Baylor basketball player Rico Gathers gauging interest from NFL teams

Rico Gathers is open to a pro career in football or basketball. He’ll have a very busy spring. (USATSI)

Rico Gathers, Baylor’s beast of a big man and one of the best rebounders in college basketball, believes his hoops career will be over as soon as this season ends. Football, instead, is his future.

ESPN.com communicated with Gathers on Friday, with the the Bears senior saying, “Football has been in my heart” and that playing football is “a natural fit for me.”

In a subsequent news conference on Friday afternoon, Gathers confirmed the report by saying, “Moving forward that is my decision,” referring to putting football before basketball for good come this spring.

“Football was the first sport I played,” the 6-foot-8, 275-pound Gathers said. “I’ve been around football longer than I have basketball.”

This isn’t breaking news, so to speak. Gathers’ prospects on the gridiron have been well-known in hoops circles for a while. He told CBS Sports last year that he was considering a future in football, but would keep both of his options open just in case the NBA offered opportunities as well. In his past two seasons at Baylor, Gathers has a 10.7 rebound average, scoring 11.8 points per game as well.

During a press conference on Friday, Baylor coach Scott Drew said he “100 percent” agrees with whatever career path Gathers wants to take once the Bears’ season is over.

“He’s married, has a child,” Drew said. “Following the season, if it’s better he plays football, we are 100 percent behind it. … Most athletes dream of an opportunity to have two options. That’s the good thing about football and basketball. Tight ends, if that’s what he chooses to play, have done pretty well coming from the basketball court. Rico’s been wise about that, not closing doors on anything.”

Gathers said at his press conference that he plans to make the NFL as tight end due to his speed, hands, size and burst ability. He’s going to wait and set up his pro day for football until after the basketball season concludes.

“I look at myself as a franchise player,” Gathers said of his athletic ability. He has not played organized football since middle school.

On the court, Gathers has been hampered in recent weeks by an unspecified illness. He’s missed two of the last five games, and logged an average of 19 minutes in the three games he did play.

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