For much of his life, Ryan Rhoomes’ potential was soaring. That is, until something he never considered an issue became such an impediment his future was nearly waylaid indefinitely.
Co-MVP of the Jordan Brand Classic regional game in 2010, the 6’9” forward had the likes of West Virginia and Oklahoma, along with locals Seton Hall and St. John’s, going after him. But then each of those head coaches saw his transcript and, as Rhoomes put it, were suddenly “MIA.”
“I think the hardest part wasn’t about basketball, it was just about being irrelevant,” Rhoomes said. “Basically, I didn’t really realize how important grades were at first, but it is.”
“Being so big in high school, being All-American nominee, MVP in Jordan Classic, all these things I’ve accomplished and then I got this one setback and everybody’s just like, they moved on from Ryan Rhoomes.”
After winning that MVP award, Rhoomes left Queen’s Cardozo High School to NIA Prep, hoping that extra year in the prep ranks would boost his transcript, but after committing to Texas Christian University, Rhoomes was ruled a non-qualifier.
The NCAA had cracked down on NIA Prep and begun to refuse approving classes for the prep academy; Rhoomes was one of six players from the Newark-based school declared ineligible. Suddenly, TCU severed its ties from Rhoomes and he was forced to spend a year away.
“When I was sitting at home doing nothing, when I was released from TCU, I was watching guys I played with, guys I played against in high school: Moe Harkless and Russ Smith, all these guys going into the league and I’m just sitting at home,” Rhoomes said. “It’s kind of stressful. I actually cried a few times.”
According to Rhoomes, he worked the first job in his life at a Calvin Klein and stressed, often with his mother, about whether his college basketball future had permanently disappeared.
“It was literally just me and my mother just trying to work things out, I didn’t have anybody in my corner at that time,” Rhoomes said. “I had left Gary Charles from the Panthers [a NYC-based AAU program], so I didn’t really have anybody helping me.”
“It was just me and her. It was really stressful because she doesn’t really know a lot and I didn’t really know what I had to do.”
That’s when assistant coach and Cardozo alum David Duke intervened. He and his boss, head coach Tom Pecora, worked to land Rhoomes for their 2012 recruiting class and helped him maintain eligibility when he joined in the fall.
“I give all the thanks to them,” Rhoomes said. “They’re the first to actually help me, wanted to work with me.”
Since reaching Fordham, Rhoomes has put his mark on the program. In his senior year, he has helped lead the Rams, under new head coach Jeff Neubauer, to their best start since the 1970-71 season. Fresh off a co-Atlantic 10 Player of the Week honors on Monday, his scoring average of 14.5 ppg ranks second on the team, and he tops the team’s stat sheet with 8.4 rpg and 2.2 blocks per game. Rhoomes has also begun his ascent up the Fordham record books, and currently ranks 10th on the school’s all-time rebounding list.
Yet the only thing the senior said he would change if he could would be to focus on his grades coming out of high school.
“I didn’t really go hard at all in high school until I got to college where I got a 3.0,” Rhoomes said. “High school’s easy, high school was nothing compared to this now. Look at what I’m doing now, I’m getting B’s and A’s.”
“I just really regret not working, if I could tell anybody even if I could go back to Cardozo and speak to those kids, I would just say go hard for the school work because that’s the most important thing. The things I’ve been through, I’ve been non-qualifier had to sit out a whole year at home from school, all the things, I was there. I didn’t get to play my freshman year, so the only thing I would change would be me doing work in high school.”
Rhoomes’ largest fear was that he would become a nothing, but he is helping lead the Rams back to relevance in the New York City area. However, Neubauer’s plan from the beginning was to embrace the 6’9” forward’s ability inside to help produce a turnaround in the Bronx.
“He doesn’t have a four year plan, two year plan, he has a one year plan to make us winners this year,” Rhoomes said of Neubauer. “He told me that he wants me to be more of an offensive player. He said that they remembered me from high school, so they knew that I could play.”
For the first time in his four years the Rams defeated local rival St. John’s, a win in front of a packed and raucous Rose Hill, but they have started 1-2 in Atlantic 10 play. Already halfway through his final season with the Rams, Rhoomes believes he, along with his fellow senior classmates Mandell Thomas and Ryan Canty, can help bring the program to prominence.
“We had great players Brendan Frazier, Chris Gaston throughout the past years, but you know it was just like well you’re not winning, so it doesn’t really matter what numbers you put up,” Rhoomes said. “Me and [Mandell], we have to, we’re putting up numbers but we’re trying to win as well for our program.”
“It’s important for us now and for the future people coming in so coach Neubauer can get better players, because a lot people don’t really know about Fordham unless you’re from New York or the metropolitan area. A lot of people don’t really know about Fordham, so if we win this year and we produce well, it’s there for the future, for the new people coming in for the program.”
Ryan Restivo wrote the America East conference preview for the 2015-16 Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook. He covers the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, the America East conference among others for Big Apple Buckets. You can follow Ryan on Twitter @ryanarestivo or contact Ryan at rrestivo[at]nycbuckets.com.