TAMPA — The ball bounces around the rim and underneath Hillsborough High senior forward Cantia Rahming leans on bodies, clears space and, with uncanny instincts, rises above everyone and grabs the ball.
Rebound. Rahming is like a machine: A basketball vacuum cleaner if you will.
A few weeks ago, Rahming led the entire country in average rebounds a game, and after getting in foul trouble for a game or two has dropped off to an average of 17.6 rebounds a game, ranking No. 5 in the nation entering the week, according to MaxPreps.
But where in the heck did Rahming come from? Last year Rahming barely played, averaging 1.5 rebounds while playing in just 11 games.
Rahming points to his knee. “I injured it in practice,” he said of his meniscus tear sustained early in his junior year. “It makes me extra mad because it was kind of self-inflicted because I went for a ball that I shouldn’t have gone for.”
For the rest of the year, Rahming pretty much sat on the bench and stewed about what might have been as his teammates make a run all the way to the state final four.
“I felt terrible because I know I could have helped my team,” said Rahming, who started getting a few minutes a game toward season’s end. “Instead I had to watch. I think my frustration broke the scale.”
It also made him more determined and, during his rehabilitation, stronger than ever physically and mentally.
“I watched how my teammates shot the ball and when they missed how the ball bounced off the rim,” Rahming said. “I think I kind of got a feel for how to rebound my teammates’ misses. I think watching them play really helped me get more of a feel for rebounding.”
It’s a little bit more interesting considering that Rahming is not a gigantic physical presence at 6-foot-5, 190 pounds. He is kind of like a high school version of Dennis Rodman, A.K.A. “The Worm,” who at a relatively undersized 6-7, led the NBA in rebounding for seven seasons.
“(Rahming) just has a knack, a natural instinct for getting to the ball,” Hillsborough coach Chris Ward said. “He has a gift for it that you really can’t teach.”
Rahming said his love of rebounding — and yes he actually does say, “I love rebounding” — comes from playing AAU ball several years ago.
“There were all these others guys who could dribble and score and do all these things,” Rahming said. “I said to myself, ‘What role can I fill?’ That’s when I started going for the rebounds. I’ve been doing it ever since.”
This is not to say that Rahming isn’t plenty proficient at scoring, which he is doing at a rate of 23.9 points a game, scoring mostly, of course, after he grabs a rebound.
In the process, a few colleges, including Tennessee Martin, North Dakota State, Virginia Military Institute and the University of Tampa, have shown interest.
“But I’m still weighing my options,” Rahming said. “I want to see where this season takes me first.”
To the boards, of course.