INow that Steve Pikiell has filled out his coaching staff, it's time to turn our attention to the roster for next season and beyond. Here is a chart breaking down the players on scholarship for the next four seasons. Included are the six confirmed returnees, along with Corey Sanders, and expected incoming recruits Matt Bullock and Issa Thiam. I discuss Sanders and Thiam in more detail later on.
|Frontcourt||Deshawn Freeman||Deshawn Freeman||Jonathan Laurent||Issa Thiam|
|Jonathan Laurent||Jonathan Laurent||Ibrahima Diallo|
|Ibrahima Diallo||Ibrahima Diallo||Shaq Doorson|
|Shaq Doorson||Shaq Doorson||Issa Thiam|
|Issa Thiam||Issa Thiam|
|Backcourt||Mike Williams||Mike Williams||Corey Sanders||Matt Bullock|
|Nigel Johnson||Nigel Johnson||Matt Bullock|
|Corey Sanders||Corey Sanders|
|Matt Bullock||Matt Bullock|
- A major key is filling out the roster with quality additions to strengthen the depth of the team. With four remaining scholarships, it's going to be difficult to fill all the spots for next season. Graduate transfer targets and JUCO transfer targets are eligible for next season, while transfers from Division I schools that have not graduated will have to sit one season before playing. The national signing period for high school players is now through May, but the odds of the staff landing a solid player from the class of 2016 is slim. The recruiting cycle for this year's class is almost over just as the new staff is beginning. It's possible the staff keeps a scholarship open this season, rather than fill it with quantity in mind over quality.
- There are no seniors on the current roster at the moment. However, Pikiell and staff are certainly targeting graduate transfers in hopes of landing 1-2 players for next season. The scholarship would roll over after next season, so it would be a good stop gap for Year 1 without losing a scholarship for 2017. The difficult part will be convincing good players to use their last season of eligibility on a rebuilding project. Landing the right fit who can help bring leadership to next season's roster is an essential priority for the staff.
- The entire current roster has the next two full seasons to play together under the new coaching staff. The potential to form a solid nucleus among them could become the foundation for which the program will be built. This team (including Corey Sanders & Issa Thiam, more on them below), consists of seven former 3-star recruits and one former 4-star recruit, as well as All-New Jersey First Team recruit Matt Bullock. There is no denying this roster has talent, it's just a matter of molding that talent into a good team. Not an easy task in year one for Pikiell, but player development should be a strength of this staff.
- There should be optimism regarding the possibility of the return of Corey Sanders. NBA Draft combine invitations come out soon and it would be surprising if Sanders received an invite. If he is not invited, his draft chances would be all but extinguished and should lead to his return to Rutgers. With Brandin Knight now in the fold and likely charged with coaching the backcourt, Sanders should jump at the chance to be mentored by the Pitt legend. Coming back to Rutgers is the best choice for Sanders long term benefit. Check out highlights from his freshman year. We all know Sanders is supremely talented, and he would return to a coaching staff who could develop him into a true superstar.
- Issa Thiam committed to Rutgers in February, back when the free fall was in full effect and the Eddie Jordan era was days away from its demise. Greg "Shoes" Vetrone recruited Issa to Rutgers and the likelihood he signs his letter of intent is good. New head coach Steve Pikiell continued to pursue Issa and make him a priority. The 6'9" deep threat with a sweet stroke would be a matchup nightmare on the wing for opponents. The 3-star player from Senegal played at the Canaris Basketball Academy, the same school that current center Shaq Doorson played as well. Hopefully he signs soon, as the threat of other programs attempting to poach him at the eleventh hour remain possible. Seton Hall and St. John's recruited Issa originally, and other schools are likely to jump in as well. However, confidence that Issa signs with Rutgers remains high.
