Garrett shakes Juco stigma in Rutgers pledge

<p>Junior wing Vincent Garrett’s Lee (Texas)?Junior College began to develop a recent reputation for sending players to Division I.</p>

Junior wing Vincent Garrett’s Lee (Texas)?Junior College began to develop a recent reputation for sending players to Division I.

Junior guard Mike Poole has never seen anyone take more charges in preseason practice than new teammate Vincent Garrett. Garrett, who joined the Rutgers men’s basketball team from Lee (Texas) Junior College, said it is something he has always done.

“I was taught very well by a smart coach,” he said, “that charges could get you a far way.”

Garrett has traveled farther than most.

The Chicago native played two seasons at Lee in Baytown, Texas, about a half hour east of Houston, where he led the team in scoring. He took trips to Rutgers and Oregon State after earning his associate’s degree, but said his original list included UNLV and Connecticut.

UNLV cancelled a scheduled visit, and Garrett reluctantly penciled in the Scarlet Knights.

“I just was like, ‘I’ll just put them on my list for now. Maybe they won’t be on it later,’” Garrett said at the team’s Oct. 24 media day. “But then I started considering it [for] the same reason I chose Lee: to go somewhere that’s not known and help them be known.”

Garrett was not used to relative anonymity.

As a senior at Chicago’s famed Marshall Metropolitan High School, Garrett led the team to a city championship title berth. He played on the AAU circuit with Louisville’s Wayne Blackshear, Michigan’s Tim Hardaway Jr. and Portland Trail Blazers first-round pick Meyers Leonard.

So when Garrett faced the prospect of obscurity for the first time, it took a stark realization to propel him.

“At first I didn’t want to do it. I didn’t want to go to junior college,” he said. “I thought, ‘I’m not going to go to a Division-I school after that.’ … My second year is when I decided I have to make it somehow.”

It was also when he met Knights head coach Mike Rice, who teamed up with assistant Jimmy Martelli to lure Garrett to Piscataway. Martelli first flew to Texas after Garrett’s season ended.

Then Rice — with a scholarship available following an offseason transfer — made sure to leave a lasting impression.

“Rice told me he would visit me every week until I decided to either visit or put him on my list,” Garrett said. “I was looking like, ‘This guy is serious.’ … Then he came down again, and I was like, ‘OK, I’ll go visit.’”

Garrett signed a letter of intent April 26, giving Rice one more wing threat.

“[Garrett] adds another piece of athleticism, of a Big East type of athlete and Big East type of competitor,” Rice said at the team’s media day. “I like that position and the depth that goes there.”

Garrett joins senior Dane Miller and sophomore Malick Kone on the outside. Combined with the Knights’ guard lineup, Rice has arguably his most athletic backcourt as a head coach.

He has seen his fair share of deep guard play as an assistant.

Rice coached arguably the best backcourt in Philadelphia Big 5 history at St. Joe’s under Phil Martelli, Jimmy Martelli’s father. He watched over another talented core in a season at Pitt and three more with Marquette.

After taking over a down program in 2010, Rice was forced to scour the junior college ranks. He picked up a graduate transfer with one year of eligibility a year after Rutgers brought in one of the nation’s top Juco point guards.

But Garrett’s addition provides the Knights a luxury.

“Not too many Juco players get noticed like that,” Garrett said.

For updates on the Rutgers men’s basketball team, follow Tyler Barto on Twitter @TBartoTargum.

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