Professor Nakia Rimmer might be a familiar face on campus.
For the many freshmen taking Math 104, he is the “it” professor to have.
But for those who make it over to the Palestra for basketball games, he is the man often seen standing up at his seat, hunched over and cheering for the player who just sunk a three.
To conclude his Friday lectures during the season, he announces to his class, “So I’ll see you at the game.”
Rimmer’s affinity for the basketball team began 15 years ago when he entered Penn as a graduate student.
As a Penn student, he witnessed Big 5 and Ivy League titles and saw players like Michael Jordan and Ugonna Onyekwe — who was in his summer Math 115 class — dominate the court.
“I caught the fever then,” he said. “The excitement in the Palestra, that sparked the fire for me inside.”
Yet after graduating, he briefly lost contact with the team until he returned to Penn with a teaching position in 2006. It was Glen Miller’s first season as head coach.
He admitted he did not attend many games when he returned, but upon the arrival of Zack Rosen, he caught the fever again.
“I wasn’t going to that many games back then, but now they’ve been giving me something to go to,” Rimmer said.
Rimmer taught Rosen in his pre-freshman program math course and began catching the occasional game to support the then-rookie. Still, it took a while for the excitement to catch on.
“Professor Rimmer is one of my favorite people on campus,” Rosen said. “He gets very enthusiastic … and he helped me. Without him, I don’t think I would have graduated, because he got me through Math 104.”
Once coach Jerome Allen was named head coach, Rimmer’s attendance started to increase. Now he catches even more players early through PFP and summer league games.
“He’s got a great relationship with [coach Allen] and they hit it off,” Rosen said. “He’s around, he traveled with the team when I was there my last year, and I love the guy. I think it’s great, what he does for the program and for the school.”
Now Rimmer sometimes goes to practices, even speaking with recruits “to tell them how great Penn is and Penn math, just as a fan of the program.”
This year, he’s already met two of the new recruits — David Winfield Jr. after bumping into him and Allen in front of David Rittenhouse Laboratory, and Tony Bagtas and his parents at an open practice the day before Bagtas committed. But the main focus remains on the current squad.
“As soon as the schedule came out, I started marking it up,” Rimmer said. “I’m mad I can’t go to the Virginia trip. But pretty much every game I can, I’m going to make it.”
He will drive to Butler for Penn’s Jan. 2 tilt and will also scout other Ivy teams when they are in Philadelphia.
Though Rimmer is a basketball fan, he is still a teacher first and offers an interesting outlook on the cheating scandal at Harvard.
“The whole cheating scandal part of it, being a teacher, I can see how it happened,” he said. “The take-home test, I always try to avoid that, especially in large classes.”
Rimmer is dedicated to supporting his students both inside and outside the classroom. Though basketball has always been his favorite sport — during his year teaching high school math at Masterman High School in Philadelphia, he also coached — he still finds time to support other student endeavors.
Last year, he attended the majority of home volleyball and softball games — including traveling to Harvard for the softball’s Ivy championship series — as well as dance and other student performances.
“Now that I teach these introductory freshman courses, and I’ve been teaching Math 170, which is a math for non-math people — and that attracts a lot of athletes — so anyone who’s in my class, they say, ‘Oh, come to my …’ and it’s not just sports.”
But there is something to following a game in the hallowed Palestra or taking a road trip to catch the Quakers.
“Most recently, I figured I’d make a weekend out of it and go and take a trip with the kids and travel. It’s just lots of fun,” he said. “My kids are five and 10, and they’ve already been on every Ivy League campus.”
One of his most memorable recent trips was last year’s Dartmouth-Harvard weekend.
“The whole weekend was amazing,” said Rimmer, who trekked through a snowstorm to get to Boston after the Quakers took down Dartmouth in Hanover, N.H.
The enthusiastic Rimmer can be seen on footage of the Harvard game.
“My kids saw me on TV, and they were like, ‘Hey Dad, what are you doing at the timer’s table?’” Rimmer said. “ And I was like, ‘There weren’t many seats,’ so I was able to sit there. But I had to contain my excitement.
“We had a chance. Even though we didn’t close it out at Princeton. We had a chance. No one gave us a chance, and we proved them wrong.”
And Rimmer loves the underdog story, which keeps him confident for this season even though the Quakers were picked fifth in the preseason media poll.
“That’s fuel for the fire. It’s good to be underestimated,” he said. “I like the underdog role.”
After seeing the freshman talent and the growth of more veteran players at the Red and Blue scrimmage, he became even more encouraged.
“I’m just excited to see what’s going to happen, how it’s going to play out, how they’re going to mesh, who’s going to come up. The bench is so deep,” Rimmer said. “I was really impressed with what I saw, and I can’t wait for the season to start.
“It’s like, let’s go — come on Nov. 9.”
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