Jacksonville Warriors very own Issa Thiam w/23pts. Soon to be signed to Rutgers with interest from Marshall this wk https://t.co/tDXPaHCJGX— Jax Warriors (@Jax_Warriors) April 18, 2016
So assuming all the players listed above are in fact on the roster for next season, who will Pikiell and his staff find to fill the open scholarships? Here are three players that Rutgers has offered in the past few days.
JUCO Target - Candido Sa
After visiting Rutgers this weekend, JUCO F Candido Sa will visit Western Kentucky next week, his coach tells @SNYtv. Pitt also in the mix.— Adam Zagoria (@AdamZagoria) April 17, 2016
Sa is a 6'9" forward who could provide a defensive presence around the rim that Rutgers desperately needs.
JUCO Candido Sa is visiting Rutgers this weekend. Adam Zagoria first to report. Sa was second in the country last season with 123 blocks.— RHoops247 (@RHoopsRecruits) April 16, 2016
It appears Rutgers is battling against Western Kentucky and Pitt for Sa's services. Shoes can no longer actively recruit now as a special advisor, but he is likely the key reason Sa is considering Rutgers. He is also a former player of the Canaris Basketball Academy, like Issa and Shaq. While Western Kentucky head coach Rick Stansbury and new Pitt coach Kevin Stallings will be stiff competition, hopefully Pikiell can close Sa on the opportunity to play big minutes the next two seasons.
Class of 2017 3-star Forward - Lance Thomas
Blessed to have earned an offer from Rutgers University pic.twitter.com/PSRZ84ovFz— Lance Thomas (@Lancegreek) April 19, 2016
The 6'8" power forward from Georgia reportedly has offers from 14 schools, according to 247 sports. They include high-major offers from Arkansas, Texas Tech, USC, Ole Miss, and Clemson. Mid-Major powers Dayton and VCU have offered as well. Thomas is an athletic big man who can shoot from the perimeter and guard the rim with authority. His offer list is likely to grow so his recruitment will be closer to a marathon than a sprint. However, it is encouraging to see Pikiel and staff offer such a high ceiling prospect early on in the 2017 class recruiting cycle.
Class of 2017 4-star Forward - RaiQuan Gray
Bless to say Rutgers University offered ⚫️ #GoKnights pic.twitter.com/bZsNzh8fro— RaiQuan Gray (@Tgray4) April 18, 2016
Make that two. According to 247 sports, Gray has offers from Kansas State, Ole Miss, UAB, and Virginia Tech. They also rate Gray the 91st ranked player in the class of 2017. The 6'8 forward has a knack for getting into the paint and can finish at the rim or dish to an open teammate. He plays under control, despite his physical style of play. Like Thomas, the Florida native will certainly see his offer list grow in the coming months.
Of the four remaining scholarships available for next season, the staff is likely targeting 1-2 grad transfers and 1-2 JUCO transfers, along with the slim possibility of grabbing a class of 2016 recruit last minute. We also know that NC State transfers and former 4-star recruits Caleb and Cody Martin are planning to visit Rutgers soon and they would have two years of eligibility left after sitting out next season. It's worth noting that it was reported last night that Rutgers hired Ben Asher in a support role with the program.
Ben Asher has been hired by Rutgers in a support staff role, source says. Had been the Director of Basketball Ops at Siena.— Rob Dauster (@RobDauster) April 19, 2016
Asher was a graduate assistant at NC State for two seasons, including the freshman campaigns for the brothers Martin.
No matter what happens, there is certainly excitement and optimism with the new direction that the Rutgers men's basketball program is headed. There are major needs in all areas with the current roster, with adding shooters and low post players a priority. There is talent on this roster as well, highlighted by Sanders, Mike Williams, Deshawn Freeman, Jonathan Laurent, and Kansas State transfer Nigel Johnson. The new staff of Pikiell, Karl Hobbs, Brandin Knight, and Jay Young will be scouring recruiting circles near and far to fill the open scholarships that remain. It will be a fun offseason and hopefully one that builds toward marked improvement next season and beyond.