Gathers continues winning ways at Baylor
Published 11:45 pm Tuesday, March 25, 2014
By RYAN ARENA
I’m still a fairly young sports writer by most estimations — at least, I’d like to believe so. So it’s still a kind of new and neat experience when I see an athlete I’ve covered do something at the next level, in front of the nation to see.
And when I saw an elated Ricardo Gathers celebrating with his Baylor teammates in a postgame interview with Craig Sager Sunday, I, myself, let out a big smile. It’s always fun to see “my guys” and “my girls” — and if I’ve covered you, you fall into this category — excel at the next level, and Reserve’s own Gathers certainly did that along with his Baylor teammates in their completely dominating 85-55 win over Creighton. It put the Bears into the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament.
Gathers has always been a physical marvel: he’s listed at 6-foot-8-inches and 270 pounds as a collegiate sophomore, but even as a high school freshman he wasn’t too, too far off those marks. I remember walking into Country Day’s gym for their annual “Classic” tournament, one Reserve Christian was set to take part in. I overheard a couple of people asking, “Is that really a freshman? He can’t be a freshman!” When I looked over, I was taken aback: They don’t make many like Rico. I could only ponder what the future held.
And it’s already held plenty. Gathers was named Louisiana’s “Mr. Basketball” in 2011, joining Greg Monroe as the only players ever honored with the title in their junior year. He won three state championships, one with Reserve Christian and two with Riverside, and played in four consecutive state finals. He averaged 22.0 points, 17.0 rebounds, 4.1 blocks, 2.1 assists and 1.1 steals in his senior season and signed with Baylor — a decision, I trust, he isn’t regretting these days, seeing as the Bears seem to be hitting their stride, now just two wins away from reaching the Final Four in Dallas.
Ricardo’s brother, Greg, has been there all the while. The former Georgia Tech football standout and current East St. John track and field coach, Greg calls himself a “very, very proud big bro.”
“I drove up to see them play (in San Antonio) and had to get back for track practice this morning, so I’m on about two hours of sleep,” he said with a laugh.
“But it’s not every day you can say that you watched your little brother play in an NCAA tournament game. I’ve followed him all over the country.”
Greg noted that Ricardo’s Bears played in the Big 12 conference championship this season, marking the seventh straight year that he’s competed for a championship at some level.
“Every year since the 8th grade,” he said. “He played for an AAU national championship as an 8th grader, then state championships from 9th through 12th grade, then even last year with the NIT championship. And now, he’s two wins away from the Final Four. I couldn’t be more excited for him.”
At one point this season, Baylor was 13-1 and ranked 7th in the nation.
Then the Bears hit a freefall, losing eight of 10 midseason.
“We had a lot of conversations,” said Greg Gathers. “I reminded him that in tough times, tough people stay tough.”
Gathers and the Bears regrouped, winning 10 of their last 12 games
Riverside coach Timmy Byrd coached Gathers in all four of his high school state championship contests. He said Gathers’ will makes him a winner.
“Wisconsin (Baylor’s next opponent) very good, but I know Ricardo can will his team to a win,” said Byrd. “He can get others to play extremely hard. He’ll have that front line ready.”
Gathers is part of one of the most talented frontcourt’s in America, along with Baylor starters Isaiah Austin and Cory Jefferson. He’s second on the team in rebounds per game despite playing just 18 minutes per game this season behind the two established starters, and he leads the team in rebounds per game in the tournament.
Dominating the backboards has become his calling card.
“He’s known for two things when you talk to the coaches at the college level: for how hard he plays, and that he’s the best rebounder, per minute, in the college game,” noted Byrd. “He understands that it’s a skill, one just as important as shooting. He knows that if he becomes the best rebounder in the country, he has a shot to play for money at the next level. It comes down to his desire. He’s such a fierce competitor.”
The West Regional semifinal and final will be played in Anaheim this year and Greg said he won’t be able to make that trip.
But if Rico and his teammates earn two more wins?
“I’ll be headed to Dallas, you can be sure of that,” he said.