At the age of 12, Rico Gathers traveled from his home in Louisiana to play in a summer basketball tournament at Loyola Marymount University in southern California. He couldn’t help but notice a banner hanging in the gymnasium that carried the same last name as his. When he returned home, he mentioned this off-handedly to his father.
“That,” his father told him, “is for your cousin.”
Rico had heard about his cousin Hank, who as a power forward at LMU was the nation’s leading scorer and rebounder before he tragically died from a heart ailment in 1990. As Rico progressed as a player, he started learning more about this piece of his heritage. He already knew he had hit the genetic lottery. Many of his relatives were big. His parents played basketball at Arkansas-Pine Bluff. One of his older brothers, Greg, was an All-America defensive end at Georgia Tech. Rico was nine pounds at birth and towered over his friends his entire life, benefiting from an Adonis-like physique even though he never lifted weights seriously until he got to college.
The bloodlines that traced back to Hank, however, were special. Rico surfed through hours of YouTube clips of his famous cousin, and he was riveted while watching ESPN’s 30 for 30 documentary “The Guru of Go” about coach Paul Westhead’s racehorse Loyola Marymout teams. “I never knew him, but I know he played with a lion’s heart,” Gathers says. “People talk about how dominant he was on the inside. I try to incorporate that into my game and be a force within my team.”
[daily_cut.college basketball]Now a 6’8”, 275-pound junior forward at Baylor, Gathers has a body that is more suited to playing defensive end than power forward. Thanks to his strength, agility and determination, he has developed into one of the best rebounders in all of college basketball. Gathers ended the regular season ranked third in the country at 11.7 boards per game. He was second nationally in offensive rebound percentage. He is 14 rebounds away from setting Baylor’s single-season record, and his 208 rebounds in conference play this season was the third-highest total in Big 12 history. “It’s my job to get in there and get dirty,” Gathers says. “Everybody else can stand on the outside and think, ‘Rico is going to get this rebound, so we’re good.’ I’m glad they have that confidence in me.”
Gathers was named to the Big 12’s all-conference team as well as its all-defensive team, but he is not nearly the household name that his cousin was a quarter century ago. That’s because his game is more grit than glamour. Yet, there is one way in which his efforts, his sacrifices and his character can be properly honored: He is the captain of the 2015 SI.com All-Glue team.
The All-Glue team dates back to 2000, when my colleague Alex Wolff and I selected a group of unheralded but invaluable role players for that year’s NCAA tournament preview issue. The idea, shall we say, stuck. A Glue Guy is tricky to spot and hard to define. It’s not enough for him to be willing to do all the proverbial little things that don’t show up on a stat sheet. He must do those things enthusiastically. Playing good defense, setting hard screens, making the extra pass, diving on the floor to win 50-50 balls—all these things are vital components in winning. Few players are willing to do them. The Glue Guy is willing to emphasize them.
Like most Glue Guys, Gathers, a native of LaPlace, La., did not come to college with designs on being a glorified role player. In high school, he was a big scorer who was twice named the state’s Gatorade Player of the Year. When he got to Waco, however, Gathers realized that he did not have nearly the same scoring ability as the team’s dynamic forwards, Cory Jefferson and Isaiah Austin. If he was going to earn minutes, he would have to find another way. “I figured I’d try to get as many rebounds as I could,” he says. “A lot of guys don’t like to get hit when it comes to rebounding, but I’m the one that’s out there doing the hitting.”
That has never been a problem. Gathers naturally gravitated toward football at a young age. He still remembers the first time he touched the ball as a quarterback. “I took it to the house,” he says. “Once I got older, I started purposely running through people.” Eventually, however, Gathers lost interest in football, especially after his brother, Greg, had to give up the game following his third season at Georgia Tech because of a kidney ailment.
Rico turned to basketball and never looked back. Baylor coach Scott Drew first noticed him while recruiting his high school teammate, point guard Tweety Carter. Gathers played his way into the Bears’ rotation as a freshman, and last season he went from averaging 16.7 minutes and 5.7 rebounds to 17.8 minutes and 6.4 rebounds. Gathers has taken a dramatic step forward as a junior, but the numbers illustrate a small part of his impact. “You never have to worry about whether he’s going to play hard,” Drew says. “He raises everyone’s game, because if you don’t feel like competing in practice, he’s going to abuse you.” In fact, Gathers is such a wrecking ball that midway through last season, Drew stopped doing rebound drills. Too many guys were getting hurt.
