So you mean there is a chance? Last night, consensus 4-star forward Andre Rafus announced on twitter he had paired down his very large and impressive offer list down to 15 schools. While we could debate the legitimacy of a top 15, the recruiting process is complicated. Whatever process works in helping the 17 year old kid make the biggest decision of his life, he should do it. The good news is the star from New Jersey powerhouse Roselle Catholic included Rutgers on his final 15.
The full list of finalists include a who's who of college basketball with Kentucky, Kansas, UCLA, USC, Butler, NC State, UCONN, Arizona State, St. John's, Seton Hall, Georgia Tech, Mississippi State, Georgetown, TCU, and Rutgers. There are traditional national powers and every local power school included.
Heck, the schools he cut would make a fine offer list for most high school prospects, which included Wichita State, West Virginia, SMU, UCF, Dayton, Kansas State, Missouri, Tennessee, and UNLV.
Rafus is a silky smooth player than can score anywhere on the floor. The supremely talented forward shoots daggers from behind the arc that hit nothing but net. He demonstrates a consistent stroke and a high release on his jump shot. Rafus is a good ball handler and has great body control driving to the rim. He is a big time scorer who stands out on a high school team loaded with Division I talent.
So the real question is, does Rutgers have any chance in landing Rafus for their all-important 2017 recruiting class? Let's start with three reasons that make it an uphill battle to land his services, followed by three legitimate reasons Rutgers has a fighting chance.
Three Reasons Rutgers Has An Uphill Battle
Too Many Sharks Circling
Any offer list that starts with Kansas and Kentucky usually ends there. Rutgers fans remember the dream of landing former Roselle Catholic star Isaiah Briscoe early in his recruitment, only to see him ultimately choose Kentucky. It seems that Kansas has made Rafus a priority and he is planning to take an unofficial visit there this summer. If Rafus prefers to stay on the east coast, UCONN has recruited him for awhile now. They appear to be the frontrunner for fellow Roselle Catholic player Nate Pierre-Louis. While the 3-star guard and Rafus both have offers at five schools, including Rutgers and Seton Hall, playing at UCONN could be the most appealing option for the friends to play together in college.
Not from New Jersey
Rafus can't be sold on the importance of staying home to play for the state university, as he is originally from Baltimore and just transferred to Roselle Catholic last summer. He wanted to better his future by playing at a top high school program away from distractions in his hometown and it has certainly paid off for him. His profile has blown up after showcasing his talents this past year on the New Jersey hardwoods. Not having any sentimental attachment to Rutgers doesn't help.
Playing for an NCAA Championship Contender & Pro Aspirations
A player of Rafus' ability has his pick to play for some of the top college programs in the country. It's possible he has his sights set on playing somewhere that will give him a shot at the Final Four for a couple of seasons before attempting to declare for the NBA. I don't know his plan, but if this were the case, it wouldn't be surprising. He is used to playing on a high school team with highly rated players at every position, so he could prefer a similar situation in college.
Three Reasons Rutgers Has A Chance
Rutgers offered early in the process last year, and former assistant coach and now current Director of Player Development Greg "Shoes" Vetrone was the lead recruiter from day one. He has made Rafus a priority for a long time. Rafus took an unofficial visit to campus last September and went to the Rutgers-Washington State football game with Shoes, his son Vinnie, and fellow recruit Pierre-Louis. Rutgers was in on Rafus before his recruitment blew up and Shoes has a better situation to sell him on now than before.
Chance to be the Star that changes it all
The less daunting option for a star player is to join a top program and be a key cog in the wheel that drives their success. The harder sell that only a certain type of player would entertain is becoming the wheel that drives a non-traditional program to unprecedented success. Rafus would automatically become the key player in the Steve Pikiell era at Rutgers. Landing him and getting Rafus to accept the challenge of being a main character in the rebuild for the program would be the biggest win of Pikiell's tenure. It would speed up the rebuilding process exponentially. The allure of becoming a legend by creating history at a school yearning for it could resonate with Rafus.
Pikiell relationship with Roselle Catholic head coach Dave Boff
For a star player to take a chance on a program that is rebuilding, there needs to be a tremendous amount of trust between that player and the head coach. If there is one high school program that Rutgers head coach Steve Pikiell has earned that trust, it is with Roselle Catholic. Pikiell successfully recruited former Roselle Catholic star Jameel Warney and turned him into a three time America East Player of the Year with legitimate NBA aspirations.
The relationship between Pikiell and Roselle Catholic head coach Dave Boff is a strong one. Boff invited Pikiell to be a speaker at a recent coaching clinic that included Kentucky head coach John Calipari and Kansas head coach Bill Self. The first recruitment that Pikiell took on at Rutgers was offering all-state guard Matt Bullock from Roselle Catholic, who like Warney, was under recruited. Now Bullock will be part of Pikiell's first recruiting class and will be a freshman in the fall. Here is what Boff told the NY Post regarding Bullock deciding on Rutgers:
"It was a little bit of a perfect storm, because I have a relationship with Coach Pikiell from him recruiting Jameel Warney, who had so much success at Stony Brook," Roselle Catholic coach Dave Boff said in a phone interview, referring to his former player. "I was able to explain to Matt his vision. He met with Coach Pikiell. It just kind of worked out perfectly."
Rafus would have to take a chance on a Rutgers program that hasn't made the NCAA tournament in 25 years, but it would be with a coach that he will know he can trust. If any high school coach can express confidence in Pikiell and his plan to turn around the Rutgers program, it is Boff. Convincing Rafus that Rutgers can become a winning program is a much harder sell than it was with Bullock, who had far less attractive scholarship offers than him. However, Rutgers should be considered a sleeper candidate to land Rafus for the simple reason that Boff can look him in the eye and endorse Pikiell as a great coach who can prepare him for the next level and ultimate achievement, the NBA. So yes, I'm telling you there is a chance!