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Rutgers Basketball Recruiting Updates At Live Period Conclusion

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-First Round-Kentucky vs Stony Brook Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

The July live period has come and gone, in what was a three week whirlwind that saw the Rutgers men’s basketball coaching staff at virtually every high profile tournament and then some. I covered the staff’s whereabouts and which players they were tracking for the first live period here , as well as the second live period here.

This past weekend, I reviewed new offers made by the coaching staff for three players in the classes of 2018 & 2019. Rutgers offered Chimezie Offurum, Shamar Dillard, and Kofi Cockburn on Saturday, all of whom are rising prospects in their respective classes. For more information on their backgrounds and how they may fit into the program down the road, click here.

It turns out the staff actually offered another guard from the class of 2017 on Saturday as well. Let’s review the new offer, check in on who the staff watched this past week, who the top targets of the staff for the current recruiting class are, and what is next for the program on the recruiting trail.

New Offer

Christian Popoola, Jr. is a 3-star guard that is left handed and plays for high school powerhouse Bishop Gorman in Las Vegas. According to 247 sports, Popoola now has offers from USC, San Diego State, Memphis, Princeton, and New Mexico, in addition to Rutgers. He also held an offer from UNLV from their previous staff, and this article indicates BYU may be in the lead for his services. The site also reports that he has taken unofficial visits to Stanford and UCLA in the last year. Popoola can play both guard positions and is a highlight reel dunker. Here is video of him from June’s Pangos All-American camp putting on a show. While it remains to be seen if Rutgers has a real chance at landing Popoola, it leads to more questions about some of their top targets in the class of 2017, which I’ll get into in a bit.

Sports U v. Team Rio

Two local AAU heavyweights continued their summer battle, with the rubber match taking place last Saturday in Las Vegas. Rutgers has followed both teams throughout the July Live period and with good reason. Coach Pikiell and staff offered the “Fab Five” of Sports U back in April, which includes Naz Reid, Atiba Taylor, Louis King, Luther Muhammad, Jahvon Quinerly, all class of 2018 recruits. Team Rio is led by two rising superstar guards in the class of 2019, Bryan Antoine and Scottie Lewis. All seven recruits play their high school ball in New Jersey. Although it seems obvious for Rutgers to make this group of prospects a major priority, it is a marked and welcomed change from the previous regime.

Sports U got the best of the dynamic duo this time, winning by a comfortable margin. The Rutgers staff was there watching with some of college basketball elite programs, including Kansas, Kentucky, and national champion Villanova.

It’s easy to dismiss Rutgers as having no chance with any of the seven recruits from these two powerhouse programs. Pikiell has a lot to prove and major progress to be made before any of them likely give the program any serious consideration. However, credit the staff for being a constant presence on the recruiting trail this summer, tracking them all. The next 12 months will be critical for Pikiell to establish credibility with these elite recruits and gain their confidence that the program is headed in the right direction.

Top Targets

If you have been following along all summer, it shouldn’t be a surprise that SNY’s Adam Zagoria confirmed that top targets for Rutgers from the class of 2017 include point guard Jose Alvarado, combo guard Geo Baker, and forwards Hasahn French and Mahktar Gueye. Now that the live period is over, college programs will make it a priority to have their top targets visit campus in August before the school year begins. Let’s take a look at each player and where Rutgers goes from here.

Makhtar Gueye

Gueye is a 6’9” wing that Rutgers continued to track during the last week of July’s live periods. They offered him back in April and he holds offers from UConn, VCU, Marquette, Florida and Creighton, among others, according to 247 sports. Gueye, who plays at the Winchendon School in Massachusetts, visited UConn in June, soon after they offered him. The competition will be steep for Rutgers to land the talented and athletic forward, but it appears they are doing their best to have him visit campus in August. He has seen his stock rise big time since the April live evaluation period and he continued to shine in July. It would be a big step if Rutgers can get Gueye to visit in the next few weeks.

Hasahn French

Since the live period began this month, French has added offers from Oklahoma State and Memphis to a long list that includes over a dozen high major programs. You can see his full offer list from 247 sports here. French had said previously he wanted to take an unofficial visit to Rutgers, but that has not happened yet. If Rutgers has any shot at the PSA Cardinals star, they must get him on campus in August or September. French indicated he would most likely cut down his list before the school year begins, so having the opportunity to show him the program and Pikiell’s plans for the future firsthand would be a major step.

Geo Baker

The New England guard continues to be pursued by Rutgers this summer. He visited campus in June and was positive about the new staff and the practice facility plans. Baker has had a great summer and interest is growing for his services. He is still developing his game and becoming a more complete player. For Rutgers to land elite players in the future, they need to land a player like Baker first.

