MORAN: New staff brings hope to men’s basketball program
Opinions Column: The Morant
He was not the first choice. He was not the second choice. He was the third choice to head the Rutgers men’s basketball program. It has been a few weeks since he took charge, and you can already see a vision being built for the program. A vision that was never evident in the Eddie Jordan era.
Now, I am not going to say it will take only a few years to resurrect this program. I am a realist — this is a job for the long haul. Fans are probably looking at four more years for this program to be competitive in the Big Ten, and by competitive I mean more than six wins.
Looking at Rutgers now, I think it is important to realize that in the Big Ten you have Michigan State, Wisconsin, Purdue and Maryland at the top. There's Ohio State, University of Michigan and Iowa in the middle. There's Penn State and Nebraska at the bottom. There's 50 feet of crap. And finally, there's Rutgers.
This rebuild will be similar to the job Steve Pikiell took on at SUNY Stony Brook, and it took them 11 years just to get to the tournament. It was a rough start for him, but after four seasons of bottom feeding, he turned it around and won a conference championship. Six of his last seven seasons, Pikiell led the Seawolves to 20 wins or more, with four regular season championships as well.
Rutgers has not really been able to enjoy a time to rebuild the program with the Mike Rice scandal, the switch to the Big Ten and then some of the worst coaching I have personally seen from Eddie Jordan. But now, as fans, we must be patient and wait. But with the staff that Pikiell has assembled, it might not take long.
His former assistant at Stony Brook who was snubbed to replace him, Jay Young, joins the staff. Karl Hobbs, a former University of Connecticut assistant coach with head coaching experience comes over as well. But the biggest get was former Pittsburgh star and assistant coach Brandin Knight, a former All-American as a player. They retained former assistant Greg “Shoes” Vatrone in an advisory role. With a staff like this, we should see a big improvement in the team and the recruits they are able to attract.
For the first time in a while you see Athletic Director Patrick Hobbs investing in the program with these hires, making quite the statement to fans. They all have head coaching experience, as well as working at successful programs. It brings a much-needed, fresh perspective to a program severely needing it. It adds to the narrative since Hobbs took over of turning major programs around.
When you look to the future, their competitiveness probably depends on two things: One, the return of Corey Sanders who earlier this month declared for the NBA Draft — he does have the chance to return to school after the combine, so long as he does not hire an agent. And two, finding productive players with the open scholarships on the team.
Luckily, Rutgers had an addition by subtraction when Justin Goode decided to transfer. He should have never had a division one scholarship and will disappear into the abyss. D.J. Foreman is not really that big of a loss either. He filled in decently well this year, but cannot make free throws and has one of the ugliest shots you will see in college basketball.
They locked up one of those open scholarship spots shortly after Pikiell was hired in Matt Bullock. With all the talent in New Jersey, this is Rutgers' first Jersey recruit since Myles Mack in 2011, which is another reason to see why Eddie Jordan did not last long.
Hypothetically, if Sanders returns paired with Kansas State transfer Nigel Johnson, Johnathan Laurent and a non-suspended Deshawn Freeman, you see the start of something. The major rebuild has begun and already the pieces of the puzzle are coming together. I hope Pikiell reaches his main goal, which is to make the NCAA Tournament, something Rutgers has not done in 25 years.
“In order to achieve, you must believe,” he said at his press conference.
Well, Steve, I believe.
Ryan Moran is a School of Arts and Sciences junior double majoring in journalism and media studies and economics. His column, "The Morant," runs on alternate Mondays.
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