Pair of seniors prepare for final home game against Illinois
For a majority of the members on the Rutgers men’s basketball team, Saturday’s regular season finale against red-hot Illinois is the final game of their regular season under Steve Pikiell, one last chance to demonstrate the growth they have seen with the first-year head coach.
But for center C.J. Gettys and guard Khalil Batie, it will be the last time they will have a chance to suit up and play in front of the Scarlet Knight faithful at the Rutgers Athletic Center.
Coming off one of its worst losses of the season against Maryland on Tuesday, Rutgers will not be short of motivation heading into the contest, but the added incentive of giving its oldest teammates a winning send-off certainly will not hurt.
“Traditionally, you want to win on senior night,” Pikiell said. “You see us going across the league and how important it is. I’ve only been here one short year with these guys but their experience here, I think, has been real positive. We’re trying to use everything we can for every game and that motivates my team, that’d be great … if Senior Day motivates them, that’s a good thing.”
The path to Piscataway by the seniors and their journeys as Scarlet Knights could not be more different.
Gettys, a graduate transfer from UNC-Wilmington, was a late addition to Pikiell’s first roster on the Banks, bringing with him a wealth of experience which included a Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) championship and an appearance in the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) tournament. He contemplated beginning a professional career overseas, but after weighing his options, elected to use his final year of collegiate eligibility, choosing Rutgers over other options, including Purdue.
He committed to the Knights on August 22 and arrived on campus on Sep. 1, beginning a seven-month cycle with his current teammates.
He set the tone from the jump, establishing the level of work ethic Pikiell expects out of his players by hustling in practice and diving for loose balls to send a message — in order to win, Rutgers had to do the little things.
“They saw an older guy who’s already been through a NCAA tournament and four seasons at a university diving on the floor and showing what it takes to win a game,” Gettys said. “Hopefully they caught on and they’re able to do that next year and the following year. It’s the little things that get you the wins. Playing hard is the price of admission.”
It was one of many reasons Pikiell inserted Gettys in the starting line-up in the season opener against Molloy and has kept him there since.
The Ohio native responded by reaching a career-high scoring average of 7.9 points per game, but his biggest impact comes on the glass where he averages five rebounds a game.
He was directly involved in both of the Knights game-winners at the buzzer this season, completing a late 13-point comeback with a putback against Hartford and tipping the rebound toward sophomore guard Corey Sanders before he clinched the Knights’ first Big Ten win of the season with a putback against Nebraska.
Here's another look at the final 20 seconds of Rutgers' 6th straight win. What a finish here at the RAC. pic.twitter.com/lyDL5YZFzI
— Brian Fonseca (@briannnnf) November 25, 2016
— Brian Fonseca (@briannnnf) January 21, 2017
Those performances, which Gettys said are his favorite memories from the season, were among the many things about him that caught the attention of his teammates, his coaches and Rutgers fans, particularly the Riot Squad.
The official student section for the Knights recently began taking a cardboard cutout of Gettys near the ticket office into the stands, holding it up to distract opposing free throw shooters or to celebrate a bucket from the graduate transfer turned fan favorite.
“It’s been crazy,” Gettys said of the support. “For them to show the amount of support they have for a guy who is only going to be here for one season, it’s been fun for me and hopefully I’ve made it fun for them and that’s the whole point behind it.”
Batie has not received the same fanfare but his contributions to the program haven’t gone unnoticed.
A walk-on out of Trenton Catholic Academy, he had a rare opportunity to contribute meaningful minutes earlier in his career and he took it. In his sophomore season two years ago, the Knights were struggling to separate themselves from a struggling New Hampshire at the RAC.
Eddie Jordan, the head coach at the time turned to Batie, who checked in and hit both his attempts from the floor, both coming from beyond the arc, in seven minutes of action.
“It means a lot,” Batie said recalling the moment. “I talk to my parents about it, they reminisce on those days, my brothers. It’s something I could tell my kids later on down the line that I played for Rutgers and had some sort of impact some way, sometimes.”
Batie said he plans on exploring his options as a graduate transfer when the season comes to a close, but for now, he’s hoping to enjoy the last couple of weeks he has within the program he’s spent his entire undergraduate career with.
“It’s been a long journey,” Batie said. “Four years went by pretty quick and I wouldn’t have imagined it went by this quick, but it’s here and I’m just trying to enjoy every second of it I can and thank my coaches in the past four years I’ve had, my teammates, I love them to death so just excited that I could enjoy this with them.”
As for Gettys, continuing his basketball career by playing professionally overseas is the plan moving forward. He has options, with Pikiell saying he’s received interest, but like Batie, he’s not too worried about the future. He’s focused on his final game at the RAC, where he, like Batie, expects to see his parents in the stands. And no matter what the final score may end up being, the pair can expect some of the loudest cheers and applause they’ve ever heard at home.
“It’s been a great ride,” Gettys said. “I wish I could get another year somehow miraculously but it’s not possible. I’ll definitely come out to support my guys, especially (junior forward) Deshawn (Freeman), next year … (this team is) going to keep working hard and they’re going to keep getting better.”