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Rutgers Basketball Recruiting Is Finally Cooking With Gas

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Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

Now that Rutgers men's basketball coach Steve Pikiell has his assistant coaches in place, they are hitting the recruiting trail hard. Pikiell and his staff already handed out three offers, including hosting a JUCO recruit, which I covered here. That was just the beginning of an action packed week. In just a matter of days, they are demonstrating a long term plan and recruiting philosophy that has the potential to change the perception of the program and it's outlook within the state for years to come.

With Adam Zagoria's report that Steve Pikiell, Karl Hobbs, Brandin Knight, and Jay Young attended workouts together at both Roselle Catholic and the Patrick School, Rutgers made a big statement. It is very uncommon for an entire staff to hit the recruiting trail all together. By doing so yesterday, Pikiell sent a message that Rutgers will now make both New Jersey prep powers a priority during his tenure. It's certainly not rocket science to target the top schools in the state and recruit their top players year in and year out. However, as had been reported more than once last season, Rutgers was noticeably absent in the past. Yesterday's actions were also noticed by Jeremy Schneider, the high school beat writer for NJ Advance Media.

Understand though, this is not just a case of looking good because the previous regime dropped the ball. Pikiell has demonstrated early on that he is willing to put in the time and the effort to build relationships across the state. With the staff he has built, particularly with Hobbs and Knight, they also have the connections and credibility to open doors. Couple that with a relentless and aggressive approach, the potential for Rutgers to make headway with top recruits in New Jersey finally seems possible. In addition to looking for players to fill out next season's roster, Pikiell and staff are making 2017 & 2018 recruits a priority as well.

Yesterday, on the staff's visit to the Patrick School, they offered 3-star center Bul Ajang and 5-star center Nick Richards from the class of 2017. They then offered 2018 5-star power forward Naz Reid of Roselle Catholic. He is considered the top player in New Jersey for his class and 6th in the country by both 247 sports and ESPN. It appears the staff has intentions of targeting many players on Reid's AAU team as well,

Luther Muhammad is a 4-star point guard and Jahvon Quinerly is a 5-star point guard. Both attend Hudson Catholic and are two of the best players in New Jersey for the class of 2018. Also in that class, Atiba Taylor is a point guard that attends Pope John high school and is from Hackensack. Louis King is a 4-star small forward for the class of 2018 and now attends Hudson Catholic after previously attending Pope John. Offering the core of the Sports U team is an aggressive move and another step in building strong relationships with AAU programs. Having Brandin Knight in the fold could be a key to success with Sports U. From Adam Zagoria's article, their coach Brian Coleman said this:

"Brandin and I have a very good relationship," Sports U coach Brian Coleman told SNY.tv. "I know he will look out for the kids and take good care of them. I think it will help Rutgers get involved with our kids."

In addition to make top in-state high school and AAU programs a focus, the Rutgers staff is making a top Florida AAU program a priority as well.

Jerald Butler is teammates with recent Rutgers offeree JaiQuan Gray. They both play for a top AAU program, the Florida Vipers. Making in roads there is both savvy and strategically smart.  Rutgers is also targeting Vipers 4-star center Victor Uyaelunmo from the class of 2017.

Making players from the Florida Vipers a priority, at the same time as building bridges with top New Jersey programs, is industrious and highlights a long term plan. They also have their eye on Hasahn French, who is a 3-star forward from Massachusetts with a huge offer list.

Don't misunderstand though, Pikiell and his staff are not just handing out offers to get their name and faces out there. A key difference already with this staff is their relentless approach with their recruiting targets.

Two days after offering Gray, Rutgers is visiting him at home. After Sa visited Rutgers this past weekend, and with reports that Western Kentucky and Pitt are after his services as well, the staff is following up with a visit this week. They are pursuing their targets and not sitting back hoping for results. You can read more about Gray and Sa here.

The top public school basketball team in New Jersey is Linden, who lost to prep powerhouse St. Anthony's in the Tournament of Champions Final this season. Head coach Phil Colicchio spoke positively about coach Pikiell after his appearance at a coaching clinic two weeks ago. I mentioned in this article detailing Colicchio's comments after the clinic, that sophomore guard Tavon Jones will likely be on Rutgers radar moving forward. That appears to be the case now.

Steve Pikiell has a ton of work to do in order to rebuild Rutgers basketball into a respectable program.  He is already putting in the time and effort to do so and then some.  His staff has experience, credibility, and a strong reputation in developing players. They are now making a point to develop a reputation for living in gyms of top New Jersey programs and investing time to develop relationships across the state and with key AAU programs on the east coast. The prospects of what this staff can do on the recruiting trail is an exciting one. Pikiell must prove he can close out top recruits before truly being able to change the image of Rutgers basketball within recruiting circles. However, all early signs point to a coach and staff driven to succeed and with a smart plan to make that a reality.