Off the court, Gathers loves to play the part of the cartoonish action superhero. Drew describes him as a fun-loving teddy bear who jokes with teammates and lingers to sign autographs for kids. When Gathers learned that a 92-year-old local woman had waited several hours to dial 911 after suffering a stroke because she was watching a Baylor game on television, he bought her flowers and a card and visited her hospital room. “She was so excited when I walked in. I swear she acted like she wanted to get out of bed and give me a hug,” Gathers says. “That’s the type of stuff that people remember.”
Gathers has had to mature off the court in another fundamental way. In 2013, he married his girlfriend since high school. Last June, she gave birth to a baby boy, Rico Jr. Gathers changed the name on the back of his jersey to read “Gathers Sr.” to honor his son. Instead of going back to a dorm room or head out to parties after practice, Gathers returns to his off-campus apartment and changes diapers. “He’s laying on me right now as we’re talking,” he said during a telephone interview last week. “Every day that I get to spend with him is a blessing.”
Gathers likely will return to Baylor for his senior year, when he will continue to rewrite the record books. He might not have a documentary made about him some day, but when he’s through playing, the people in Waco will remember him fondly for all the ways in which he held his teams together. It is a heavy mantle, this All-Glue Captaincy, but Gathers was born to carry it. Why else would God give him broad shoulders and a lion’s heart?
Herewith, the rest of the 2015 All-Glue team, followed by the complete list of past teams:
Alex Barlow, 5’11” guard, Butler
Barlow is referred to as “former walk-on Alex Barlow” so often, I joked with Butler coach Chris Holtmann that he should have his name legally changed. “Actually,” Holtmann replied, “it should be former-walk-on-slash-I-only-had-one-Division II-offer Barlow.” The senior point guard has indeed taken an unusual route to folk hero status, but there is no doubt that in the state where basketball came of age in America, Barlow embodies the heart of the hardwood. Glue runs through his veins.
Tiffin University, a Division II school in Ohio, was the only college to offer Barlow a scholarship during his senior season at Moeller High in Cincinnati. Barlow, however, knew he wanted to be a basketball coach someday, so he decided to walk on at Butler for then-coach Brad Stevens. He played a total of 77 minutes as a freshman, but in December of his sophomore year, he was unexpectedly pressed into duty when the team suffered foul trouble in the late stages of its game against No. 1 Indiana. All Barlow did was score six of the Bulldogs’ final 14 points and drain the go-ahead floater with 2.4 seconds to play in overtime on national television. Butler prevailed, 88-86, and a legend was born.
Barlow was eventually awarded a scholarship, and last season he was once again pressed into duty when the team’s best returning player, 6’4” guard Roosevelt Jones, suffered a season-ending wrist injury. Barlow became a fulltime starter at point guard, and though he only averaged 6.6 points per game, he still played 33 minutes per game and led the Big East in assist-to-turnover ratio (2.81-to-1). He was also named the league’s Scholar Athlete of the Year.
This season, Barlow’s leadership and versatility have enabled Butler to return to the top 25. Besides ranking second in the Big East (and 17th in the country) in steals at 2.13 per game, Barlow is averaging 8.8 points (on 39.2% three-point shooting) and 2.7 assists per game. He is also grabbing nearly four rebounds per game, which is remarkable for a 5’11”, 190-pound point guard. “He’s fearless when he goes to the glass,” Holtmann says. “He has been knocked around more times than I can remember, but he’s very hungry for the ball.”
Holtmann speaks glowingly about Barlow’s work ethic. When he walks by Butler’s practice gymnasium in the summertime, he can see Barlow putting himself through workouts inside. That intensity has its downside, as Barlow has a history of complaining to referees and getting lost defensively while telling his teammates what to do. Still, he thinks the game as well as any player in the country. During the late stages of a game this season, Barlow found himself with the ball in the backcourt facing a defensive trap. He held the ball for an extra few seconds before allowing the defenders to grab hold of it. He did that because he knew the possession arrow was pointed Butler’s way, even though Holtmann had never mentioned it. The play helped Butler close out the win.
Barlow’s story is of a piece with the culture of his program, which is centered on the notion that unselfishness is what empowers an underdog to slay giants. “He’s beloved around here,” Holtmann says. “Our fans have a real soft spot for the short walk-on that got overlooked. You can tell they are really going to miss him.”
But you can be sure they will never forget his name.
