Rutgers reflects on season, ponders future of program
CHICAGO — Head coach Eddie Jordan called the Big Ten Tournament the start of a new season. And to the Rutgers men’s basketball team’s credit, it played like it was.
Unfortunately for the Scarlet Knights, the game ended with the same result: a 15th straight defeat.
It didn’t matter that Rutgers held Minnesota’s leading scorer, Andre Hollins, scoreless. Nor did it matter that junior guard Bishop Daniels managed to emerge as the third scorer the team has been searching for, with 15 second half points.
Rutgers still managed to finish as the loser, a result identical to many of the other games throughout the regular season.
But while the result was no different than the other 14 games before it, the message following the game from Jordan also remained constant.
That message is that it’s a process and no matter how much effort and desire the Knights show, the Big Ten Conference remains unforgiving.
“It’s not about what we try to accomplish this year in numbers,” Jordan said. “It’s about what was in our heart, what was in our head. How we develop, how we became a team, how much we had competitive spirit, so all of that was right above border for us. Did we have enough to be successful with the 12th-toughest schedule in the country? We’re not built for that yet. We will be, and we’re working every day to be that way.”
Two of those players who most notably exhibited the heart, passion and desire Jordan spoke of also played their final minutes in a Rutgers uniform.
Those players were senior guard Myles Mack and senior forward Kadeem Jack. The pair didn’t have a perfect performance, but they performed with about as much effort one could possibly request.
Mack played all 40 minutes in the game and scored 15 points while also adding a team-high three assists and game-high four steals.
Jack established himself from the onset to score a team-high 18 points despite being critical of himself through his body language throughout the game.
The pair left the court for one last time nearly identical. Head slouched, looking towards the ground only to quickly perk up and high-five the kids standing by the tunnel.
The pair left the United Center floor with the class and character Jordan has praised them on having above anything else and while the losses surely took their toll, both agreed that they will always look back on their time at Rutgers as a positive one.
“A lot of kids would kill to be in a Rutgers uniform,” Mack said. “So I just appreciate the school for giving me the opportunity to be a student athlete, and I just want to thank everyone for believing in me.”
As for their legacy, though those close to the program will remember them for their sacrifice and commitment to the program, both remain humble regarding what they hope to leave behind.
“I’d say (my) passion,” Jack said. “That’s about it — my passion.”
As for Mack, who finishes his career second in the program in steals, fourth in assists and seventh in scoring, he hopes his legacy is his character more than anything else.
“(I want to be remembered) as a great teammate,” Mack said. “I always just want my teammates to do better and be great guys on and off the court and just play as hard as the can.”
With Mack and Jack’s time up, the Knights’ future seems bleak. A team on a 15-game losing streak is losing its top two scorers.
Where is the upside?
It’s a concern that’s been voiced by fans, media and analysts alike and one Jordan is also not naïve to.
But with the likes of ineligible freshmen Ibrahima Diallo and Ryan Johnson joining the team next season, the arrival of a four-star recruit in point guard Corey Sanders and the expected development of freshmen Mike Williams, D.J. Foreman and Shaquille Doorson, Jordan remains calm about the future of the program.
“I’m always worried about who is going to be the next scorer, but when I got here my first year last year Kadeem was coming off a year where he averaged 4 points and two rebounds and last year he averaged 15 and nine,” Jordan said. “So we think that’s going to happen. Someone is going to step up, and even if it’s by committee and it’s across the board, we can average pretty much the same we won’t need a major scorer, just a consistent scorer.”
For updates on the Rutgers men’s basketball team, follow @SeanStewartRU and @TargumSports on Twitter.