It has been a busy news week with the Rutgers men's basketball program, with many moves still to be made. It's time to catch up and breakdown what coach Pikiell's staff looks like at the moment, as well as the current roster.
Rutgers has not made any formal announcements regarding the coaching staff as of yet and they likely will not until Pikiell completes his coaching staff first. However, we know Karl Hobbs decided on Thursday to leave UConn to become the associate head coach and top assistant under Pikiell. This was his statement to the local press in Storrs:
"I'm a lucky guy to have had the chance to return to my alma mater and enjoy such great success," Hobbs said. "While at UConn, I had the opportunity to be a part of two incredible eras of national championship basketball with legendary coach Jim Calhoun and with Kevin Ollie, who is also a phenomenal head coach. Not many people can say that they have been fortunate enough to leave and come back and win again so, I'm incredibly grateful. I'm also very appreciative of the entire UConn family, which has given me so much as a former student, an alumnus, and now as a coaching professional.
"I am moving on to another very competitive program at Rutgers where I will be able to coach alongside my longtime friend and fellow Husky alum, Steve Pikiell. As always, I want to bring out the best in each student/athlete and help them work hard to be their best. I am excited about the opportunity and look forward to taking my expertise to Rutgers."
Hobbs is a major addition for Pikiell, who adds instant credibility to the staff and gives him a trusted confidant as his top assistant, as their relationship spans decades. The UConn connection and background is a significant one, and adds even more fingerprints of hall of fame coach Jim Calhoun to the program. Rutgers has possibly never had this level of prestige associated with its staff and its not even complete yet.
As for other staff additions so far, we know former assistant Dan Rickard under Pikiell at Stony Brook has followed him to Rutgers and will likely be the third assistant coach on the staff. Along with Rickard, former New Jersey high school star Bryan Dougher, who was the director of basketball operations at Stony Brook under Pikiell, has also come to Rutgers and will likely resume the same role. Both seem like solid additions and like Hobbs, people that Pikiell trusts.
Although other support staff positions still need to be filled, like director of recruiting and a head of the strength & conditioning program, the intrigue for now shifts to the second assistant spot. Names that are likely in the mix include Pikiell's former top assistant Jay Young from Stony Brook, former Pitt assistant Brandin Knight, Buffalo assistant and UConn legend Donyell Marshall, as well as Eddie Jordan's assistant Greg "Shoes" Vetrone.
It was reported earlier this week that Young and Marshall are finalists for the head coaching job at Central Connecticut State, with Young thought to be the favorite. Pikiell also endorsed Young to replace him at Stony Brook, so it's unlikely he will be coming to Piscataway. If Marshall does not get the job at CC State, it's unclear what he would do next, although simply staying at Buffalo is certainly an option.
Donyell Marshall is expected to be the head coach at Central Connecticut State, sources told ESPN.— Jeff Goodman (@GoodmanESPN) April 3, 2016
The most exciting possibility is Knight, who served under Pitt coach Jamie Dixon since 2008 and was his top assistant. Knight was offered essentially a demotion by new Pitt coach Kevin Stallings, who brought his own top assistant Tom Richardson with him from Vanderbilt. Knight turned down Stallings and issued this statement earlier this week:
Knight is a native of East Orange, New Jersey and starred at Seton Hall Prep in high school before becoming a star player at Pitt. He is known as a strong recruiter and is credited with being instrumental in the development of former Pitt players such as All-American Sam Young and All-Big East guards Levance Fields, Ashton Gibbs, and Travon Woodall. He would be another home run hire by Pikiell to go along with Hobbs and form a dynamic 1-2 punch on his staff. It's possible Knight would not be interested in anything less than a top assistant spot, but Pikiell could offer good money as well as an opportunity for Knight to land a solid head coaching job in the future if he helps turn around Rutgers.
Shoes has been floating in the wind since Eddie Jordan was fired, and it appears no decision has been made by Pikiell as to his status with the program. He was easily the best recruiter on the previous staff, reeling in star Corey Sanders, promising freshman Jonathan Laurent, JUCO All-American Deshawn Freeman, and has intriguing 6'9" wing Issa Thiam committed for next season. The initial concern was that Sanders would leave if Shoes was not retained. Now that he declared for the NBA draft, Sanders could choose not to return if Shoes is gone but transferring is less of an option due to the timing of things. Of course, Laurent could also choose to leave and Thiam could choose to decommit, as he was pursued by St. John's and Seton Hall among other schools.
At the end of the day, Pikiell has to decide what he thinks the best long term decision is for the program. However, if he strikes out on Knight, Young, and Marshall, keeping Shoes and giving him one season to prove himself isn't a bad idea. Given what Shoes had to work with the past couple of seasons, it is quite an accomplishment the talent he was able to bring in, and now with a competent leader in Pikiell, it's very possible Shoes could be even more effective on the recruiting trail. Keeping Shoes and making him director of recruiting seems like a possibility as well, although it is not known if Vetrone would be open to that.
