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Rutgers Basketball: Big Picture Optimism

Jim O'Connor-USA TODAY Sports

August is upon us and we are two long months away from the start of practice for the upcoming season.  The past three seasons have been from embarrassing with the Mike Rice era to frustrating and little hope since.  However, as Eddie Jordan enters his third season as head coach, several factors are starting to turn in the right direction.  Facility upgrades are planned for the basketball program.  The coaching staff was very busy recruiting in July, putting more offers out to highly rated players than we have ever had.  While this season will be challenging, Eddie finally has players on the roster to fit his preferred style of play and it's clear he has begun to execute his long term plan.  No college basketball powerhouse is built overnight.  However, there are signs that hope should exist regarding the future of the Rutgers basketball program.

  • Facilities has been discussed at length both on this site and within the local media.  Back in June a long term plan for facilities upgrades were approved by the Rutgers Board of Governors.  It included a brand new and long overdue multi-use facility for the basketball program.  However, no guarantee on the start of this project or a fundraising plan was released.  This week Keith Sargeant provided an update: "The message from Old Queens, the donor told me, is Barchi didn't sign off on the plans for the initial phases to be built in five years. I've been told by multiple insiders the goal is to have the parking garage/multi-use facility groundbreaking in early 2016, and then get the ball rolling on the Hale Center upgrade and south end-zone projects soon after." If ground really does break in early 2016, there will be something tangible for Eddie Jordan to sell to recruits for this current class.  A facility that they will be using during their career at Rutgers. As Eddie and staff are working to assemble the best recruiting class in program history, shovels breaking ground  in early 2016 would carry weight that no written plans or renderings ever could.

  • I covered the July live recruiting period here, here and here.  Recruiting for college basketball has become more sophisticated, more challenging and more exposed with social media.  When Eddie Jordan was hired, there were several reasons to be optimistic.  His lack of experience with recruiting was not one.  However, I think it was obvious that this past month Eddie and staff had a specific plan and executed it well.  There is a thought that too many programs seem to offer players in part due to other offers they already have.  Corners are cut in player evaluation sometimes, which sets those programs up for failure.  If the July recruiting period answered one thing, it was that is not the case at Rutgers.  We still don't have a commitment for the class of 2016 but the work put in and the double digit offers made, all to 3-star and 4-star recruits, shows they are being aggressive. In addition, its obvious that Eddie has a specific vision for the type of team he wants.  An athletic, defensive minded team that plays an aggressive and fast paced style, forcing turnovers and creating open floor opportunities for playmakers. If Eddie and staff continue to recruit as purposefully and relentlessly as they have, a program changing class could result.  Basketball is much different than football, one class can change everything very quickly.  With four open scholarships for the class of 2016, that type of impact is possible.

  • As Dave White wrote this week, Eddie finally has a roster that is built for his preferred style of play.  This might be the deepest Rutgers team in years.  That doesn't mean we are a tournament contender yet, but the level of competitiveness should be much improved.  It is a young team and mistakes will be made, especially playing in the unforgiving Big Ten conference.  This program hasn't had a winning season in ten years.  Progress is what is needed this season.  A better record and eliminating season damaging losses to St.Peters, St. Francis, and Fairleigh Dickinson are a must!  Being more competitive on a consistent basis against top ranked opponents in conference play is needed. These are the logical goals for this upcoming season, and they are all realistic to achieve.

  • I firmly believe we have the right man with Eddie Jordan in place as our head coach.  He is a loyal son of Rutgers, has NBA experience to impart on his players and sell to recruits,  he places an emphasis on academics, and all told carries himself with dignity and is a class act.  Jordan also is an intelligent leader, one who has shown that he is learning from each season at Rutgers.  Moving his longtime friend and assistant Mike O'Koren, from a recruiting assistant to special assistant before the July recruiting period opened, showed true leadership.  His willingness to change, to promote Dalip Bhatia to a recruiting role, put the program in a better position for the future.  To be able to convince O'Koren to stay and focus on his strengths, demonstrates strong communication and belief in a plan.  His ability to land Corey Sanders, the 4-star point guard who can execute Jordan's vision and plan on the floor, demonstrates that his pedigree gains him faith with top prospects.  Now Jordan needs to prove he can develop talent and build a winning team.  In my opinion, everything he has done so far should lend belief that Eddie will succeed in that area as well.

Fall is a month away and basketball is still in the shadows of football .  I believe this upcoming basketball season will be as intriguing as we have had in several years.  We may not have a winning record this season, but its not a baseless dream for the near future.  If the facilities plan begins in early 2016, if Eddie and staff can land a class with multiple 4-star recruits, if this season's team can fight to a .500 record, a return to glory will be closer than we have been in years.  It is a lot of if's, but the foundation has been laid and Eddie Jordan is starting to build the program back up to respectability.