A new era has begun. Steve Pikiell was formally introduced this afternoon as the nineteenth head coach of the Rutgers men's basketball program. Here are five things that stuck out to me from coach Pikiell's address.
Everyone Loves Steve Pikiell
Of course, an introductory press conference is a celebratory occasion and many people close to the new coach are there in attendance. But Pikiell seems to be genuinely loved and respected by everyone he has worked with over the years. He took time to thank many people who have had a positive influence on his career. There were many of Pikiell's former players and coaches he has worked with or for, that attended the press conference. Hall of Fame coach Jim Calhoun has raved about him. It demonstrates that Pikiell does things the right way and shows he has compassion as a coach. He gets the most out of his players and they want to win for him.
Nice Stony Brook representation here at the RAC, including former SID @thomasmchen. Shows you how highly they regard Pikiell.— Jerry Carino (@NJHoopsHaven) March 22, 2016
Great pleasure to be in attendance to @CoachPikiell press conference today. Rutgers got a steal. Love you coach.— Jameel Warney (@Fullcoursemeelz) March 22, 2016
Player Development Over Shortcuts
Coach Pikiell had this to say about how he plans to make the program better:
I think what's going to happen here, and it's going to happen quickly, we're going to make players better. I think that's very important. We develop the total player. It's not how good you are when you arrive, it's how good you are when you leave.
You have to do a great job of evaluating, too. I think people are underestimating evaluating players and developing them. I think what my staff and myself have done a great job of is getting a guy that may be a little under-recruited. We saw something in our work with him and diligence that other schools didn't, and we made him better.
He is not looking for the quick fix or to make any shortcuts. Pikiell seems like a hard working, intense coach that is going to make player development and the program culture his main priority. Developing players that were under recruited, like Roselle Catholic's Warney, and making them successful, is the best marketing tool a coach can sell on the recruiting trail. Pikiell mentioned his experience in working at places that have been losing programs and he leaves them as winners. It all starts with player development, something that was sorely lacking previously at Rutgers.
The lack of practice facilities and the RAC being outdated have been used in the past as reasons why Rutgers has struggled on the court. Pikiell made it clear that will no longer be the case.
I played in the gym and won three championships. It was 1200 seats. Scalping tickets. The roof leaked sometimes. We won three championships at Stony Brook. It's the coaches, the players, the university, the people. We have that combination here and then some. So I'm looking forward to playing basketball right here in this gym. We're going to continue to improve the facilities. That will be great, a bonus. But we're going to take care of our student-athletes and do a great job with them.
That quote gives insight as to Pikiell's personality as well. He isn't going to allow the players to make excuses, nor enable them with reasons why goals cannot be accomplished. Pikiell focuses on the work and what can be controlled. He will demand full effort of his players and make them respect themselves, the university, and the game of basketball every day. He comes across as an extremely likable yet hard nosed coach. The culture of excuses and accepting losing is certainly over.
Sense of Humor
Tough times and fighting through struggles of a long season call for lighter moments to help a team stem the tide. It's true for all of life. Pikiell seems to have a sense of humor which is important. It makes him easier to relate to and while he takes his job very seriously, it makes him identifiable as a person. I think this trait is invaluable in being a successful communicator. Here he is making jokes while talking endearingly about his kids and family.
These four, okay, Kevin is my youngest. He's self-proclaimed the most handsome, right? And Kevin will be our point guard in 2024. So we're excited about that. Then John is my son, he'll be 2020 if he works on his left hand a little bit more. That's Olivia on the end. She's the shy one. Olivia is my lacrosse star. Brooke is my basketball star. She is my oldest. Coach Stringer, Hall of Fame coach, I'm very proud that you're here. I thank you. It's going to be an honor sharing this court with you. I respect so much what you've done. Brooke can shoot it a little bit, too, so we'll talk afterwards. That won't be a violation now, I work here, so that's a good thing (laughter).
We now have my immediate family of nine, and we have about 30 nieces and nephews. The marketing director is so excited. We just improved season tickets by 50%. I'm very proud of that.
Pikiell talked with an air of confidence in approaching the many challenges at Rutgers.
We got to change that culture a bit here. But we're going to be very smart about how we attack the problems and how we solve them. I'm very excited. I've done this. I've been there as a player. I lived through the transformation. I've done it at four stops.
Nothing breeds confidence like experience. Pikiell comes to Rutgers after turning Stony Brook from a never was program to a perennial mid-major conference power. But he also did it as a player at UConn and as an assistant coach at UConn, Central Connecticut State, and George Washington. He made the NCAA tournament at every stop, at places where playing in March Madness was not common before his arrival. And with that thought, here was his best quote of the day:
I believe in Rutgers. I believe that they gave me a chance. I don't let people down. I believe we will dance.
It's a new era of Rutgers basketball. With coach Pikiell now in charge of the program, and the experience he brings, there is only one choice ahead. BELIEVE!