HILADELPHIA — On a night in which he became one of this year's most decorated Atlantic 10 Conference men's basketball players, Kitwana Rhymer was asked what it meant to have two University of Massachusetts players share the league's most improved player award.
Rhymer, who shared the honor with teammate Micah Brand, took the occasion to put in a word for Bruiser Flint and his staff.
"Shucks, it shows the coaches coach," said Rhymer, a 6-foot-10 senior center who led the Atlantic 10 with 2.2 blocked shots per game. "Now we're the ones who have to go on the court and do what they've shown us."
Rhymer not only shared the league's most improved player award, but was named Atlantic 10 defensive player of the year.
Rhymer joined Temple's Lynn Greer, Fordham's Jason Harris, Xavier's David West and Dayton's Tony Stanley on the all-defensive team.
Rhymer was also selected to the all-conference third team in the coaches-only vote.
Massachusetts senior guard Monty Mack was named to the All-Atlantic 10 first team for the second straight year.
West, a 6-8 sophomore who has led the A-10 in rebounding in his first two seasons, was named Atlantic 10 player of the year. Final voting totals were not announced, but St. Joseph's guard Marvin O'Connor and Mack were believed to have also attracted interest.
UMass (13-14, 11-5 Atlantic 10) faces St. Bonaventure (18-10, 9-7) in tomorrow's 2:30 Atlantic 10 quarterfinal at First Union Spectrum.
Flint's job is in jeopardy, but as appreciative as he was for comments like Rhymer's, he said he wants the players to play these games for themselves, not for him.
"I tell them not to worry about it, because I'll be OK," Flint said. "I think they put too much pressure on themselves when they try to go out and do it for me. It's very touching, but I just told them 'yo, fellas, just go out and play for yourselves.'"
Rhymer is on pace to graduate on time this year. Doing so would allow him to play next season, regaining a lost freshman year of eligibility in 1997-98.
He averaged 9.5 points and 6.9 rebounds.
"I'm surprised," he said, surveying his collection of honors. "I didn't expect to get anything."
As a freshman last season, the 6-11 Brand missed the Atlantic 10 tournament with pneumonia, and is anxious for this week's action to begin.
Brand averaged 8.7 points and 4.6 rebounds per game to share the most improved player award, which is named in honor of late Dayton star Chris Daniels.
Brand said practicing with Rhymer has helped his game.
"Nobody really expected Kit to do what he's done," Brand said. "His hard work has pushed me, too.
"I know I've improved, but I can improve more," Brand said. "But I had no idea that coaches around the league saw the same (improvement) I'd been seeing."
"Actually, all four of our big guys have improved," Flint said. "Jackie Rogers and Eric Williams, they beat those two guys (Rhymer and Brand) to death in practice."
This year's awards were satisfying to Flint, who felt former UMass forward Chris Kirkland should have won the most-improved award in either 1999 or 2000. For Rhymer to win the defensive award supports Flint's defense-first philosophy.
"I knew Kit would be on the all-defensive team," Flint said. "To be honest, I had a hard time picking five defensive guys without putting one or two of ours on it."
Coaches could not vote for their own players.
Mack joined West, O'Connor, Temple guard Lynn Greer and La Salle guard Rasual Butler on the all-conference first team. The 6-3 senior averaged 19.2 points per game, and led UMass to an 11-5 league record.
Like Rhymer, he says he wants to do well this week not only for himself and his team, but for Flint.
"I tell the guys 'if you can't do it for yourself, do it for him'," Mack said. "Bruiser has done a lot for us. This is a way to repay him."
"He comes well-prepared every day for practice," Brand said. "He coaches his heart out."
Regular-season champion St. Joseph's supplied several award winners. Phil Martelli was named A-10 coach of the year, freshman point guard Jameer Nelson earned top rookie honors, senior guard Na'im Crenshaw won the sixth man award and forward Bill Phillips was named A-10 student-athlete of the year.
HILADELPHIA - Kitwana Rhymer left the Atlantic 10 awards banquet Tuesday night with his hands full. The University of Massachusetts senior center received four honors.
Rhymer was named the league's defensive player of the year and co-most improved player, an award he shared with teammate Micah Brand. He was named to the league's third all-conference team and to its all-defensive team.
