Twelve points erased in the final minutes of the Baylor Bears’ second-round game in the NCAA Basketball Tournament must have left center Rico Gathers hungry for more. And if you’ve seen Gathers, you’d know it takes a lot to fill him up.
Standing at 6’8″, the senior big man isn’t the biggest guy you’ll come across on the court—he’s actually considered undersized to pro scouts. But at a trim 275 pounds, Gathers plays like he’s as big as Shaq with his wide reach and weight room prowess. There’s not much difference between Gathers and Baylor football’s Shawn Oakman. Art Briles has repeatedly asked Gathers to throw some pads on, despite being solely a basketball player.
In fact, the rare athleticism that has propelled him to lead the nation in offensive rebound efficiency has NFL scouts looking closely at his game to see if he can translate into a tight end at the next level.
Rico Gathers of @BaylorMBB told me he may put name in for NBA & NFL drafts. "I'll put my name in there today," he said of NFL.
— Reid Forgrave (@ReidForgrave) October 23, 2015
But for now, Gathers looks like he’s trying to prove to NBA scouts that he isn’t just a unitasker on the hardwood. Last season, that was really all he was — someone who could proficiently grab the rock.
During the 2014-2015 season, Gathers had 17 double-doubles (points and rebounds). Through eight games this season, though, he already has five, compared to three at this point last season.
The flaw in his performance last season was that he had a lot of chances to put up big numbers, but he wasn’t efficient enough. In Baylor’s first eight games last season, Gathers shot just 52 percent from the field while just 52 percent at the line. For someone whose shots come primarily within feet of the net, it was dismal at times. There were situations where he would have to rebound his own shot four times just to get the score. Now — against steeper competition — Gathers is shooting 56 percent from the floor while posting a remarkable 79 percent on free throws, right in line with Baylor’s guards.
His stats will likely come down to earth once conference play starts up again within the next couple of weeks, but Gathers is not showing any sign of slowing down.
He’s coming off a game with 31 points and 21 boards against Northwestern State. It wasn’t until mid-January last season that he recorded his first 20-20 game, despite playing some similarly weak teams on the schedule.
Even against top tier teams like then No. 16 Vanderbilt last week, Gathers recorded a double-double and had three assists to boot (he didn’t have any game last season with three assists).
At 22 and 29 percent, Gathers leads all Big 12 players in both offensive and defensive rebound percentage respectively. That efficiency at securing possession has translated to team success as well, as the Bears are ranked No. 16 in the nation in the latest AP Top 25 Poll. It took the one-loss Bears one more week to climb into the rankings last season.
With a strength of schedule ranked 14th in the nation, both Baylor’s and Gathers’ stats alike shouldn’t be dinged like the football team has been.
While the Big 12 is very competitive with three teams in the AP top five, don’t expect Gathers to fall off the board very much.