When Steve Pikiell was hired as the Rutgers men’s basketball coach, he cited one of his goals was to assemble a top notch staff. While it was a major coup convincing now associate head coach Karl Hobbs to leave UConn, Pikiell had a long standing relationship with him. Jay Young worked for 11 seasons under Pikiell at Stony Brook and when he was surprisingly skipped over for the top job at the Long Island school, it made sense for him to come to Rutgers.
Landing Brandin Knight was a different story altogether. Twice a legend as a high school basketball player in New Jersey and one of the greatest players in Pitt history, Pikiell had no prior relationship with Knight. In fact, Rutgers had tried and failed to bring Knight on as an assistant coach back in 2010 when Mike Rice became head coach. Knight turned Rice down and stayed at the program he helped build as a player, and as assistant under head coach Jamie Dixon at Pitt. Knight worked at Pitt for 10 seasons, including 8 as an assistant, where he ultimately became Dixon’s right hand man.
So what made Knight decide to come back to New Jersey and work for Rutgers this time? First, Dixon left Pitt after 13 seasons to become head coach at TCU, his alma mater. Knight was endorsed by Dixon and the Pitt players to take over the head coaching position, but the administration had other ideas. Instead, they hired Kevin Stallings from Vanderbilt. Even though Stallings brought his longtime assistant Tom Richardson with him to Pitt, he did offer Knight a spot on his staff, albeit the #2 spot. Knight declined and decided to leave a program that he helped build into a consistent winner, both on the court and on the sideline.
With Knight reportedly considering multiple options, Pikiell continued to make his recruiting pitch to him. Ultimately, Knight decided to give it a shot this time at Rutgers. So why did Knight decide Rutgers was the right place for him now? He had this to say in the latest offseason video from RVision:
“I decided to come to Rutgers because I thought it was a great opportunity to join a new team and a new situation. It felt like the time was right. Coach Pikiell seemed like he had everything in order, as far as the athletic director and the type of things they were willing to do and put into the program. The time and opportunity that it was to come and grow a program, I just felt it was the right time to be at Rutgers.”
Knight coming to Rutgers to join Pikiell, Hobbs, and Young, completed what is arguably the most qualified coaching staff in program history. Hobbs was a former head coach for a decade, making the NCAA tournament three times. Young was the associate head coaches for a total of 7 seasons under Pikiell at Stony Brook. Add in Knight, and the staff have coached in a combined 19 NCAA tournaments.
Simply put, Knight has always been a winner.
Knight won multiple state titles at Seton Hall Prep in high school in the late nineties. He decided to attend Pitt, a program that had five losing seasons in the previous six years before his arrival, with zero NCAA tournament appearances. His freshman season Pitt went 13-19, but improved to 19-14 with an NIT berth his sophomore season. However, Knight’s legend was made in his final two collegiate seasons, when he led Pitt to a combined 57-11 record, two conference regular season titles, the 2003 Big East Tournament title, and two Sweet 16 appearances. He was the co-Big East Player of the Year in 2001-2002, was an AP All-American in 2002, and Wooden All-American in 2003. He is the all-time career steals and assists leader in Pitt program history and his #20 jersey was retired.
It should be no surprise then that Knight came to Rutgers expecting to win. He had this to say in the RVision video:
“I hate losing. Losing isn’t an option. I just want to bring that culture to Rutgers.”
“Winning is fun. We’re going to bring a culture change and get guys to buy into understanding the little things that it will take in order for us to be a successful program.”
Knight is the youngest of the coaches on staff and can potentially relate to the players in a way the others can’t. Pikiell and Hobbs were great players in their own right at UConn, but that was in the eighties, long before any player on the current roster was born. While Knight ruled the Big East over a decade ago, his legacy is easier for the current players to relate to. They can watch old clips of Knight leading Pitt to victories on youtube and most of their father’s can speak of his greatness on the court.
His ability to recruit locally is a major plus as well. He successfully recruited Ashton Gibbs from Seton Hall Prep and Travon Woodall from state power St. Anthony’s to Pitt.
Pikiell landing Knight on his coaching staff at Rutgers was fancy icing on an already delicious cake. Rutgers is arguably the biggest rebuilding job in the country, but they now have one of the most experienced and successful coaching staffs to lead it. Take a look at Knight in action in this video, as he explains his teaching philosophy and his ability to connect with players is on display.