Back in the winter of 2001, Rutgers football was an absolute trainwreck.
Terry Shea had been fired after one of the worst stretches of football in recent memory. The coaching search Bob Mulcahy had run ended up with some Miami defensive coordinator after a couple of other choices had turned the Athletic Director down. Greg Schiano walked into Rutgers, started preaching National Championships, and all of a sudden things started to turn.
As you can see, with a celebrity appearance, a clever commercial, and a lot of hard work, Rutgers football started to become cool. It was a way to catch the attention of recruits who hadn't given the Scarlet Knights the time of day in recent memory.
That's where Rutgers basketball is right now.
New head coach Steve Pikiell has a trainwreck he has to fix, and it is very similar to the one on the gridiron in 2001. And, he's off to a really good start. He's been out making making the rounds with New Jersey high school coaches. He's been impressive, and he's trying to land some top talent to make the transition easier.
But, Rutgers basketball--like football was--still has a stigma attached to it. And that might be the most difficult part of turning this ship around. Steve Pikiell, Pat Hobbs, and the rest of the Rutgers athletic department need to make Rutgers basketball cool again. The Rutgers Court Club, basketball boosters, have been fighting the good fight for years.
The interview above is a good start. The Basketball Diary is a great Twitter feed full of wonderful basketball insight, and his YouTube page is full of interview, highlights, and games of some of the best college and high school players. Needless to say, recruits check out The Basketball Diary, and having Steve preaching the message of Rutgers basketball is a great way to get eyes on the prize.
Also, now that the RAC is all full of air conditioning, Pikiell can bring camps back to the RAC. Kids from age 8-17 can attend these camps, meet the coaches, improve their skills, and get an idea of what Rutgers is about. It's the long play, but eventually it can pay off by building some great relationships.
Camp season is upon us. Great opportunities to LEARN the game and IMPROVE skill sets. Contact us for more info. ⬇️ pic.twitter.com/ROEa9UMrpw— Rutgers Basketball (@RutgersMBB) May 20, 2016
There are some seeds here. The profile of Rutgers basketball is starting to build, but I feel it has to go even further. Of course, I do, right? I'm the basketball guy. The one who has been in the shadow for ten years--or even more. But looking at things, Rutgers football is going to be fine. Chris Ash has all the pieces in place, and now has to execute. There has been a recent history of success. Pikiell still has to put those pieces in place.
So, maybe it's just me, but there has to be more. With luck, this (late) fall, we'll see the return of a radio show built around basketball. (Seriously, Gary Waters had one--it's time to bring it back). But how cool would it be to see the scarlet R around the state and the promotion centering around basketball? Maybe, when it's time to order season tickets, Rutgers can put out a Pikiell Promo on TV? More interviews. More face time. Steve Pikiell and crew should be everywhere.
Put those eyes on basketball. Get the word out there. Get the media talking more. Make sure that everyone knows Rutgers isn't in the backseat, but a co-pilot.
The facilities are coming. The people are in place. The culture is starting to change. Now, the perception has to. No more embarrassment.
Make the extra effort. Make people notice Rutgers basketball again.
Because, like football was when Schiano took over, this is not a quick turnaround in terms of results. But the bigger the public relations push now, the easier the turnaround will be later. Because, in order for Pikiell to develop players, he has to land them. He has to get the right guys on campus.
It's not enough to put a coach in place and wait for things to change. Not with a program that has been a punchline for 3 years and pretty bad for the majority of the last 25 years.
The idea behind Rutgers basketball has to change.
Make Rutgers the place to be for basketball.
Make it cool.
Along with being a die hard basketball guy, Dave White is the author of the Jackson Donne and Matt Herrick thrillers. Buy 'em today!