In 2003, then head coach Gary Waters urged a few players to leave the program, notably, Mike Sherrod, the former starting point guard. He brought in an interesting recruiting class highlighted by a big guard in Marquis Webb, and "New York's best shooter" in Quincy Douby. And he had two seniors, Sean Axani and Herve Lamizana who would do anything to win a game.
That team-just a season after chemistry problems sent the program to the depths of the Big East-managed to find ways to win close games, was pretty dominant at the RAC and made an exciting run to the NIT finals.
In 2010, after Fred Hill was fired, Rutgers' best player transferred out and the team was decimated. However, 3 seniors--James Beatty, Mike Coburn and Jonathan Mitchell stuck around--they swore they would do anything it took to win games, and played some of the most competitive basketball seen on the banks in a while. They put on an exciting season for the fans.
Now, leading up to the 2014-15 season, there seems to be an interesting symmetry lining up with those previous seasons. And it starts with the seniors.
Myles Mack, Kadeem Jack and Malick Kone were supposed to be the foundation of a team that would bring the Scarlet Knights back to glory. However, we all know the story of what happened, and now these players are entering their last year, their last attempt to lay that foundation.
Mack, a plucky guard who is dominant from the free throw line, and seems to have almost unlimited range is going to be able to play off the ball more this year, with Bishop Daniels helping out at lead guard. Mack averaged 14.7 points last year, but both his 3 point percentage and overall field goal percentage were down last year. He will have to become more consistent this year and pick his spots. If Daniels can drive to the hoop, it will leave Mack open on the perimeter or coming off the pick and roll.
Malick Kone is a role player, plain and simple. But last season, he showed a great relationship with Eddie Jordan and a knack to get to the rim when you least expected it. Kone has some length, and shot a respectable 44% overall. With a lack of depth at guard and wing, look for Kone to play meaningful minutes this year. If he can lead by example, and use his length to clog passing lanes, he could be an unsung hero on this team.
Kadeem Jack. Jack is the key. By all accounts, he's the hardest worker on the team, often staying at the RAC until 3 am putting up shots. Jack scored 30 twice last year, brought the house down with thunderous dunks, and was the team's best player. Jack needs to get better on the defensive end, and if he can play the power forward spot consistently (last year he was often forced to be a center), he can add some range to his game. Jack has potential to be an NBA draft pick, and his work ethic may make that happen. If Jack can be dominant night in and night out, the team might be more than competitive.
There are few expectations from this Rutgers team. Just like there weren't any in 2003-04, and definitely zero in Jonathan Mitchell's senior season. But when the seniors put the team on their back, and took full advantage of the pieces surround them, they were able to surpass that and bring some excitement in to the RAC.
That's what Mack, Jack and Kone have to do this year. They have to lead this team both by by example and vocally. If they make the step from good junior years to great senior seasons. When a senior will do anything the coach asks to help win a game, the rest of the crew usually falls in line.
To say that the seniors are the key to this season is an understatement. These seniors are this team, which will only go as far as they take them.
Mack, Jack, and Kone can bring fun back to the RAC. And this season, fun will bring the fans back to their seats and give hope for the future.
The past has often showed that seniors will bring success to the RAC. Hopefully these core three can show history repeats itself.
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