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Youth movement provides Rutgers spark, depth

Coaches generally like to have balance in their roster in terms of newcomers and veterans.

It helps breed competition and discourages complacency while creating natural leadership situations in which seniors will help guide freshmen through the rigors of the season.

For the Rutgers women’s basketball team, there is an even split between freshmen and seniors on the roster — five apiece.

With one sophomore and two juniors filling out the rest of the team, there is great variety in the type of players head coach C. Vivian Stringer can deploy.

The Hall of Fame coach believes she has one of the deeper teams of her career.

“I love this team because it is filled with a lot of good people,” she said. “They know what they need to do and I believe that everyone is on the same page at the same time … They don’t hesitate to ask the coaches what they should be doing on the court technically, and nothing is more rewarding than that.”

Early on in preseason training, it became apparent to Stringer that this crop of freshmen were eager to learn.

In her press conference at the team’s media day, she told an anecdote from a day in which practice was over, yet both the younger players and veterans stayed after to ask the coaches for advice.

It is this type of thing that gets Stringer excited for the season, and has her believing that this freshmen class can see a quick development that helps the team immediately.

“I’ve been extremely pleased with all of the freshmen,” she said. “KK (Sanders) has a great spirit and she really is special. Aliyah Jeune … I love because she really wants to know how to better herself and see what she can work on. Both Victoria (Harris) and Desiree (Keeling) are coming along, and I can tell when people are going to be successful by the way they receive coaching, and these players are hungry for knowledge and want to be better.”

Khadaizha Sanders, referred to as “KK” by her coaches and teammates, comes to Rutgers after starring as a guard at Bishop McNamara High School in Illinois.

She is expected to earn minutes in the backcourt early on in the season.

Victoria Harris and Desiree Keeling are interior players who give the Knights some needed size in the post and are another pair of scoring threats.

Aliyah Jeune gives the Knights versatility by being able to play at both guard and forward. Her 6-foot-1 frame provides them with solid size when she plays in the backcourt.

The quartet of newcomers provide the Knights with what they hope are immediate contributors. Their willingness to learn the nuances of the college game give them a better chance to be successful and see early playing time.

“These freshmen really want to learn and we have seen that since day one,” said senior guard Cynthia Hernandez. “That’s the best thing you can get from them because wanting to learn and help out really goes a long way for a team. We know that they are all ready to go this season.”

Also part of the group making a debut this season for the Knights is Ashli Jeune, the sister of Aliyah.

After redshirting her freshman season, Ashli Jeune feels ready to help the backcourt in any way she can this season. 

She can already sense camaraderie that has already developed between the newcomers and veterans.

“We all have high expectations for this season and I feel like our team is really confident in each other and we all know we can rely on everyone,” she said. “Even off the court, we have that sister-like bond and that is what is most important because it helps us to accomplish our goals. We know that we have each other, at the end of the day.”

For updates on the Rutgers women’s basketball team, follow @Mike_OSully2 and @TargumSports on Twitter.

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