Sunday, March 9, 2003

Matta responds to calls for 'Rhino'

Xavier notebook: Fan favorite Caldwell hits a layup; planning to coach after graduation

By Dustin Dow
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Xavier coach Thad Matta.
(Steven M. Herppich photo)
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Ryan Caldwell says he heard the chant with about eight minutes left in the game.

"Put in Caldwell," Cintas Center fans repeated.

"They started it too early," said Caldwell, who said he thought it would have been more appropriate with three minutes to go.

Coach Thad Matta sent Xavier's senior walk-on into the game Saturday with 2:50 to play, much to the delight of 10,250 fans who wanted to celebrate Caldwell's and David West's final home game. The Musketeers routed Temple 96-65.

West, of course, played 38 minutes, but he wanted to make sure he got to play with Caldwell, a McNicholas graduate who entered XU the same year as West.

"We got a chance to play together," said West. "I made sure he wasn't coming into the game for me."

Making an impact in the game isn't really Caldwell's thing, although he did make a layup Saturday. It is practice where he comes to play.

Whether serving as an extra body down low or playing the role of the other team's best player (his favorite is George Washington's Chris Monroe, because he gets to shoot a lot), Caldwell's importance isn't lost in the eyes of his teammates, who affectionately refer to him as "Rhino."

"In the situation Rhino is in, a lot of time people don't give him credit," West said, "because he doesn't show up on the floor or in the stats. But (walk-ons) are the most unselfish guys on the team. Rhino wants to win as bad as anybody on the team. What he brings to this team, you won't see in numbers. He brings leadership, and he gets guys ready to play."

After he graduates in May, Caldwell wants to coach.

Matta thinks Caldwell will make a good one.

"He understands the game well," Matta said. "You only have to tell him something once in scouting, and he picks that stuff up."

Saturday, Caldwell wasn't thinking about coaching as he sat in front of the media in the postgame interview room for the first time in his career.

"It's a good feeling getting invited in here for once," Caldwell said.

TOURNAMENT PAIRING: Xavier earned the No. 1 seed in the A-10 Tournament in Dayton and will play the winner of Monday's Massachusetts-George Washington game. The quarterfinal round begins Thursday in Dayton.

GOOD COMPANY: Xavier finished the A-10 season 15-1, the most wins since Massachusetts went 15-1 and 35-2, advancing to the Final Four in the 1995-96 season.



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