LACKSBURG, Va. — Minutes after destroying Virginia Tech on the boards, University of Massachusetts center Kitwana Rhymer described rebounding as a science, the principles of which he is still learning.
"I've been watching tape more and more, trying to learn the angles and the flight of the ball," said Rhymer, whose 15 rebounds yesterday were crucial in the Minutemen's 49-41 Atlantic 10 men's basketball victory over Virginia Tech at Cassell Coliseum.
The emergence of Rhymer, a 6-foot-10 junior and second-year player, has dramatically improved the UMass inside game. He's averaged 14.5 rebounds in his last two games and 11.2 over his last five, along with 10.6 points over his last five, even after settling for six yesterday.
But rebounding and defense, he says, will always come before points.
"I want to be like Dennis Rodman — I think I can be the best rebounder in the conference," said Rhymer, who ranks third in A-10 rebounding (8.4 per game) and tied with Virginia Tech's Dennis Mims for second in blocked shots (2.05 per game, only .01 behind leader Caswell Cyrus of St. Bonaventure).
"Tony Barbee (a UMass assistant coach) has shown me different angles the ball can come off, and I've practiced that."
He's also avoiding the foul trouble that plagued him earlier.
"We've worked on Kit being smart on defense," said Barbee, a former high school center who tutors Rhymer and backup center Micah Brand during practice time set aside for individual work. "A guy would pump-fake him, and he'd leave his feet. We told him to let the other guy leave his feet first.
"But for Kit, it's more mental and about working on his confidence," Barbee said. "He has the instincts, though. and his best days are ahead of him. And both Kit and Micah like working."
"He not only gets rebounds, he gets them at big times," UMass coach Bruiser Flint said. "And he gets them above the rim.
"The first time (UMass broadcaster and former coach) Jack Leaman saw him, Kit went up to get the ball with two hands, then threw an outlet pass," Flint said. "That's when Jack said Kit would be pretty good."
Rhymer's development has coincided with the Minutemen's improvement. They've won three straight and five of their last six.
"I just try — that's all I do," Rhymer said. "I try to give it 100 percent every time."