- Associated Press - Thursday, February 12, 2015

WACO, Texas (AP) - Off the court, Baylor post player Rico Gathers Sr. is a relaxed family man with a wife and 7-month-old son.

At game time for the 16th-ranked Bears, the 6-foot-8, 275-pound junior takes on a much different persona. He is going to do whatever is necessary to get every possible rebound.

“I’m really gritty and grimy,” Gathers said, chuckling about his on-court transformation. “I’m real disrespectful.”

Gathers, the Big 12’s top rebounder at 12.6 per game, has had at least 15 rebounds in four consecutive conference games. He had a Big 12-record 28 rebounds in 28 minutes last month against NAIA school Huston-Tillotson. That was the most by a Division I player since 2006 and broke a 60-year-old Baylor record that was the school’s oldest single-game mark.

“He’s goofy when he’s off the court,” teammate Taurean Prince said. “On the court, he wants every single rebound. He doesn’t care if his teammate has the ball. … I call his hands vice grips, because if his hands are on the ball, he’s going to come away with it. That’s just how it is. He just feels like that’s money being taken away from him if he doesn’t get that ball.”

After two seasons coming off the bench behind Cory Jefferson and Isaiah Austin, Gathers is playing nearly 30 minutes a game as a starter. He has 13 double-doubles with double-figure rebounding totals in all but four games for the Bears (18-6, 6-5), who play Saturday at league-leading No. 8 Kansas (20-4, 9-2).

Gathers had a natural instinct for rebounding when he first started playing the game as a kid, long before he even knew what an impact that could have.

“I didn’t even notice it. My coaches, they noticed it for me, and they pointed it out to me,” he said. “I didn’t even know I was rebounding that well. I didn’t know rebounding was a big deal kike that either. Most of the time when it comes to basketball, people want to be the top scorer, or the top assist man. But for me, I want to be the top rebounder every night. With that mindset, I go out there and just be like, everything that goes up is mine.”

If Gathers played Baylor’s final seven regular-season games without getting a single rebound, he would still average 9.7 per game, well above West Virginia’s Devin Williams, who is currently second in the league with 8.2 rebounds per game.

“First, you have his size and strength, and then you have his tenacity and heart, determination to get the ball,” Baylor coach Scott Drew said.

“He’s relentless, and he doesn’t care about anything else,” Prince said. “He doesn’t care about scoring, because if he goes and gets every board he’s going to have a chance to score as far as offensive boards.”

Gathers averages 11.2 points and grabs 5.5 offensive rebounds per game, which like his overall rebounding total is second nationally but the best among players from the five major conferences (the nation’s leader is Kendal Gray of Delaware State, who grabs 12.7 rebounds per game).

After the birth of his son last summer, Gathers this season added Sr. on the back of his jersey. That is a way to honor Rico Jr., while also serving as a constant reminder.

“Whenever I’m out there, I know I’ve got that Gathers Sr. on my back,” he said. “And I know I’m representing somebody.”

All while trying to beat everybody else to every missed shot coming off the rim.

“He’s a big teddy bear off the court, but once he steps on the court, it’s all business,” Drew said. “He’s got a huge heart.”


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