PF Robert Lumpkins Filling Vital Role

After being hired late in the recruiting process, Rutgers first-year coach Mike Rice needed to find a front court player who could contribute in the 2010-11 season. He found one in New Mexico State transfer Robert Lumpkins, who was available to play immediately because he already graduated and still had a year of eligibility remaining.

PISCATAWAY, N.J. – Rutgers depth is in the backcourt, which made the pickup of Robert Lumpkins that much more pivotal.

To keep Jonathan Mitchell's minutes in a manageable slot, to provide backup in case Gilvydas Biruta or Austin Johnson got in foul trouble, the Scarlet Knights needed another body.

Lumpkins, in a unique role of having college experience but being able to transfer without sitting out a year, is the stop-gap first-year coach Mike Rice sought. Heading into Thursday's home contest against St. Peter's (7:30 p.m.), Rice spoke about what he is getting from the 6-foot-7, 215-pound New Mexico State transfer.

"Minutes, and when he's in the right mindset, he gives us someone who plays with tremendous skill," Rice said. "He has the ability to make shots and score. We're trying to convert him to a little bit more of a defensive mindset."

The defense-first attitude turned into quite an adjustment for Lumpkins, who arrived at Rutgers with a soft jump shot, but also with a reputation for relaxing on defense.

"We're a defensive team, so I have no choice but to defend," Lumpkins said. "That's been my focus throughout the whole season, just defending. My offensive talents will show when it needs to be shown, but for us to win games and be successful, I'm going to have to defend.

"In September, I was slow. I was slow to react. On help side, I was worried about my man too much. Now, my defense is knowing that the ball scores, and I'm helping more. I'm more move. My lateral quickness got a lot better, so I'm able to keep smaller guys in front of me."

Lumpkins presence, while not overwhelming, is greatly needed.

Rutgers has nine scholarship players available, and the backcourt and wing has five players to rotate through three spots. It is the front court where foul trouble is a concern, and where depth is needed.

Biruta and Johnson split time at center, and Mitchell takes most of the minutes at power forward, except when Lumpkins is on the court. He is averaging 3.5 points and 1.5 rebounds in 12.7 minutes per game, but those numbers could pick up once the Big East schedule picks up.

"Coach Rice is a different type of coach," Lumpkins said. "He demands so much, and it makes you a better person in life. Not only on the court, but off the court as well.

"It's just by doing everything perfect. It's never ok, or good job. It has to be great. It has to be perfect. When you strive to be perfect, you can do nothing but be the best."

The interesting aspect for Lumpkins, though, is this is his only change with the Scarlet Knights. He graduated from New Mexico State, but had another year of eligibility remaining. The NCAA allows such players to transfer and enroll in graduate school at another college without sitting out a year, so Lumpkins, who is from Washington, D.C., chose Rutgers.

"I felt like I needed a change in my life. It didn't have anything to do with basketball coming here," Lumpkins said. "This was the only place I visited, and the only place I had interest in. (Rutgers assistant) David Cox was from Washington, D.C., and my uncle knew coach Rice. Once they got the job here, I offered my talent and they accepted it."

Lumpkins is working on his master's degree in labor studies, and is scheduled to complete it in December 2011.

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