Josh Gasser, 6’3” senior guard, Wisconsin
Players come into college basketball with visions of setting records dancing in their heads. The records that Gasser has set in Madison, however, never entered his mind. Yet, here he is, on the verge of ending his college career having already set a school record for career starts (135), games played (138) and total minutes played (4,401). He and Michael Finley are the only players in Wisconsin history to have 1,000 points, 500 rebounds and 250 assists in their careers. When I asked Gasser whether he would have ever predicted he would break those records, he laughed and said, “Hell, no. That’s something I never would have expected, especially after my injury. I can definitely tell the way my body feels sometimes that I’ve played a lot of minutes.”
Gasser is well on his way to being named to the Big Ten’s all-defensive team for the third straight year. This is also the second straight year he has been named to SI.com’s All-Glue team. The fans call him Ironman. Frank Kaminsky calls him Captain America. That Gasser missed his entire junior season because of a torn ACL he sustained in the preseason makes his ascent in the record books seem even more surreal.
Like just about every player who earns a Division I scholarship, Gasser was the primary offensive option for his high school team in Port Washington, Wisc. As a result, he says, “I usually covered the worst player on defense so I would stay out of foul trouble.” When he arrived in Madison, however, he had to consider that the Badgers already had two All-America candidates in forward Jon Leuer and point guard Jordan Taylor. After a preseason workout his freshman year, Leuer mentioned to Gasser that he liked the way Gasser rebounded and defended, and that if he continued to excel in those areas he might be able to earn some minutes. “I took that to heart,” Gasser says.
That whatever-it-takes attitude served Gasser well when he came back from his injury and found his former point guard position taken over by Traevon Jackson. Gasser agreed to shift to the two spot and continue to focus on defense. “With Coach Ryan, if you don’t play defense, you’re not going to play,” he says. “I take a lot of pride in being assigned to the best player on the other team. I know I can have a huge impact on the game if I can shut him down.”
Gasser’s latest victim was Ohio State freshman guard D’Angelo Russell, who shot 1-for-7 from 3-point range and committed five turnovers in Wisconsin’s 72-48 rout on Sunday in Columbus. With only one postseason left to play in his college career, Gasser is intent on leaving one more mark as a member of the school’s second national championship team (and first since 1941). He says he is trying to stay in the precious present, but he concedes that his head has danced from time to time with visions of what it would be like to win a national championship. He points out one more way in which he has already made history. “I also broke the alltime record for wins at Wisconsin,” he says. “That’s my favorite one for sure.”
Dustin Hogue, 6’6” senior forward, Iowa State
Some players carry a chip on their shoulder. Hogue carries one on both, plus another on his head, one in each hand, and a couple more strapped to his ankles. Hogue wasn’t just unheralded coming out of Lincoln High in Yonkers, N.Y. He was unrecruited, largely because he was an academic non-qualifier. Even when he enrolled at Indian Hills Community College, he was grinding off the grid. Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg only noticed him because he was there to recruit one of his teammates. “Dustin stood out just because of how hard he played,” Hoiberg says. “He could drive the ball, he could defend. He had kind of a flat shot, but we figured we could work with him to develop that.”
Ever since then, Hogue has been propelled by a drive to prove he belongs. That edge has driven him from obscurity to excellence. Here’s how he explained it a year ago: “Every time I’m running and I feel like I’m about to give up, or every time I’m shooting and I feel like I can’t take another shot, or I put my head down a little bit, I always think, ‘Oh well, they didn’t want you.’ So, you know, show them what they’re missing.”
Hogue has had a far greater impact than Hoiberg imagined. As a junior, he started all 36 games for the Cyclones, and by season’s end he was the second-leading rebounder in the Big 12 at 8.4 per game. The one hitch in his game was a lack of a long-range jumper, but under Hoiberg’s tutelage, Hogue put in the necessary hours to make it respectable. The results were on display in the Sweet 16 of last year's NCAA tournament, when Hogue scored a career-high 34 points in a loss to eventual champion UConn. Iowa State needed every one of those points because it was playing without its most valuable player, 6’8” forward Georges Niang, who had broken his foot in the previous game. Hogue was disappointed by the loss, but he could take solace knowing he had performed so well in front of his family and friends in Madison Square Garden. He showed ’em all right.
Hogue’s performance that night illustrates a hallmark of Gluedom. The only reason he doesn’t score like that more often is because that’s not what his team needs. This season, Hogue is one of six Cyclones who averages double-figure scoring, though he is at the low end of that scale at 10.1 points per game. Yet, he is making 58% from the floor and 44% from three-point range (up from 34% last year). He is also contributing 4.8 rebounds and 1.2 assists per game. Hogue has not quite topped the 20-point mark this season, but he has shown the ability to make shots in pressure situations. For example, three weeks ago, Hogue buried a go-ahead 3-pointer with 1:18 to play to lift the Cyclones to a road victory at Oklahoma State.
