Technique? Absolutely. Boxing out is key, not just for yourself, but for your teammates. Being in position, however, will only get you so far. You had better want the basketball more than anyone else on the court.
"Technique will get you some of the easier rebounds because they will come to you," University of Wisconsin associate head coach Rob Jeter said. "But the ones that bounce crazy, it's all about who is hungry, who wants to go get it, who wants to track it down."
For the past four seasons, Jeter, who works closely with the Badgers' post players, has tutored one of the greatest rebounders in UW history. Mike Wilkinson, a 6-foot-8, 240-pound senior forward, is leading the Badgers on the glass for the fourth consecutive year, an unprecedented achievement at Wisconsin.
"You've just got to be hungry, you can't take possessions off," Jeter said. "I think that's all that shows. That ball goes up it's anyone's basketball. Guys are putting bodies on you but [Wilkinson] continues to work. That's all that says. He's in great condition and he's hungry to get the basketball."
Wilkinson, a fifth-year senior from Blue Mounds, Wis., has improved his rebounding total each season, from 171 his redshirt freshman season (5.3 per game) to 216 (6.8) to 219 (6.8) to 238 (7.4), and counting. His 844 career rebounds are third on UW's all-time list. Early this season Wilkinson established a new UW record for career offensive rebounds; he now has 308, 68 more than Andy Kowske's old mark.
Defensive rebounding, Wilkinson said, is all about getting a body on your man, sticking with him and then going after the ball. Offensive rebounding is more involved. He has to refuse to give up, always believing he can get a hand on the ball to tip it to himself or a teammate. It starts with reading the box out.
"I've played long enough that I know how some guys are going to try and box me out," Wilkinson said. "Now, you can use that against them."
"There's different techniques you can use to get around them," he said. "The biggest thing is just to keep your feet moving. The hardest person to box out is someone who is continuously moving. Once you stop they can just keep their body on you."
Wilkinson will put his rebounding acumen to work at 6:27 p.m. Friday, when sixth seeded Wisconsin takes on No. 10 seed North Carolina State, in a Syracuse Regional semifinal at the Carrier Dome here.
"I think in Mike's case [rebounding] is just a matter of working," Jeter said. "You watch him on the free throws… a lot of guys just step into the lane. Mike tries to spin off guys and work underneath. He just doesn't take a possession off. That's all rebounding is, you've got to have the desire to go get it."
Wilkinson's rebounding technique on free throws is unique. The first-team All-Big Ten performer goes down into a deep crouch, nearly squatting to the floor. He bobs slightly as he readies for the release of the shot, as if he is getting ready to uncoil, springing himself towards the roof.
Wilkinson, though, does not get rebounds by playing above the rim. He is athletic but he is not a leaper. The crouch reminds him to get low and serves as an in-game stretching routine of sorts. But it also can play with opponent's minds.
"Some people feel they have to get down that low to try and box me out and that's not what they're best at," Wilkinson said. "It just gives me so many options of what I can do to go get a rebound—because I always line up the same way, they don't know what I'm going to do."
Wilkinson may break another UW rebounding record this season: his 80 offensive boards are six shy of the single-season mark held by sophomore Alando Tucker, who established the record as a true freshman two years ago. Tucker, who played four games last season before taking a medical redshirt, has 67 offensive rebounds this season, and is second on the team with 6.4 total boards per game.
Rather than taking rebounds away from Wilkinson, Tucker's return has made it easier for him to work the glass. Last season, opponents would at times send two players to box out Wilkinson. They do not have that luxury with Tucker in the lineup, and Wilkinson likes his chances one-on-one.
"As long as everyone continues to go to the boards the way we have, everybody one-on-one, you can always beat your guy," he said.
Advantage on the glass
Wisconsin has a statistical rebounding edge on N.C. State, with an average plus 3.5 rebounding margin, compared to the Wolfpack's minus 1.9.
N.C. State is led on the glass by swingman Julius Hodge, who averages 6.7 per game, including 2.5 offensive boards per contest. Injured point guard Tony Bethel is second at 4.0 total boards per game, but he is doubtful for Friday's game. Junior forward Ilian Evtimov and freshman forward Andrew Brackman are next at 3.8 and 3.6 per contest, respectively.