Season lets Rutgers glance into its future
Before the regular season, the Rutgers men’s basketball team already celebrated.
Junior guard Jerome Seagears caught a full-court inbound from senior forward J.J. Moore and bounced a lay-up off the backboard Oct. 31 in practice.
That prompted junior guard Myles Mack to leap and hug Seagears so hard, they fell to the floor surrounded by happy screams and shocked yelps.
“I looked over at [head coach Eddie Jordan], and I said, ‘I’m about to Brett Favre this,’” Moore said.
Senior forward Wally Judge defended the pass, and it sailed over him across court.
“I’m not Darrelle Revis or anything,” Judge coincidentally said.
The Scarlet Knights, meanwhile, have no Favre, no Revis, no Superman and no proven savior.
The Knights are the team full of misfits, packed with acquisitions from Pittsburgh, Iowa State, southern junior colleges and a Virginia high school.
These new pieces and eight holdovers form the team AAC coaches voted to finish last in the conference.
By choosing three non-seniors as captains for the sake of continuity, Jordan has an eye in the future. Mack, junior forward Kadeem Jack and sophomore forward Greg Lewis will be around when Rutgers shifts into the Big Ten.
Jordan still has high hopes for Rutgers’ short AAC stay though.
“We want success every time we step on the floor, whether it’s improving in practice or winning games,” Jordan said Oct. 22 at Rutgers’ media day. “Winning is always in the equation.”
Before former head coach Mike Rice’s firing, this year projected as a make-or-break with the roster’s core. Rice’s first full recruiting class, a seven-member arsenal from 2011, would finally become upperclassmen.
But two of them transferred — forward Derrick Randall and guard Eli Carter. Without Carter — last year’s team leader with 14.9 points per game — the offense’s dynamic changes.
Jordan brings an offense he no longer calls a Princeton offense. His plan includes more running, which former Rutgers coaches regularly promise preseason before it fails to appear.
“It’s based on reading,” Jordan said. “I like that fact that we have two guards, two forwards and a center and we’re playing around it. We’re using some offense that I used when I was a player here under Tom Young, and we’re combining sort of a smorgasbord of offenses.”
Now without Carter, Rutgers must establish who can attempt game-winning shots besides Mack. The Knights struggled last year in late-game situations when the score was close.
“Make them feel good about each other,” Jordan said of his strategy for ending late-game struggles. “And [figure out] who’s going to take the last shot, who’s going to be able to have the poise to be able to run their routes, who’s able to defend without fouling, without putting someone on the line in the last minute-and-a-half.”
Jack said at Jordan’s introductory press conference every Knight considered transferring at some point last season.
As a former NBA head coach, Jordan might be overqualified for the unappealing situation he adopted.
But his hiring might have been Rutgers’ first step for readying its men’s basketball program to the Big Ten. Jordan is New Jersey’s highest-paid state employee with $1.25 million per year in his contract, but that brings Rutgers closer to average Big Ten head men’s basketball coach salaries.
And as a player on Rutgers’ 1976 Final Four team, Jordan must transition the Knights into the Big Ten’s future without much of a past view.
That applies to last season and 37 years ago.
“It’s all about what’s right now and what they can relate to in the present,” Jordan said. “Whether it’s some NBA, Louisville winning and pressing, whether it’s Michigan and their disciplined offense — something that they know now. I would rather relate to that than what we did.”
For updates on the Rutgers men’s basketball team, follow Josh Bakan on Twitter @JoshBakan. For general Rutgers sports updates, follow @TargumSports.