Since Steve Pikiell was hired as head coach of Rutgers Basketball in April, he has been working very hard to make positive changes to the program. He hired a top notch staff, he upgraded the strength and conditioning program, increased the intensity of summer workouts, and has made strides on the recruiting trail. In essence, very quickly Pikiell has laid a solid foundation in which to build the future on. While we at On The Banks have taken notice and have praised these improvements, it’s particularly encouraging when the national media takes notice as well.
Enter former Rutgers assistant coach and college basketball announcing legend Dick Vitale. With news this week that Pikiell landed 7 foot center graduate transfer C.J. Gettys, Dickey V was active on twitter in praising the changes made within the program so far. He responded to tweets from Jerry Carino of the Asbury Park Press and SNY’s Adam Zagoria announcing the pickup of Gettys.
Impressive feedback from the broadcasting legend. Before he became famous at ESPN, Dickey V was an unheralded high school coach in New Jersey. The Passaic native was the head coach at Garfield and East Rutherford high schools from 1963-1971. He was then hired as an assistant coach at Rutgers by Dick Lloyd and stayed for two seasons before becoming the head coach at Detroit University. Vitale is credited with recruiting Rutgers basketball legends Phil Sellers and Mike Dabney to the banks. They were the core of the greatest team in school history, the 1975-1976 Final Four team that went undefeated in the regular season.
Vitale’s other Rutgers connection was his friendship with former Rutgers star Jim Valvano, who starred in the sixties with Bob Lloyd. The two encountered each other on the recruiting trail often in the seventies and became fast friends. In Valvano’s autobiography, he mentioned how Vitale used to sign correspondence with “enthusiastically yours”, which makes perfect sense.
The Rutgers Men’s Basketball program has greatly improved their social media game since Steve Pikiell’s arrival. They were well aware of Vitale’s high praise this week and promoted it through their twitter account.
But Dickie V wasn’t done, as he responded to another tweet referencing his compliments regarding the program.
Not a bad guy to have talking positive about your program. https://t.co/iZGfe8alRV— Mike Pavlichko (@MikePavlichko) August 23, 2016
Vitale has always kept a watchful eye on the program over the years. He spoke with NJ Advance Media a couple of years ago regarding his new book and was asked about the program then. Instead of being positive about the direction at the time, he stated an obvious problem that has plagued the program for many years:
NJAM: What about old stomping grounds at Rutgers? Can they do damage this year? (We spoke to Vitale before the Scarlet Knights' win over Wisconsin)
DV: They've got to get players. We were able to turn the corner by getting recruits like Phil Sellers and Mike Dabney [when I was there]. Those were two great players. It's no secret: You're not going to win without quality players. They've got to upgrade their recruiting.
NJAM: How do they do that?
DV: I share in the book two things that apply to my feeling when I was at Rutgers. My mother always used to say to me, "Never ever believe you can't" and, "If you're good to people, people will be good to you." When I came to Rutgers, all I kept hearing was "Can't, can't, can't." I mean give me a break! You tell me I can't convince two to three kids a year who want to play at a state university, a great school, near the metro New York area, Philadelphia, are you serious? If you come here and be a success, the PR is off the charts. My argument is: If you think you'll be mediocre, you'll be mediocre. If you think you'll be special, you'll be special. It's a great university, you've got to sell it.
These comments give context to Vitale’s recent praise of the program under Pikiell. He sees the quick work that has been accomplished in upgrading the roster since April. It also shows how the doubters have existed for decade’s in the ability of Rutgers to recruit at a high level. Take comfort not only in the recent results and progress made by the current staff, but also that Vitale has heard it all before and believes the program is finally moving in the right direction.
Of course, Vitale has supported the program in recent years too when it needed help. He went to bat for the program in 2013 when the NCAA denied Iowa State’s Kerwin Okoro’s transfer waiver request after the deaths of his father and brother. Okoro, from the Bronx, wanted to transfer closer to home to be with his mother and other brother. However, without a transfer waiver, Okoro would have had to sit out the following season, something Vitale, like many, felt was not an appropriate decision by the NCAA under the circumstances.
Mr Emmert - the fans on twitter feel -Kerwin Okoro Rutgers has been given a bad deal by NCAA-Mark do u hear me-he lost his Dad & brother.— Dick Vitale (@DickieV) August 29, 2013
That tweet put pressure on the NCAA and ultimately they granted approval to the transfer waiver request a couple of weeks later. Zach Braziller of the NY Post covered that story here.
There should be little doubt that Dickie V has fond memories and love for Rutgers. After all, Vitale is a true New Jersey son and he still remembers his roots all of these years later.
The arrival of Steve Pikiell on the banks has brought renewed hope and energy into the program and the fan base. The more national coverage and acknowledgement that Rutgers Basketball receives in a positive light will go a long way into helping to change the perception of the program. Nothing does that better than winning, and with this season’s schedule, it’s fair to expect a few more wins than last season. As we get closer to the start of practice in October, having someone of Vitale’s stature in the game of basketball publicly praise the changes made within the program, well that is simply “Awesome baby, with a capital A!”