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Rutgers Basketball Preview: It's Time to Invest In Hoops

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Rutgers Basketball Has Been Dying on the Vine for Too Long

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Jim O'Connor-USA TODAY Sports

At last week's media day, while talking with the press Eddie Jordan talked about the need for new facilities.  He's is only the 3rd coach in the past ten years to do so*.

(*Maybe 4th.  Not sure if Gary Waters brought it up as well.)

In an interview with Steve Politi and others, Jordan talked about needing the RAC to be improved. He said he felt he needed to apologize to other coaches for the opposing locker room.  That when he talks to other coaches, and hears what those coaches get, he realizes how far behind Rutgers basketball is.  And Jordan practically begged Julie Hermann to get moving on improving those facilities.

"Look, there's a vision from my new AD.  Is it the fourth or fifth vision in the last 15-20 years? Maybe it is. I'm being realistic. Maybe it is. But that's where we are.

"We all have faith and belief that Julie has the connections, the willpower and the motivation. Now, can we get it done? That's the only way you can believe it. You have to be on board with it and see, we have faith in her to get it done. Part of it is, we're in the best conference, finally, and this is part of getting it done. This is the last step of getting it done."

And today, after two more recruits picked Wisconsin and Washington over the Scarlet Knights, it's never been more clear that Rutgers needs to invest in their basketball program.  Football has what it needs.  The Olympic sports need help too, but they aren't as high profile as basketball.  And for the last ten years, Rutgers has had to go with their 2nd or 3rd coaching choice because of an unwillingness to commit to improving the basketball program.

The previous three times with Gary Waters, Fred Hill, and Mike Rice, those choices have ended in embarrassment and scandal.  The final one nearly KOed the athletic department and almost destroyed the basketball program.  While Eddie Jordan appears to be a good man, and is unlikely to hit the program with a scandal, he was, apparently, the second choice to build the program again.

That choice could still prove to be a good one.  Jordan has the credentials to be a memorable coach in Rutgers lore.  Last year the offensive sets have looked better than they have in years.  Kadeem Jack improved by miles.  Jordan saw chemistry problems both on his team and on his staff and moved to clean them up.  He brought in two coaches with reputations; one a good recruiter and the other a developer.  There has, by all accounts, been a focus on defense this pre-season and Jordan sees that paying off in Junior Etou, comparing him to an NBA level defender.

But, on the recruiting front, Rutgers is still struggling.  Corey Sanders is a high major, quality get, but right now that's all there is.  There are 3 open scholarships, and Jordan keeps putting offers out there. Hopefully, he can bring in more talent.  But Jordan is locked in an extremely long rebuilding process, unless things change.

Part of the problem is not the losing or the scandal.  Plenty of programs have rebounded from that, and quickly.

Rumors circulate that the problem is the commitment to the program.  Too often Rutgers basketball has been put in a position to succeed with nothing.  Gary Waters was almost able to do it, but he got caught in a blizzard.  Fred Hill was in over his head.  Mike Rice lost his.

Jordan has a chance to do something special here, but he needs help.  It's time for the media to be damned, for football to be put on the back-burner for a minute, and time to do what was done for football in 2001.  Invest in the program.

That doesn't mean tearing down the RAC.  Not now.  Not yet.

But, if Julie Hermann isn't happy unless there are cranes in the air, I know the perfect place to start.  At one time, the athletic department ignored media and public outcry, and started to build an infrastructure to succeed.  That success got the Scarlet Knights into the Big Ten.

But, because it ignored basketball, it also got rocked by embarrassing scandal.  Football came out of it as sparkling as it could.  But Rutgers shouldn't be in a spot where it can risk a program-any program-crumbling again.

Football is number 1, I get it.  But it has what it needs now.  It's time to turn to 1a, and save a program that has been down for too long.  Start digging.  A fresh coat of paint on the exterior isn't enough.  This isn't about pleasing fans aesthetically.  It's about giving the program something to sell to recruits.  The RAC just got air conditioning for the first time this off-season.  You can't sell recruits on air-conditioning.

And, then, down the line, when the program starts to roll again--think about a new arena.  A nice shiny place to host some big time Big Ten college hoops games, and maybe even bring a football recruit or two, you know, to put them over the edge with Kyle Flood.  A great game atmosphere can work for both programs in both stadium and arena.

Give the Rutgers basketball team (both men and women), their own version of the Hale Center and practice bubble.  The teams need a practice facility, weight room, and place for academic study.  Use UConn as your guide.   There are ways to get a facility built, using the same model Rutgers used to expand Rutgers Stadium.   The state of New Jersey gave the 76ers--the PHILADELPHIA NBA TEAM--incentives to build in NJ, and while Rutgers is a public institution, perhaps a deal can be struck the same way.

The key here, however, is Eddie Jordan needs help.  He needs Julie Hermann to use every ounce of power she has, every last donation she can dig up, and every political trick in the book to get this going.

Rutgers can be a source of pride in this state, from the athletic point of view.  We saw it in 2006 and this year so far in football.

Building a practice facility alone won't solve all the problems.  The team needs to win more.  Kadeem Jack becoming an NBA pick would be huge and open some players' and coaches' eyes.  But digging-whether it be Tim Pernetti's old plan or the rumored athletic village-would be a sign that things have changed at Rutgers.  That being big time is not all about 1 sport, it's about commitment to all athletes and all sports.

It's time to give basketball a chance to breathe.

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