Rhymer, who can return for a second senior year if he earns his degree by the end of the summer, was surprised by all the accolades.
"I didn't suspect anything," Rhymer said.
The 6-foot-10 Rhymer led the A-10 with 60 blocked shots.
Rhymer was glad to share the Chris Daniels Award with Brand.
"That's my boy," Rhymer said. "It's fun to share it with him. He watches my back and I watch his on the court."
Brand jokingly disagreed.
"I wanted to get my own, he got enough awards," Brand said. "No, it's cool because it shows we both worked really hard on offense and defense. I was very surprised. I know I've improved from last season, but I didn't know that coaches across the league felt the same way."
Senior Monty Mack earned his second straight first-team all-conference honor to round out the UMass honors. He was proud of the attention Rhymer received.
"I didn't think he was going to come here and rack up like he did. I didn't think people were going to recognize the little things he did for us," said Mack, who smiled as he said he wouldn't help Rhymer carry his hardware back to the hotel. "Nope. He's going to have carry it himself. He's a big boy."
UMass coach Bruiser Flint said his big guys all have improved.
"Jackie (Rogers) has improved this year, too," Flint said. "All four of our big guys have gotten a lot better. They help each other out in practice."
UMass takes on St. Bonaventure Thursday in the quarterfinals of the Atlantic 10 Tournament. Fourth and fifth seeds respectively, the Minutemen and the Bonnies both have first-round byes.
Six teams begin games today at the Philadelphia Spectrum. No. 9 La Salle plays No. 8 Fordham at 3:30 p.m.; No. 6 Dayton squares off with No. 11 Rhode Island at 5:30; and No. 7 George Washington will face No. 10 Duquesne at 8:30.
ALL-CONFERENCE HONORS: Regular-season champion St. Joseph's dominated the conference awards. Phil Martelli captured the coach of the year prize, Jameer Nelson was rookie of the year and Na'im Crenshaw, the best sixth man.
Xavier sophomore center David West was named player of the year.
GOOD NEWS OR BAD NEWS?: St. Bonaventure senior center Peter Van Paassen won't play in Thursday's quarterfinal after being diagnosed with a stress fracture in his foot. Van Paassen made a career of having great games against UMass, which makes his absence seem like good news for the Minutemen. But the Bonnies beat UMass Saturday without him.
|Rasual Butler||La Salle||F||Jr.||6-7||22.0||6.7||52||20||30|
|Marvin O'Connor||St. Joseph's||G||Jr.||6-4||21.6||3.8||76||0||30|
|Kevin Houston||St. Bonaventure||G/F||Sr.||6-4||19.5||7.1||21||4||35|
|Jameer Nelson||St. Joseph's||G||Fr.||6-1||12.3||3.6||180||2||49|
|Victor Thomas||La Salle||F||Sr.||6-7||19.9||6.6||48||13||27|
|J.R. Bremer||St. Bonaventure||G||Jr.||6-2||16.3||3.8||117||0||47|
|Chris Monroe||George Washington||G||So.||6-3||19.0||5.8||73||10||24|
|Bill Phillips||St. Joseph's||F||Jr.||6-9||11.9||9.3||100||14||38|
|Jameer Nelson||St. Joseph's||G||Fr.||6-1||12.3||3.6||180||2||49|
|Mamadou Cellou Barry||Temple||F||Jr.||6-8||3.31||Finance|
|Arseni Kuchinsky||Fordham||F||Sr.||6-7||3.22||International Political Economy|
|Bill Phillips*||St. Joseph's||F||Jr.||6-9||3.57||Marketing|
|Peter Van Paassen||St. Bonaventure||F/C||Sr.||6-11||3.00||Journalism/Mass Communications|
*Student-Athlete of the Year
|PLAYER OF THE YEAR||ROOKIE OF THE YEAR|
|David West, Xavier||Jameer Nelson, St. Joseph's|
|DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR||CHRIS DANIELS MOST IMPROVED PLAYER OF THE YEAR|
|Kitwana Rhymer, Massachusetts||Micah Brand, Massachusetts; Kitwana Rhymer, Massachusetts|
|SIXTH MAN OF THE YEAR||COACH OF THE YEAR|
|Na'im Crenshaw, St. Joseph's||Phil Martelli, St. Joseph's|