Lots of people want to talk Rutgers basketball recently.
Matt Hladik covers basketball, football and recruiting for the Rivals Network. He graciously took some time out to answer some questions about Eddie Jordan and Rutgers basketball for On the Banks. Originally, Matt and I had planned to do this right after March Madness ended, but Rutgers had other plans:
On the Banks: What are your thoughts on the Eddie Jordan hire from a purely college basketball perspective?
Matt Hladik: Well, the sexiest hire would have been Danny Hurley, and the "meatiest" so to speak would have been Ben Howland. But Eddie Jordan, under the circumstances, might have been the best one Rutgers could have made. He has immense coaching experience, though he will have to re-adjust to some different aspects of the college game. This is a job he’s always coveted, and he knows Rutgers well, which I think is critical as he tries to bring the program up to a level of respectability it has long lacked. It appears he is on a strong track recruiting-wise as well. His biggest tests will first be getting this group of players to come together and form a cohesive unit and then preparing for and ultimately leading this team in the Big Ten in 2014.
OTB: The issue of Jordan's degree appears to now be a minor blip on the radar of Rutgers. What were your thoughts on that situation and will it-ultimately-help or will it hurt Jordan in the job?
MH: I was surprised by it, and it certainly wasn’t good PR in the midst of everything else that was going on. But I feel the bigger issue was that it seemed like Rutgers or Jordan weren’t being forthcoming rather than him not actually having a degree. Eddie is going back to get his diploma, and I think that is something that is admirable and necessary. His character record is impeccable, and he is very personable and enthusiastic, so he’s someone fans, players, recruits and parents should all take to him. I don’t think it will hurt him much, it at all, long-term.
OTB: What is the story of Jerome Seagears as you understand it? What, in the end, made him return?
MH: In the aftermath of the Rice imbroglio, Jerome was just looking for a fresh start. In retrospect, it appears he made his decision in haste or under trying circumstances, because as far as I know, he wasn’t happy from the time he arrived at Auburn. It wasn’t anything from a basketball standpoint; my understanding is he just wasn’t that comfortable at the school and pretty much immediately felt like he needed to go back to Rutgers. When I spoke to him after his re-commitment became official, he seemed excited and relieved to be going back. I think his addition is crucial to the team, and Jerome was always good to talk to on the beat because he was honest and candid. He’ll be welcomed back by open arms by everyone around the program it seems, and I think that is something that played a lot in his decision to return.
OTB: Jordan was able to fill the roster with transfers, JUCOs, and a freshman recruit pretty quickly. What's been the key here? How much of a part did the holdover assistants play?
MH: Relationships. That was the key in all of this. Kerwin Okoro and Bishop Daniels had been recruited by Van Macon before signing elsewhere, so when they had their releases from their respective programs, they felt an immediate comfort with him and Rutgers. The same can be said for J.J. Moore and Craig Brown, who was a Rice commit. David Cox was huge in grabbing D’Von Campbell and Junior Etou and it appears everybody had a role in the Foreman pledge for 2014. The holdover assistants took some heat in the immediate aftermath but they were the glue that held together the remaining players, and Jordan’s connections, personality and vision were instrumental in getting guys to stay and others to join them.
OTB: How is Jordan's recruiting going for the 2014 class and beyond? Are players, high school, and AAU coaches responding well to him?
MH: Every time I spoke to Eddie in the first few weeks of his tenure, he said the feedback was great. Actions speak louder than words though, and I wanted to see how things played out. Well, the commitment of Dwayne Foreman and some of the recent visitors to campus tell me that he has made some inroads in 2014 and I think after the live period we will see how he is standing in 2015. I’ve already seen some very impressive 2015 talent in the regions Jordan wants to recruit, and I think that would be his first "big" class in terms of number of available scholarships.
OTB: What do you expect from the next basketball season?
MH: There are a lot of factors to consider, including that Jordan will still have to adjust to the college game and some of these guys are playing together for the first time. Still, I think a .500 overall record is reasonable, and a post-season berth isn’t out of the realm if a few things break right. All in all, I think this will be a team that will compete hard and be close-knit, and the fanbase should be able to get behind it with ease, no matter what the win and loss columns look like.
OTB: How long do you think it will take Eddie Jordan to get the Scarlet Knights to the NCAA tournament? Conversely, if he doesn't get it done, how long does he get to try?
MH: Putting me on the spot here! It is very tough to pinpoint something like this, but I do think a streak like Rutgers’, where the drought is so pronounced, can only be broken in a somewhat unexpected fashion. Basically, I don’t think it will come in a year where they have a huge incoming recruiting class or a palpable buzz around the program. Those criteria would seem to fit the next two seasons, but bringing this year’s group to the tournament would be a tall task, as would taking them to the Dance in the first year in a new conference. I do think he deserves at least five years to try to build something, unless he falls in line with the trend of the coaches leaving Rutgers in an untimely, ignominious fashion.
OTB: Have you recovered from covering the Mike Rice scandal and ensuing fallout yet?
MH: Haha, it took some time to shake off the weariness of everything, but yes, I have. And gradually, I think the program and fans have as well and there are reasons to be justifiably optimistic going forward. From a professional and personal standpoint, Mike was always good to me, and I enjoyed covering him. I hope he is able to make the personal improvements he needs to make and can return to coaching in some respect. And I’m looking forward to watching this team get to work, because at the very least, I think this will be a very interesting season to cover.