Frosh Biruta is Rutgers' Center of Attention

PROVIDENCE, R.I. -- Gilvydas Biruta arrived at Rutgers with no experience playing center, but a lack of frontcourt depth forced him into playing center. He has started all but one game for the Scarlet Knights and is averaging more than 9 points and 5 rebounds per game while learning the new position. Biruta is also in contention to make the Big East all-freshman team.

Providence, R.I. – Rutgers has a history of freshmen making waves in the Big East, but none quite the way Gilvydas Biruta did it.

Biruta was recruited to play power forward, but a depleted roster lacking a true center forced the 6-foot-8, 230-pound freshman to play center for the first time in his life.

At times it has been difficult matching the strength of the big bodies in the low post, but Biruta has done a fine job. Heading into the season finale today at Providence (7 p.m.), Biruta is in contention to make the league's all-freshman team.

"I don't know how other freshmen are doing, but I would love to be mentioned," said Biruta, who started 28 of 29 games. "I never play for stats. Before I got to University, I never thought about that. Before that, my goal was to be the (best) student-athlete in the Big East. That's what I came here for. I could have stayed in Europe to play basketball."

Biruta's naiveté regarding the post-season league selections is part of his honest charm.

The Lithuanian said he didn't know such teams were selected until he was asked about it last week, although he will be given strong consideration since he is averaging 9.4 points and 5.3 rebounds in 17 Big East games. Those statistics are in line with his season averages of 9.1 points and 5.4 rebounds per game over the full schedule.

More stunning, though, is Biruta is putting the finishing touches on a stellar freshman season at a position he never played, and really doesn't enjoy playing.

"But I enjoy learning the position," Biruta said. "Next year I'll probably be a four (power forward). I believe that (coach Mike Rice) is making a transition for me next year. I had to learn a lot of stuff to be a (center) at the college level.

"Even though I played four or small forward in Europe, I still have to learn so much stuff because this is the college level. It's not easy. It's not like being a fish in the water."

Yes, Biruta has become so comfortable off the court in his first season in college he is even using colloquialisms.

On the court it is much of the same, but Biruta's thoughts on his play speaks toward his determination to become a great player.

"I struggle with post defense," he said. "I can play post defense right away (in a possession), but recovering from the help side, if I have to get in front on the post again, sometimes I struggle. Maybe it's footwork, and I have to see more videos.

"I know how to front, but if the ball gets reversed, I probably position myself too low. I have to go higher, than I can recover to the front position."


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