RU ready for a miracle
Ever since Fred Hill Jr. took over the basketball program for Gary Waters four years ago, big things have constantly been expected. Quincy Douby was the only real marquee player under Waters, while his supporting cast was mediocre at best and could not go anywhere in the best basketball conference in America, the Big East. Hill brought in highly-regarded recruits such as Hamady N'Diaye, Corey Chandler, Dane Miller and Rutgers' only McDonald's All-American Mike Rosario. But things haven't exactly worked out as planned.
N'Diaye never evolved any kind of offensive game, averaging 5.6 points per game last season in 23 minutes per game. He's the homeless man's Ben Wallace. But many college teams don't have any kind of real post presence. Couldn't the defense be enough? Connecticut's Hasheem Thabeet — who is on his way to becoming the biggest bust of the 2009 NBA draft — sure was in the right situation last year, where he was flanked by very good offensive players A.J. Price and Jeff Adrien. But even Thabeet averaged double figures. N'Diaye could work if Rutgers had bombers from behind the arc like Douby, but Rosario is seemingly the only perimeter player on the team worth anything. He was the only player on last season's Scarlet Knights to average double figures as Chandler went bust and was eventually thrown off the Binghamton basketball team, following his transfer. Rosario's clearly worth it, and we'll see with Miller and Greg Echenique, but this team doesn't seem to be going anywhere. So what's the problem?
Is it the coaching? Well, teams like Texas and Kansas State have been fairly good in the past despite the fact that Rick Barnes of Texas and Frank Martin of Kansas have been regarded as mediocre to bad in-game coaches, so that can't be the sole reason — despite many Rutgers basketball fans' minds that believe it to be so.
A lack of star power probably has something to do with it as well. When possibly the best player in school history was a fringe first-round pick in the NBA draft, there is a problem. When teams like Kansas State, with no discernible basketball history whatsoever, can pull players like Michael Beasley, one of the top recruits in America, to a school that hadn't made the NCAA Tournament since 1996, the coaches have to be blamed. Rutgers, with the exception of fellow floundering school St. John's and middling Seton Hall, is the closest team to the greatest treasure trove of basketball talent in the country — New York City.
Kids are playing on the playground for years and some of the greatest players in NBA history have come from New York City — including Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Julius Erving and Bernard King. And don't sleep on current free agent Stephon "Starbury" Marbury and his cousin Sebastian "Bassy" Telfair. While the city isn't nearly as talent-filled as it used to be, people like Marbury and Telfair are going other places. Starbury attended Georgia Tech while Bassy was committed to Louisville before opting to become an NBA lottery bust. They aren't even considering schools close to their home state.
One of two things has to happen for this team to even gain any kind of acclaim for the basketball team: a huge head coach has to be brought in or the current staff has to completely hit the lottery for a couple of players. Memphis got lucky with John Calipari coming back to the collegiate ranks following his failed stints elsewhere, and they were vaulted to within one second-half collapse of the national title — Derrick Rose's SATs not withstanding. The University of Nevada, Las Vegas got former Florida and Illinois coach Lon Kruger after he failed in the NBA. These really aren't all that uncommon. Rutgers would somehow have to get lucky and hope one of those people came here. But that probably won't happen unless our school upgrades its facilities from the Trapezoid of Death on Livingston campus to something somebody would want to go to. What recruit is going to be impressed by the Louis Brown Athletic Center?
The alternative is to get really lucky with some players as the football team did with guys like Mike Teel and Ray Rice. They were not that heavily recruited but turned into stars for the Rutgers football team. This tends not to happen as much in basketball, as the high-profile teams tend to have a Carmelo Anthony, Derrick Rose or Kevin Durant on the team who is a five-star recruit. Lower recruits can fill the role player positions, but every good basketball team needs at least a couple of stars. Sure, there are the Dwyane Wades and Andrew Boguts who come out of nowhere, but they are few and far between. The University would need to hit the lottery.
This team seems to be stuck in neutral for at least the foreseeable future, but the good news is that it only takes one or two super recruits to turn a team around. For this team to go anywhere anytime soon, it basically needs Teen Wolf, Jesus Shuttlesworth and Jimmy Chitwood to come out of the woodwork. And somehow I don't see anyone on campus turning into a werewolf.
Matthew Torino is a School of Arts and Sciences junior majoring in political science. His column, "From the Sidelines," runs on alternate Thursdays.