A reason for Rhymer
By Ron Chimelis, The Springfield Union-News Staff Writer, 3/2/1999

AMHERST - It was the type of situation that University of Massachusetts men's basketball coach Bruiser Flint had not envisioned for Kitwana Rhymer when the season began in November.

Just over one minute left. UMass clinging to a 51-46 lead and Charlton Clarke, given a reprieve by a Temple lane violation, at the line for his second free throw.

Clarke missed the shot, but Rhymer grabbed the rebound in traffic, fired it back out and gave UMass an extended possession, which in turn helped wrap up Sunday's 57-49 victory at Mullins Center.

Rhymer sat out for academic rules as a freshman last year, and he was not expected to play much this year, certainly not in pressure spots. But with UMass having to win four games in four days to capture this week's Atlantic 10 Conference tournament, Rhymer emerges as a key man because he's been the most consistent bench contributor on the team.

"I don't get intimidated by anything," said Rhymer, the 6-foot-10 sophomore who is, away from the court, one of the most even-tempered players on the team.

"I think I'm confident," he said. "But the most surprising part of this season has been that I've done as well as I've done, at least according to what people say."

Even when UMass (13-15, 9-7 A-10) has struggled, Rhymer has surfaced as a bright spot and a fan favorite. With Lari Ketner leaving after this year, Rhymer represents the UMass future in the pivot.

But as the Minutemen prepare to play Duquesne (5-22, 1-15) tomorrow at 2 p.m. in a first-round game at the Spectrum in Philadelphia, UMass wants to forestall the future and keep this season alive.

"It's good to see that people out there still believe in us," Rhymer said. "If I were one of them, I think I'd say to forget these guys."

Rhymer moved from the Virgin Islands to New York during junior high school, living with his brother and playing at St. Raymond's High in the Bronx, where Clarke was his teammate for one season.

"We do basically the same things in the Virgin Islands that people do here," Rhymer said. "But I think we don't take that much pressure to heart. When something happens, the feeling is more like, that's that."

Rhymer's thoughts are never far from home. He talks on the phone with his mother, Joycelin, nearly every day.

"She's partially disabled," Rhymer said. "But our rottweiler takes good care of her."

He's also relied on Clarke to help in the adjustment process, and his role is much greater than Flint had originally expected.

"I didn't expect we'd use him that much this year," Flint said. "But Kit is one guy you never have to worry about, as far as giving his best at practice is concerned."

When the season began, Rhymer was targeted as the No. 3 center behind Ketner and Anthony Oates. The prospect of using Ajmal Basit at center made Rhymer, who was considered a good shot-blocker with very raw offensive skills, a possible No. 4.

But when Ketner was suspended before the Boston College game for disciplinary reasons, Rhymer got his chance. He played 17 minutes with seven points and 10 rebounds, and he's now shooting a team-leading 56.1 percent with averages of 2.7 points and 2.9 rebounds in 9.9 minutes per game.

In the Virgin Islands, Rhymer played baseball (pitcher, first base, outfield and shortstop) and football, and stood 6-1 when he moved to New York. But by high school, he had grown to 6-5 and he began concentrating on basketball, averaging 10 points and six rebounds as a senior.

Rhymer is not a finished product, and he knows it.

"I'm going to try to work on a little bit of everything in the offseason," he said. "Post moves, footwork, my jump shot, agility and handling the ball."

But for now, one of this UMass season's pleasant surprises does not want the off-season to start just yet.

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