The coaching staff has a strong player development background. Adding an underrated but talented player like Geo, who can shoot the lights out, would give them a chance to make a statement if they developed him into a successful high major player. Securing his commitment would be the first step and accomplishing that sooner rather than later will be key, as the risk of Baker picking up additional high major offers is likely.

Jose Alvarado

It makes sense that Alvarado is the top priority of the Rutgers staff. True point guards are hard to come by and his game has blossomed this summer. He is a winner and a leader on the court, his style of play is what Pikiell ultimately wants for the program, and he would be a major foundation in recruiting New York City players moving forward. He continued to improve this summer and has excelled on the EYBL circuit, playing his best ball at the very end of the season. His ability as a lockdown defender, in addition to his ball skills, make him a complete player.

He is the type of player that can be the cornerstone for a program, and it seems likely Pikiell and the staff view Alvarado this way. Rabid Rutgers supporter and Greg “Shoes” Vetrone’s son Vinny, whose father is now the Director of Player Development after being an assistant under Eddie Jordan, tweeted out this dream cover for all Rutgers fans to recognize the importance of Alvarado.

The staff was in attendance for every tournament that Alvarado played in during the July live period with his team the NY Rens.

Alvarado visited campus in June and had this to say to SNY’s Adam Zagoria:

"They showed me around the school," Alvarado said. "I felt comfortable. It was just a great time." "They're telling me I'm their top choice right now and they would love for me to give them that answer," he said of Rutgers. "I said I definitely would think about it and talk more about it with my parents, but I'm not giving them that decision yet. They want me there."

In my opinion, there is no more crucial recruit in the class of 2017 for Rutgers than Alvarado. He is the type of player you want to build a program around. It’s clear that Pikiell and the staff are doing everything they can to land the talented and gritty point guard. Of course, the problem for a program like Rutgers is when top tier schools start getting involved. One major program from up north has started to get involved in Alvarado’s recruitment.

The old Rutgers, or sadly the Rutgers we have known for a better part of three decades, always loses top recruits to programs like Syracuse. Perhaps Rutgers offered Popoola this past weekend to hedge their bets in case Alvarado spurns them for the Orange? They have yet to offer him but that could change on his visit.

If Pikiell wants to make a big statement on the recruiting trail though, in addition to adding a program changing point guard for the future, he needs to land Alvarado. Rutgers can land a solid 2017 recruiting class even without the Christ the King playmaker. However, the groundwork would be laid for Pikiell and Rutgers to become a serious threat for local talent immediately by landing Alvarado. It’s the type of commitment that would put the state of the rebuild of the program ahead of schedule, and put Rutgers back on the New York City basketball map in recruiting circles.

What’s Next

The staff have done a tremendous job of building relationships and establishing who their top targets are for the current recruiting class and future classes. They have been tireless in being present at every major tournament during the July live period. Now it’s time to get their top targets on campus in August and September. Although not a top target, an under the radar prospect has already said he will visit Rutgers in the coming months.

Crawford is a 6’11 center from Griffin, Georgia who is a bit raw, but as the old saying goes, you cannot teach size. However, he continues to improve and scouts have taken notice of his development, and he told Corey Evans of HoopSeen that he plans to take an official visit to Rutgers in September. Again, Pikiell and the staff need to land players with high upside that they can develop, and Griffin certainly has the frame and potential to be a legitimate frontcourt player in the Big Ten.

Another player who has already visited Rutgers is Luke Loewe, a sharpshooter from Wisconsin. He performed well during the live period and is another player the staff is certainly interested in. How things play out with Alvarado and Baker may impact whether they ultimately land Loewe.

With all that being said, Rutgers needs to get Gueye and French on campus, along with return visits from Baker and Alvarado. They need to close one of them, and the sooner the better. The earlier they can secure a commitment from one of these players, the more legitimacy they will have entering next season on the recruiting trail. Progress will be needed on the court, but landing a recruit who has talent and credibility can be huge in filling out the rest of the class. A player like Alvarado could swing momentum in a big way, and likely help recruit other local targets in the 2017 class.

It’s hard to argue, with maybe the exception of failing to land an eleventh scholarship player for next season, that Pikiell’s first 3+ months on the job have been anything other than a resounding success. However, that was the easy part, laying the foundation for the culture he wants for his program. He and his staff and been selling the future with a tenacity not seen on the banks in some time. Now it is time to close on a player that can be a building block for Pikiell’s program. Hope is present for Rutgers basketball under Pikiell, but positive results on the recruiting trail with the 2017 class is vital to future success. As the summer winds start to fade, Rutgers basketball needs to begin to rise and it starts with results on the recruiting trail.

UPDATE 7/27 3:15 PM: Geo Baker commits to Rutgers