He struts onto the court wearing purple-and-yellow striped tube socks and black tennis shoes.
With the opening tip Wednesday, the basketball falls into the hands of Dr. Nelson Rhodus, a University dentistry professor, who is much different from his competitors.
For one, he’s 52 years old. Although the hoopster is twice the age of most of the basketball players on the court, he can still beat them on the hardwood.
On Wednesday, he even scored the Minnesota All-Stars’ first basket of the team’s intramural game.
For 32 consecutive years, Rhodus, director of oral medicine in the School of Dentistry, has played on intramural basketball teams.
“He’s the guru of intramural basketball,” said Ryan Dunlavey, a teammate and third-year dental student.
Rhodus came to the University in 1984. He said he immediately sought to join an intramural basketball team with dental students. It’s nice to get to know students outside of class, he said.
“Playing here with students is an extension of teaching. Part of what I teach is how to work well in a team. I’m able to carry this same philosophy out onto the court,” Rhodus said.
A member of the University’s Academy of Distinguished Teachers, he said he divides his time between teaching oral medicine and researching oral cancer. He also works with ear/nose/throat doctors at the University’s Cancer Center.
Fellow dentistry professor Darryl Hamamoto called Rhodus an outstanding educator.
“More than once, he has received an ovation for his lectures,” he said.
After acquiring a love for the sport as a child, Rhodus said, he played organized basketball until he got cut in college. He’s continued playing intramural basketball ever since.
While climbing the dentistry ranks, his travels had him playing on teams at Centre College, the University of Kentucky, Oral Roberts University and now the University of Minnesota. Playing basketball fed his need for competitive hoops, he said.
In his faded “Mighty Molars” jersey, players said, he can surely play.
“As a guard, he’s a great shooter. He rocks the threes,” said Paul Schaus, a third-year dental student.
Rhodus said he prefers to form teams with first- or second-year dental students and stick with them until graduation. He also said he’s been on three University intramural championship teams.
Games with students are faster, and the players are less selfish, he said.
Joel Jahimiak, teammate and fourth-year dental student, said he is never quite sure how to refer to the professor during games. Rhodus said he realizes it, but “it’s important they recognize me other than their professor.”
Rhodus said he also enjoys swimming, biking and playing tennis. He said he has completed 38 triathlons and eight marathons. Official race numbers adorn the north wall of his office in Moos Tower.
He said he doesn’t know when he’ll stop lacing up his sneakers.
“I’ll keep playing as long as my knees hold out and the students keep asking,” he said.