As reported earlier, Steve Pikiell is set to become the next Rutgers men's basketball coach. Pikiell is no flash, all substance. He is a proven program builder, high character, defensive minded coach. A two time captain for Jim Calhoun at UCONN, Pikiell helped the Huskies break through and become a powerhouse program on the court. After working under Calhoun and his former assistant Karl Hobbs at George Washington, Pikiell established himself as a good recruiter. He took over a Stony Brook program that transitioned from Division II that had yet to be successful in their jump to Division I before his arrival.
He grinded through three difficult seasons from 2005-2008, compiling a 20-67 record. Pikiell was undeterred and followed up the last eight years with seven winning seasons, six postseason appearances, and five consecutive 22 plus win seasons. Pikiell, the reigning America East coach of the year, led Stony Brook to their first ever NCAA tournament appearance this season, where they lost Thursday night to Kentucky by 25 points.
From a recruiting perspective in New Jersey, Adam Zagoria emphasizes what was a key point for whoever Rutgers hired as their next coach.
Steve Pikiell needs to hire a killer staff that can recruit Jersey and beyond. Needs hungry guys with knowledge and connections.— Adam Zagoria (@AdamZagoria) March 19, 2016
This is true and will be a major key in Pikiell ultimately succeeding at Rutgers. It does help that Pikiell has a great marketing tool in Stony Brook star Jameel Warney. He played at New Jersey power Roselle Catholic and despite a very good high school career, was only rated as a 2-star/3-star recruit by scouting services. Warner was under recruited but Pikiell saw his potential and sold him on his vision at Stony Brook. Warner's career culminated with some epic performances, including his 43 point, 10 rebound effort in the America East Championship game last weekend. Pikiell can use Warner as a prime example of his ability to develop players, something that should resonate with New Jersey high school coaches. Pikiell also has ten former players who went on to play overseas in various international professional basketball leagues.
Pikiell's teams are known for being fundamentally sound and he makes defense a priority. His team's play like their coach, hard nosed, disciplined and they win. Nothing flashy about him or his teams. All that matters is winning, but with integrity. Stony Brook has won four straight regular season America East conference titles.
In this article, there is a telling quote from legendary UCONN coach Jim Calhoun:
"I was talking with a guy recently, and we started talking about Steve. And there's a lot of good people out there. But you don't get this from everybody. It was like, 'Steve Pikiell? The best ever."
Jerry Carino spoke to Hoops Group President Rob Kennedy and he had this to say on Pikiell:
"I think Steve is a terrific coach and a good guy," said Hoop Group president Rob Kennedy, a powerful voice on the New Jersey scene. "He did a great job of not only rebuilding the program at Stony Brook, but he did a great job as well of getting the community completely behind things."
"Remember he has recruiting experience at the highest level," Kennedy said. "That’s obviously important at Rutgers."
Carino also stated that Pikiell has a good relationship with Rutgers assistant coach Greg "Shoes" Vetrone. Shoes brought Corey Sanders, Jonathan Laurent, and Deshawn Freeman to Rutgers. He also led the recruitment of high ceiling project and current 2016 commit Issa Thiam. It would seem very possible that Pikiell keeps Shoes, which should get those players, most importantly Sanders, to buy into the new coach and stay with the program. If Sanders, Laurent, and Freeman stay, along with Kansas State transfer Nigel Johnson, the cupboard is certainly not bare for next season. Pikiell will bring discipline and mental toughness to the team, something that was sorely absent this past season.
Proven program builder. Check. Established recruiter. Check. Success as a head coach. Check. High character guy. Check. Experience as a player and coach at top program. Check. The great unknown is will Pikiell be able to replicate his success at Stony Brook at the highest level of college basketball, the Big Ten conference? Only time will tell, but know that there was no perfect, fail proof hire. Betting on a coach who has demonstrated all the qualities needed to turn Rutgers around was as solid a choice as any.
Pikiell is not the biggest, flashiest name out there. He isn't the sexy pick. All that matters is that his experience and background lend credibility and that he is ready for the next step in his career. At the age of 48, he now has a prime opportunity to turn around a moribund program that has suffered 10 consecutive losing seasons and 25 without an NCAA appearance. Pikiell isn't coming to Rutgers as a household name, but if he continues working the way he has the past decade plus, he very well could leave a school legend. He was a part of turning UCONN from a doormat into national power. He established Stony Brook a mid-major conference power. Let's hope athletic director Pat Hobbs has ended the long losing streak that Rutgers has had hiring basketball coaches, and that Pikiell's greatest success is ahead of him.
Thrilled for Steve Pikiell. Have watched him work up close at Stony Brook. He will grind everyday at Rutgers. Exactly what is needed there.— Fran Fraschilla (@franfraschilla) March 19, 2016