In addition to questions regarding the coaching staff, the roster has experienced significant attrition this week. Freshman guard Justin Goode is transferring, Corey Sanders declared for the NBA Draft, and it was reported that D.J. Foreman was transferring. That leaves just six players on the active roster for next season as of now. Goode was likely never going to be able to be an effective player at the high major level and is making a smart decision to likely move to a mid-major program. Sanders has the potential to come back to Rutgers and has until May 25th to decide. He does need to complete the spring semester at Rutgers in order to remain eligible for next season. Foreman is a loss as he showed flashes of promise and at 6'8" could have been an integral part of the resurgence under Pikiell if he continued developing under the new coaching staff.
As of today, Rutgers has Deshawn Freeman, Ibrahima Diallo, Shaq Doorson, and Jonathan Laurent returning in the frontcourt. Freeman played in only seven games this past season and Doorson missed it entirely, making both eligible for medical redshirts. That means Freeman will have two seasons of eligibility left, with Doorson, Diallo, and Laurent having three seasons remaining. That is a solid base but Rutgers needs to add at least one more frontcourt player to the roster for next season. Laurent, who showed real promise with unteachable athleticism and a knack for scoring in the paint this season, has the highest ceiling of the group. His ability to play the wing is also important.
In the backcourt, guards Mike Williams and Kansas State transfer Nigel Johnson are the only scholarship guards on the active roster as of now. Both have two years of eligibility remaining and have a lot of potential to develop into legitimate Big Ten guards under Pikiell and Hobbs. Of all the players on the roster, I think Williams could benefit the most from their tutelage. Hobbs is credited by NBA legend Ray Allen for making him one of the greatest jump shooters in basketball history. He has also coached Khalid El-Amin and Richard Hamilton in the backcourt at UConn, where they won a national championship. Williams has always brought a toughness that few had on the roster previously, and seems like a highly coachable player.
Eddie Jordan constantly praised Nigel Johnson and the ability he displayed in practice this season, sitting out the mandatory season that is required when transferring. He averaged 5.2 points a game in 18 minutes a game his sophomore season at Kansas State. Johnson broke out at the end of that season, scoring a combined 37 points on 15-24 shooting from the floor (62.5%), along with 12 rebounds and 5 assists in back to back victories over then #8 Kansas and #12 Iowa State. He should become a legitimate scoring threat for Rutgers and is super athletic.
As for recruiting, for now there are three player committed for next season in wings Jahlil Tripp and Issa Thiam, along with Pikiell's first recruit guard/wing Matt Bullock. Tripp committed in early January to Eddie Jordan and for now remains so under Pikiell. Tripp is a 6'5" shooting guard/wing player who has potential after enduring a gun shot wound in 2013 and broken leg in 2014, but was unable to play this past season due to eligibility reasons. He was unable to gain a waiver from the PSAL in New York City to play a fifth season after missing his junior season due to the injuries mentioned. His top offer before Rutgers was Manhattan but he was garnering interest from Minnesota, St. John's, and Seton Hall before this season.
Thiam committed to Eddie Jordan over two months ago and was pursued by Shoes Vetrone for a very long time. He is now rated a 3-star recruit by ESPN, Rivals and 247 sports but Shoes was on his trail well before the star rankings were awarded. He is a project with a high ceiling, as the 6'9" wing can has long range behind the arc and his tremendous length makes him a tough defender. With Pikiell and Hobbs ability to develop players, Thiam could become a legitimate Big Ten star down the road. However, he needs to add significant weight and muscle before being prepared for the physical Big Ten.
Matt Bullock committed to Pikiell last week, the first pledge he received as the coach at Rutgers. Bullock is considered a tweener, but at 6'4" and 220 pounds displays a sweet stroke from three-point range and has a knack to slice through the paint and get to the rim. He also can rebound and uses his wide body to box out and grab boards inside. He was named first team all-state for New Jersey earlier this week and is the first recruit from the garden state to commit to Rutgers since Myles Mack in 2011. While he will need time to develop, he is a proven winner and key recruit for Pikiell in developing relationships and keeping local stars at Rutgers in the future.
So where does that leave the Rutgers roster at the moment? With six scholarship players still on the roster and three class of 2016 commitments scheduled to join the program for next season, there are still four open scholarships. Corey Sanders remains a possibility to return and Jerry Carino hinted this week that the feeling around the program is he will return. It would obviously be a huge boost to the roster and give coach Pikiell a solid core to work with next season. There hasn't been much reported as to new offers Pikiell has made to any class of 2016 players aside from Bullock, although he is surely exploring every option available.
Depth is again a concern and it's likely the Rutgers staff is looking for a graduate transfer or two to add, which would free up a scholarship for the class of 2017. Pikiell could also take a transfer that would need to sit out this upcoming season, like Johnson did this past season. There are literally hundreds of names listed here by ESPN that have announced they are transferring. It's likely Pikiell has contacted or looked into some, but nothing has been reported. Pikiell's focus for now should is to add his #2 assistant and keep the remaining players on the roster. Although the long term view is most important, Rutgers can't afford to lose any more players on the current roster, as it's already unlikely Pikiell can fill the remaining three to four open spots for next season. Either way, with the additions of Pikell and now Hobbs, the future is far brighter at Rutgers than it has been for some time.