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Steve Pikiell hits ground running at Rutgers

<p>Freshman guard Corey Sanders led all Big Ten freshmen in scoring this season, so his new head coach Steve Pikiell made sure to reach out.</p>

Freshman guard Corey Sanders led all Big Ten freshmen in scoring this season, so his new head coach Steve Pikiell made sure to reach out.

Shortly after Steve Pikiell's 14-seed Stony Brook team got bounced by 3-seed Kentucky in the Round of 64 at the NCAA Tournament, his phone lit up.

Buzzing in on the other end of the line was Rutgers Athletic Director Patrick Hobbs.

With a Saturday morning meeting somewhere in New York City sandwiched in between, Pikiell was soon enough standing at the epicenter of his introductory press conference in front of a podium at the Rutgers Athletic Center.

The whirlwind sequence, as he described it, was still so surreal. 

But as he met with reporters in a break-off following his formal greeting, Pikiell tried to put it all into words.

"The great part was, I text Pat (Hobbs) after the game and said, 'The one team we don't want to schedule next year is Kentucky,'" Pikiell said with a laugh. "It's been crazy — winning the (America East) championship and having the first NCAA Tournament berth in school history to the Kentucky game and then to having this opportunity."

Pikiell, 48, became the 19th head men's basketball coach on Tuesday afternoon at the RAC. Following the dismissal of Eddie Jordan after three years at the helm, the former 11-year Stony Brook head coach takes the reins on a lost program as the fourth head coach of the Scarlet Knights in the last 10 years.

While Hobbs swung and missed on Rhode Island head coach Dan Hurley before George Washington head coach Mike Lonergan withdrew his name from consideration as well, the first-year AD felt as if his second major hire since Rutgers head football coach Chris Ash was the perfect match.

"One of the reasons why folks ask me, 'Was it really important to go for a head coach?'" Hobbs said. "And it was, because I didn't want somebody that has to learn how to be a head coach in addition to taking on a challenging job."

University Robert L. Barchi, who gave Hobbs majority of the free reign on the hiring process, echoed those sentiments.

"I wanted to see an individual who was going to build a winning program and who had the experience and the track record of having done that," Barchi said. "Here we have someone who's done that since the time he was a college player and every location that he's been involved."

As poor as Jordan was in this three-year tenure at Rutgers, he had the outspoken support of many on the roster. 

So did Hobbs consult any of the Knights during the coaching search? 

"I listen to everybody," he said. "When I do a search, any information that people wanna bring to me, I'll listen to it and I'll try to bring that together, filter that, make decisions on who I think is best. I appreciate the confidence Dr. Barchi and the Board of Governors has shown in me in terms of making this hire, but you have to absolutely listen to everybody and get the counsel of everybody and you try to bring that all into making the right decision."

The support for Jordan and his staff included star freshman guard Corey Sanders.

Pikiell hasn't been on the job long, but he has already made the effort to reach out to his new team as he settles into his post and they return from last week's spring break.

While Sanders told The Daily Targum after Rutgers' season ended at the Big Ten Tournament in Indianapolis that he would be back for his sophomore season regardless of whom the coach was, he still has the chance to ask for his release and transfer.

But Pikiell, who spoke with Sanders on the phone while the freshman was still back home in Florida on spring break, expects the All-Big Ten Honorable Mention to embrace the challenge that lies ahead and take his game to the next level in his sophomore season on the Banks.

"I made phone calls. We talked. Corey is truly a unique player for us," Pikiell said of Sanders. "He needs to get better. I told him that, too. I challenged him. He's got to get stronger for goals he set for himself. He needs to improve. He's going to embrace that. I'm excited about being able to work with him in the next few days."

For updates on the Rutgers men's basketball team, follow @GarrettStepien and @TargumSports on Twitter.

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