on in this one,'' said Clarke. ``He gives us the heart and determination that we need. He goes after every board. He tries to block every shot.''

In short, he does something that has been oddly rare on this 4-6 team.

``If there's one thing Virginia Tech does well, it is rebound against people, so he was very important in going against their big guys for us,'' said UMass coach Bruiser Flint.

So perhaps that advice wasn't totally on the level. Considering the lack of inspired play on this team this season, there has never been a better time for someone to jump on a fast track.

``I feel like I've improved a lot,'' said Rhymer. ``Going up against Lari and Ajmal every day in practice is very difficult. If I can grab rebounds against them, then I can grab rebounds against everyone in the league.''

As a result, the issue of time is not a concern for Rhymer at the moment. He is already getting more than he bargained for.

``(Playing time) doesn't really matter,'' he said. ``If I get 12, 15 or eight minutes in a game, I'm still going to go out and play hard, regardless.''


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