As much as Hogue has developed as a shooter, he has made even greater strides as a leader. “When he came in, he was a little bit shy, but he has become a guy who can get everyone else going,” Hoiberg says. “We really depend on his motor. People respect him because of how hard he plays every night. He’s a selfless kid. As long as we win, he’s going to be happy.”
Tekele Cotton, 6'2" senior guard, Wichita State
About a year ago, Sports Illustrated sent a photographer to Wichita State to shoot a picture that would serve as one of the regional covers for our NCAA tournament preview issue. The magazine informed the school that only one player could be on the cover so it would match the others that would be published. That put Shockers coach Gregg Marshall in the uncomfortable position of asking his three leading scorers—Fred VanVleet, Ron Baker and Cleanthony Early—how they wanted to decide which among them would get the honor. It turned out the answer was none of them. They told Marshall it should be Cotton.
That choice may have been a surprise to readers, but it did not surprise those who had seen Cotton’s exploits up close. “I said last year that I thought he should have been MVP of our league,” Northern Iowa coach Ben Jacobson says. “I think Cotton is the most underrated player in the country. He rebounds very well for his position, and he’s a great defender. He does not take one possession off. He may not score as much as some other guys, but he makes big shots for them, and he never says a word to a referee or an opponent. He just does his job.”
Cotton is also a repeat member of SI.com’s All-Glue team, and though his rim-rattling dunks draw much attention on YouTube, he continues to shine brightest on the defensive end. He was just named the Missouri Valley Conference’s Defensive Player of the Year for the second straight season.
He has also come a long way as a scorer. Last week during a win over Southern Illinois in the Missouri Valley Conference tournament, Cotton surpassed 1,000 points for his career. He ranks fifth in school history in career steals and is tied for third in games played. He has also participated in 118 career victories, which is not only a school record but, according to Wichita State’s sports information office, it is the highest active total in college basketball.
It’s not easy to be a YouTube sensation, an SI cover boy and still be a relative unknown. Cotton has managed to pull that off while making sure his team keeps winning. If that’s not a Glue Guy, then there is no such thing.
Rapheal Davis, 6’5” junior guard, Purdue
At the end of Davis’ freshman year at Fort Wayne South High, he gave Purdue coach Matt Painter a verbal commitment. It was a long, nervous wait for Painter, but there was never any real doubt that Davis would officially signed a letter of intent when he became a senior. “You’re always worried when someone makes a decision that early,” Painter says, “but he’s a loyal guy.”
Likewise, when Purdue struggled to a 31-35 record during Davis’ first two seasons, he didn’t test the transfer wire like some players might have done. His perseverance has paid off as the Boilermakers appear ready to return to the NCAA tournament after a three-year absence. Davis has started all 30 games for Purdue this season, during which time he has done a little bit of everything. The roster has no seniors, so at the start of the season Painter asked Davis to serve as captain. After playing power forward his first two years, he moved to shooting guard to make room for Vince Edwards, the talented 6’7” freshman. Davis averages 11.0 points, 4.4 rebounds and 2.7 assists per game. Though he is not a great long-range shooter (31.3% from three), he has had his moments, like a 24-point performance in a win over Iowa on Jan. 24. Davis has also had four games this season where he attempted double-digit free throws (including a 14-for-18 performance in a win over Missouri in November). He led the team in assists 11 times.
Painter plays mostly man-to-man defense and switches on almost every screen, yet Davis is known throughout the Big Ten as one of the league’s top defenders. Painter also credits his attitude for helping to restore the program’s winning tradition. “He tries to do everything we ask him to do,” Painter says. “He’s hard working and he gets along with everyone. He puts in his time. He plays hard, he defends, he’s a leader who has really helped our culture.”
When Painter calls Davis “an old-school Purdue guy,” he is paying him a very high compliment, and he adds: “He’s the kind of guy that [former] coach [Gene] Keady would love.” Just goes to show that when a Glue Guy does a little bit of everything, it can add up to a lot.
Briante Weber, 6’2” senior guard, VCU (Honorary member)
I have never tapped someone to be an honorary member of the All-Glue team, but I made an exception for an exceptional player.
Weber suffered a season-ending knee injury in the closing minutes of a loss to Richmond on Jan. 31. That fate would be cruel enough since it prematurely ended Weber’s college career, but it was especially painful because he was just 12 steals away from setting the NCAA’s alltime record.
