In the fall of 2011, the three seniors for the Rutgers men's basketball team were in very different places. Omari Grier was in Boca Raton, Florida starting his freshman year at Florida Atlantic University. Bishop Daniels was 50 miles south of Grier, starting his freshman year at the University of Miami. And Greg Lewis was starting his freshman year here at Rutgers, but for previous head coach Mike Rice. Four years later, the three young men find themselves as the leaders of the Rutgers basketball team, in hopes of accomplishing the program's first winning record in a decade. They are all fifth-year seniors, with Lewis and Daniels taking medical redshirts previously, and Grier sitting out a season when he transferred to Bradley. All three bring a much needed veteran presence to a relatively young squad, both with game and life experience.
Omari Grier started 38 games in two seasons at Bradley, before using his last year of eligibility to transfer to Rutgers this past summer. Grier shot 32% from 3-point range each of the past two seasons, averaging 1.5 three pointers a game. Rutgers only averaged five three pointers a game last season at a 30% shooting clip, and have lost Myles Mack, who averaged two a game himself. Grier's ability to hit from deep will be key in stretching the defense and opening lanes for others to drive through this season. He averaged 9.2 points a game the past two seasons, so his ability to play big minutes and hit the mid-range jump shot will be key as well. Grier shot 81% from the free throw line at Bradley, making him the best candidate to replace the always reliable Mack at the line. He also brings height to the backcourt as he stands at 6'4" and is the tallest guard on the roster. His ability to match-up with the opposing teams bigger guards will be another potential benefit. Just as important, Grier along with Daniels, will provide a much needed veteran presence in the backcourt.
Bishop Daniels started 20 games last season, his first at Rutgers after playing one JUCO season, after he transferred out of Miami. He averaged 8.4 points a game and scored in double figures ten times last season. The last four games of the season, Daniels jumped a level. He averaged 13 points on 55% shooting from the field, along with 3 rebounds and 2 assists. If he is able to maintain that level of play all of this season, Daniels will be an integral part of the Rutgers revival. He needs to improve on protecting the basketball, as he averaged 2.5 turnovers a game last season with only 1.7 assists a game. His ability to help guide freshman sensation Corey Sanders, along with Grier, will impact the team greatly.
Greg Lewis is the only guy on the team who has played multiple seasons at Rutgers, with everyone else is entering their first or second season under coach Eddie Jordan. He is also the only player to have played under former coach Mike Rice and knows what this program has really been through in recent years. It has been a long, strange trip for Lewis, who came to Rutgers as part of the most heralded recruiting class in years. Myles Mack, Kadeem Jack and Malick Kone were part of that class and graduated last season. The other members were Jerome Seagears, Eli Carter and Derrick Randall, all of whom transferred out. It has also been a long journey for Lewis to become a regular contributor, as he played sparingly his freshman season and sat out the next season due to arthroscopic knee surgery. It wasn't until last season that Lewis emerged as a starter, averaging 5.3 points, 4.5 rebounds and 1 block a game. While he needs to step up this season statistically, Lewis's greatest attribute has been his leadership. He was a captain in both of Eddie Jordan's two seasons as coach, and should be a lock for this year as well.
Of this season's eleven scholarship players on the active roster, seven are either freshman or sophomores. The only junior is Deshawn Freeman, a JUCO transfer. Seniors are always tasked with leading their team, but the importance of this senior class is even greater this season. Eddie Jordan is fully aware of their importance, making that clear in this interview with Tom Luicci.
On Daniels: "I want him to be in attack mode more consistently while also running the offense and getting us organized," Jordan said of Daniels. "He has a lot of responsibilities this year. Bishop needs to play with a sense of urgency all the time and stay in attack mode, keep the turnovers down and be solid on defense. "Either he or Corey (Sanders) will run the offense this year."
On Grier: "He's experienced and it shows on the court," Jordan said. "He does so many different things well and does them the correct way. Everything he does in right. He's a solid leader who knows how to relate and can communicate. "He also shoots the ball well. I want him to shoot the 3. He can get to the basket every so often. He's just a solid guy. He's going to have his opportunity because he knows how to play and he knows where to be."
On Lewis: "he gives us steadiness and he anchors our defense."
Rutgers must take advantage of the manageable non-conference schedule and get off to a good start this season. They have a realistic shot at winning ten games before the Big Ten conference schedule begins. The younger players will still be getting their feet wet and will need to follow the lead of Grier, Daniels and Lewis early on. The trio's ability to communicate with the younger players, with each playing consistently well on the court, is a major key to this season. Their college journey's began far away from each other, never planning to end up how they have. Now they must come together as a group to accomplish the one goal all players have, make the postseason. This is their last chance to do so, and Eddie Jordan will be counting on them to lead this team to its best season during his tenure.