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Brian Mull | October 16, 2015

College basketball: 7 premier rebounders to watch this season

The best rebounders in college basketball possess a blue-collar work ethic and a skill that often translates from high school to college and college to the pros. Their desire never wanes; it’s a man’s world around the basket. 

“Elite rebounders have natural instincts and a nose for the ball,” Winthrop coach Pat Kelsey said. “They’re born with a gene. Dennis Rodman had a gift for reading caroms and understanding the flight of the ball. Then they have the motor to go and get the ball, a relentlessness to them. Once you become one you’re double-teamed, no different than a great pass rusher in football.”

And they're always easy to find in the box score. Just look for the name beside the double-figure total in the column headed “R.” Here are seven of the best to watch this season:

A.J. West, Nevada, Sr.

Last season, the 6-9, 235-pound forward recorded the best offensive rebounding percentage in college basketball since 2009-10 per, corralling 22.3 percent of the Wolf Pack’s missed shots. He also led the nation in offensive rebounds per game (5.93). The Brooklyn, N.Y. native posted the game-high rebounding total 22 times and in conference led the Mountain West with 6.4 offensive rebounds per game. West was an animal on the glass down the stretch, snagging 16 boards or more in four of Nevada’s last eight contests.

Shevon Thompson, George Mason, Sr.

Thompson was a bright spot in a dismal year in Fairfax, and looks to thrive under new coach Dave Paulsen. The 6-11, 243-pound center registered 19 rebounds against a solid New Mexico team and reached double figures in rebounding in 10 consecutive Atlantic 10 games. A factor on both ends, the Jamaica native finished third in the nation in offensive rebounding percentage (17.8) and 13th in defensive rebounding percentage (26.5).

Rico Gathers, Baylor, Sr.

A physical presence inside at 6-8, 275 pounds, Gathers is the nation’s second-leading returning rebounder with 11.6 per game. He’ll anchor the paint for coach Scott Drew and the Bears again this season, and is particularly adept on the offensive end where he snagged 18.9 percent of the caroms, which was the third best rate in the nation. Gathers put his glass cleaning skills on display against non Division I program Huston-Tillotson last season, grabbing 28 rebounds in 28 minutes. He added five other games with at least 15 rebounds.

Cinmeon Bowers, Auburn, Sr.

The Round Mound of Rebound Redux? His physique and knack for collecting boards resemble a legendary player who preceded him on the Plains, the Hall of Fame forward Charles Barkley. Bowers opened 2014-15 with with 57 rebounds in the first four games and ripped down 52 rebounds in a four-game SEC stretch in January. (He also hauled down 17 rebounds in a early season matchup against Kelsey’s Winthrop squad). College basketball fans won’t see as much of the 6-7 forward this season, however. He dropped 30 pounds over the summer according to the Auburn athletics website and enters the season weighing 250.

Cheick Diallo, Kansas, Fr.

The 6-9, 220-pound forward was the nation’s fifth best senior per the 247 Sports Composite recruiting rankings. A native of Mali, Africa he showed the nation his rebounding ability last spring during the two premier high school senior all-star games. In the Jordan Brand Classic he had 26 points and 11 rebounds. And in the McDonald’s All-American game he had 10 rebounds to go with 18 points. Diallo was the MVP of both games. college basketball recruiting analyst Jeff Borzello believes the addition of Diallo - who has yet to be cleared by the NCAA Eligibility Center - would make Kansas a serious national title contender.

“He has an unbelievable motor and is really quick off his feet to grab missed shots, at both ends of the floor,” Borzello said.

Caleb Swanigan, Purdue, Fr.

Boilermakers coach Matt Painter landed a program changer when Swanigan became the first Indiana Mr. Basketball to head to West Lafayette, Ind. since Glenn Robinson in 1991. Swanigan, 6-9, 250, was a top prospect in the 2015 class and Purdue’s first McDonald’s All-American in 20 years.

At Homestead HS in Fort Wayne, Ind. he averaged 13.7 rebounds per game as a senior and set the school record with 1,048 career rebounds. Named to the watch list for the Karl Malone Power Forward of the Year award, Swanigan will likely split time in the post with 7-footers A.J. Hammons and Isaac Haas.

“He led the Nike EYBL circuit in rebounding by a wide margin,” Borzello said. “He has excellent hands and completely owns his area with his size and physical play.”

Ivan Rabb, California, Fr. 

The top prospect in California, the 6-11, 220-pound freshman was a consensus top 10 player in the nation. He posted 14 points and 12 rebounds in 23 minutes of the Jordan Brand Classic. Also a McDonald’s All-American. An Oakland native, Rabb averaged 24.5 points and 16.3 rebounds in senior year at Bishop O’Dowd HS. He snared 20 rebounds in the championship game to lead the school to its first state title since 1981.

“Will have a ton on his plate at Cal this season, as he's likely to be the lone big man in the starting lineup,” Borzello said. “His length and athleticism enables him to be a factor at both ends on the glass; his second jump is quick and he's getting stronger.”

Others worth watching: Josh Hawkinson, Washington State; Egidijus Mockevicius, Evansville; Daniel Ochefu, Villanova; Denzell Taylor, Old Dominion


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