During the first week after the July live recruiting period finished, there was a lot of activity regarding class of 2017 targets for the Rutgers men’s basketball team. Now is the time that recruits trim down their list of schools they are considering, and as we saw with Rutgers this week, some top targets are starting to make decisions now.
With Geo Baker committing this past Wednesday, the staff landed one of their top targets for this recruiting cycle. Not only is Baker the type of versatile guard that has major upside, but he has the type of attitude and approach towards rebuilding a program that Rutgers needs. Sam Hellman from Scout spoke to Baker in this article, and the combo guard explained his desire to turn the program around:
“A lot of people at other schools would say 'don't go to Rutgers, they're not winning.,” Baker said. “With [my AAU team], we were basically nobody and now we're a winning program. We really changed a lot of peoples minds. We turned from nobody to somebody that had every coach watching us at our gym. That's the same thing I want to do at Rutgers -- go from a losing program to a winning program with hard work and dedication.”
No matter how talented a player is, head coach Steve Pikiell and his staff know they need to bring in players with the same attitude as Baker for this current class. They need players with something to prove and a builder’s mindset. According to 247 sports, Geo held upwards of twenty offers from mostly low to mid-major programs. He was likely just on the cusp of having other high major programs aside from Rutgers get involved after a strong summer on the AAU circuit. The fact that he felt comfortable with Pikiell and pledged now was a major win for the staff. The fact that Baker’s AAU coach, T.J. Thompson, played for associate head coach Karl Hobbs at George Washington, as Sam Hellman pointed out in this article, makes Baker’s commitment more secure. The best part is he will come in with a chip on his shoulder, ready to work and wanting to become a major reason Rutgers improves as a program.
I'm going to prove wrong everyone who ever doubted or underestimated me— Geo Baker (@Geo_Baker_1) November 15, 2015
Landing Baker now helps build momentum on the recruiting trail, and the New Hampshire guard already reached out to top target Jose Alvarado on twitter. The staff believe Baker and Alvarado would match well in the backcourt together. At 6’4”, Baker has a solid frame he can grow into and the skills to play off the ball in the backcourt. Alvarado is a true point guard, but having another capable ballhandler and someone who can get the team into their offense like Baker, would add versatility that Pikiell likely covets. Baker told SNY’s Adam Zagoria how the staff plans to use him on the court:
"My role is whatever guard position they want me at," he told SNY.tv. "They believe that I'm interchangeable due to my abilities to see the floor but also score when needed plus with my length I can guard multiple positions."
While Alvarado visited campus back in June before the live period, the staff are likely pushing to have the New York City floor leader return for a visit before the school year begins. He flourished this summer on the EYBL circuit during the live periods and interest is growing for his services. Syracuse has reached out and it’s been reported that Alvarado plans to take an unofficial visit their in August.
Rutgers has been pushing hard for Alvarado and have shown interest in him since the staff took over the program in April. How serious Syracuse is in wanting him, and what other high majors get involved, is certainly something to monitor. According to 247 sports, Alvarado also picked up offers from Georgia Tech and Dayton during the July live period. Seton Hall and assistant coach Shaheen Holloway is involved in his recruitment as well. Getting Jose back to Piscataway soon is crucial for Rutgers in hopes of ultimately landing the talented and gritty guard. Hopefully, the idea of pairing with Baker to become the backcourt of the future for Rutgers intrigues Alvarado.
Rutgers did receive bad news this week regarding another top target for the class of 2017. PSA Cardinals star Hasahn French cut his list to 13 schools and Rutgers was not included.
Thank you to all the schools that have offered me a scholarship, this will be the final schools in my recruitment pic.twitter.com/awQckzbcPv— Has ™ (@Hasahn22) July 29, 2016
Rutgers offered French back in April and were tracking him throughout July. Unfortunately, the 3-star forward eliminated them from contention. Losing French demonstrates that not every target of Rutgers is willing to take a chance on the program in its current state. That is to be expected, and at least French cut Rutgers from the process early enough that the staff can focus on other targets.
Another Rutgers target that fell off the board this week was shooting guard Luke Loewe, who also visited campus back in June, but committed to William & Mary this week. Loewe was definitely behind Baker as a priority for the Rutgers staff and it’s likely he moved on after Geo committed on Wednesday. Loewe made his decision to commit to William & Mary the following day.
Aside from Alvarado, Rutgers is still pursuing Mahktar Gueye as well, the 3-star forward who plays for the Winchendon School in Massachusetts. He visited UConn back in June, shortly after they offered, and they would appear to lead for his services at the moment. However, that isn’t going to dissuade the Rutgers staff from continuing to recruit Gueye, who they will try and get on campus soon.
Bottom line, it was a great week for the Rutgers men’s basketball program. They landed their first commitment for the class of 2017 from one of their top targets. They have two open scholarships remaining for that class as of now. Baker has the mentality and type of game that is exactly what the coaching staff needed to add to the program. Landing the first commit for a class is a big step, especially for a new staff taking over, and this will help build some momentum on the recruiting trail. They also haven’t given up on adding a late commitment for the class of 2016, as they still have just ten scholarship players for next season. However, they added a key piece for the future this week in Baker and now can focus on Alvarado and Gueye in the class of 2017.