Jack displays defensive flair for Rice, RU
Kadeem Jack’s coaches and teammates see it every day in practice, and the redshirt freshman forward put it on display Wednesday against Seton Hall for the first time.
After more than a year with the Rutgers men’s basketball team, almost three months of rehab and 12 games, Jack finally was comfortable enough to play 15 minutes and make an impact in a 59-54 loss to the Pirates.
He looked lost offensively after his Dec. 29 debut. But last week he made a pair of baskets and saluted as he made his way back down the court.
“Every day I’m seeing more and more of the Kadeem Jack that I recruited,” said head coach Mike Rice. “The more he gives in practice, the more practice time he gets under his belt, the better he gets, the more comfortable and the more minutes he’s going to get. He’s nowhere close to being back to where he was, but I like his improvement.”
Rice said Monday he could see himself starting Jack on Wednesday at No. 23 Notre Dame. Rice continues to re-evaluate his frontcourt rotation in the wake of five losses in six games.
But even as Jack struggled to adjust to the college game, Rice played Jack for his defense.
Only his wingspan dwarfs his 6-foot-9 frame, and against Seton Hall he used that length to disrupt Pirates center Herb Pope.
Nearly every aspect of Jack’s stat line — 15 minutes, 4 points, three rebounds, two steals and a block — marked a career high. He blocked two shots Jan. 14 against West Virginia.
“That’s what I liked to do at high school and when I came to the college level — I like getting blocks,” Jack said. “I like disrupting a whole team’s offense way better than scoring. I think that’s what wins games.”
Jack also had his most significant offensive contribution, although it was still limited.
The former four-star recruit shot 2-for-3 for the field for 4 points — more than the high of 3 he scored in a blowout loss to West Virginia and a win against Pittsburgh.
The lengthy wing player has yet to show explosion — he hit a pair of jumpers against the Hall, neither particularly pretty — but Rice says Jack is on his way.
The 19-year-old broke a bone in his foot a little more than four months ago. The timeline for his return was three to four months. It took Jack less than three.
“Kadeem’s a hungry kid and he works hard,” said sophomore guard Mike Poole. “Kids that work hard and stay hungry and humble, good stuff always happens for them.”
But Jack still feels the effects of his injury.
He enrolled for the second semester last year, opting to leave South Kent Prep (Conn.) after graduating from Rice High School (N.Y.) to get a head start on his collegiate career. He redshirted while practicing and working out with the team.
But he never experienced the physicality of the Big East schedule. He returned this year to play then-No. 10 Florida and then start the conference slate.
“The biggest part is physical,” Jack said. “Coming back from injury, my legs aren’t really into it. A lot of guys can knock me off balance easily. It’s mostly the physicality [I need to adjust to].”
But after weeks of looking out of sorts on offense, Jack is starting to find a comfort zone. Coaches see it every day in practice, and Jack shows it in games with his salute.
“Things are starting to become second-nature,” he said. “Now I just have to react to stuff, rather than always thinking.”