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Rutgers Basketball Has Renewed Focus On Conditioning

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Jim O'Connor-USA TODAY Sports

There is a strong possibility that the Rutgers men's basketball team will enter next season with as many as three less scholarship players on the roster than allowed by NCAA rules. That's never a good thing, but certainly understandable with the massive rebuild that new head coach Steve Pikiell and his staff have begun. A major concern with the lack of depth is that one or two injuries to key players would derail the season very quickly. Last season, Rutgers started the season with just eleven scholarship players. Due to season ending injuries to Deshawn Freeman, Shaq Doorson, and Ibrahima Diallo, Rutgers played over half the season with just eight scholarship players. Starting next season with one less scholarship player than last year means the players that are on the roster need to stay well conditioned and healthy.

Our own Dave White had a Q&A with Jerry Carino this week and asked him about some of the big changes that have occurred under new head coach Steve Pikiell. One comment that stood out was this:

The second big change is in conditioning. The S&C program under Jordan was woefully inadequate, perhaps the single biggest shortcoming of his regime. That's changing in a big way. You're going to see stronger, more durable players this season and in the years ahead.

I don't want to disrespect Eddie Jordan, but for Carino to suggest that the biggest shortcoming of his tenure as head coach was with strength and conditioning is a profound statement. Without belaboring the point, there were several areas during Eddie's tenure that were obvious deficiencies, such as recruiting strategy and game preparation. Few people know local college hoops like Jerry does. The fact that he singled out conditioning as the most deficient part under Jordan highlights how important it is to improve within this area moving forward.

The good news is strength and conditioning was made a priority shortly after coach Pikiell took over the program. He brought David VanDyke with him from Stony Brook and athletic director Pat Hobbs quickly expanded his role to oversee the strength and conditioning program for the entire athletic department, except for football. VanDyke's bio from his tenure at Stony Brook highlights his expertise:

In his programs for strength and conditioning success, VanDyke incorporates Olympic lifts, high intensity training methodology, plyometrics, speed, agiility, functional movement screen and balance training, free weights, pneumatic resistance, variable resistance machines, medicine and stability balls, bands and chains. All of VanDyke's programs are designed towards injury prevention and increasing performance potential.

Pikiell reaped the rewards of VanDyke's work with the basketball team, which transpired during the rise of Stony Brook's basketball program. This is what Pikiell told Scout's Sam Hellman about the impact VanDyke had on the program:

"Very rarely in his time with me did we ever have a player miss games, and that’s something I’m real proud of but that’s his work that he did with flexibility and nutrition and conditioning strength," Pikiell said on the hire of VanDyke. "We’ve gone a five- or six-year period where guys didn’t miss games. We had a torn ACL which is obviously an injury that can’t be prevented but we really had guys on the floor, all the guys that were on the roster available to us. That was a very important part of our success, especially the long seasons."

There are never any guarantees with injury prevention, but proper training and preparation certainly help. Recently, VanDyke has started posting short clips of the team working out. It's likely the players are performing exercises that they have never done previously within the program.

Hiring VanDyke is just one example of Pikiell's focus on every aspect of the Rutgers men's basketball program. Whether it's recruiting strategy, player development, facility plans, or delivering pizza's to those who market season tickets for the program, Pikiell is all in.  Every detail will be covered, every potential advantage identified, every potential weakness rectified. Hiring VanDyke to revamp the strength and conditioning program will not only improve the future of the basketball program, but his role with the Olympic sports within the Rutgers athletic department should reap the benefits as well.