If ever a player embodied the righteous essence of Glue Guydom, it is Weber. For a program that depends so heavily on applying fullcourt defensive pressure, Weber was invaluable. He only averaged 8.1 points per game, but the Rams have faltered badly without him. After starting out 17-3, they finished the regular season losing six of their last 11 games.
It was hard to see a player with such wonderful, infectious energy laid low by a single, awkward jump stop. “Remember when Deion Sanders said they don’t pay me to be humble? That’s Bri,” VCU coach Shaka Smart says. “He loves being in the middle of things. He’s a very, very energetic person. You can see that as soon as he walks in the room.”
Weber was lightly recruited when he came out of high school in Chesapeake, Va. One of Smart’s assistants found him to be intriguing, so the coaching staff invited Weber to come to one of their camps. Weber did such a good job locking up the camp’s top scorers that Smart decided to pursue him. After spending some time at a prep school, Weber enrolled and began making his mark on the “Havoc” system that has propelled this midmajor school to be able to compete with elite program around the country.
Like everyone else around the program, Smart was devastated when he learned of Weber’s injury. “Oh, it was terrible,” he says. “He was crushed when he heard.” It wasn’t long, though, until Weber’s character came through. “I’ve never seen anyone handle an injury anywhere as well as he has,” Smart says. “He knows basketball is not over for him. I think he’s excited to see what’s next.”
Past All-Glue Teams
2014: Patric Young, Florida (capt.); Tekele Cotton, Wichita State; Josh Gasser, Wisconsin; Justin Jackson, Cincinnati; T.J. McConnell, Arizona; Akil Mitchell, Virginia
2013: Mike Hart, Gonzaga (capt.); Kyle Anderson, UCLA; Melvin Ejim, Iowa State; Roosevelt Jones, Butler; Nate Lubick, Georgetown; Travis Releford, Kansas
2012: Darius Miller, Kentucky (capt.); Quincy Acy, Baylor; Travis Releford, Kansas; Toure' Murry, Wichita State; Anthony Marshall, UNLV; Jorge Gutierrez, Cal; Zack Novak, Michigan
2011: Tyrone Nash and Carleton Scott, Notre Dame (co-captains); Terrell Bell, Virginia Tech; Brady Morningstar, Kansas; Draymond Green, Michigan State; Zack Novak, Michigan
2010: David Lighty, Ohio State (captain); Chris Kramer, Purdue; Reggie Redding, Villanova; Willie Veasley, Butler; Rick Jackson, Syracuse.
2009: J.T. Tiller, Missouri (captain); Taylor Griffin, Oklahoma; Jermaine Dixon, Pitt; Garrett Temple, LSU; Travis Walton, Michigan State.
2008: Stanley Burrell, Xavier (captain); Tory Jackson, Notre Dame; Dave Pendergraft, Gonzaga; Derrick Jasper, Kentucky; Justin Mason, Texas; Wisconsin (glue team).
2007: Dane Bradshaw, Tennessee (captain); Kyle Shiloh, Nevada; Dominique Kirk, Texas A&M; Othello Hunter, Ohio State; Marcus Landry, Wisconsin.
2006: Sean Dockery, Duke (captain); Dane Bradshaw, Tennessee; Mike Hall, George Washington; Sean Marshall, Boston College; Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, UCLA; Kenton Paulino, Texas.
2005: Jamaal Levy, Wake Forest (captain); Louis Hinnant, Boston College; Erroll Knight, Gonzaga; Christian Moody, Kansas; Ellis Myles, Louisville; Roger Powell, Illinois.
2004: Jaron Brown, Pittsburgh (captain); Tyrone Barley, Saint Joseph's; Erroll Knight, Gonzaga; Roger Powell, Illinois; Nick Robinson, Stanford; Robert Tomaszek, Texas Tech.
2003: Rick Anderson, Arizona (captain); Jaron Brown, Pittsburgh; Justin Hamilton, Florida; Chuck Hayes, Kentucky; Robert Johnson, Oregon; Ellis Myles, Louisville; Tony Robertson, Connecticut.
2002: Gerald Fitch, Kentucky (captain); Dahntay Jones, Duke; Billy Knight, UCLA; Byron Mouton, Maryland; Jarrad Odle, Indiana; Antoine Pettway, Alabama.
2001: Sergio McClain, Illinois (captain); Nate James, Duke; Luke Walton, Arizona; Justin Hamilton, Florida; Marcus Toney-El, Seton Hall; Jason Capel, North Carolina.
2000: Lavor Postell, St. John's (captain); Alex Jensen, Utah; Nate James, Duke; Brian Beshara, LSU; Stanford (glue team).