Steve Pikiell was hired as the Rutgers men’s basketball coach in late March and to say he has hit the ground running since would be a gross understatement. It’s more appropriate to say he has flown off the runway going at mach 2 speed. He has hired arguably the best coaching staff in program history, reshaped offseason strength and conditioning workouts, recruited in a strategic and relentless way, and added multiple players to the roster, both for next season and in the future. In just a few months, the culture within the program is dramatically different and the changes are all positive.
It’s very clear early on that Pikiell’s personality will be the ultimate driver in making Rutgers basketball successful. He has a strong presence and confident demeanor, but also appears to be approachable and sincere. RVision produced another great video on the men’s basketball team and featured the program’s leader in action. All of those qualities were present in the video, and then some. The biggest takeaway for me was Pikiell’s ability to teach, motivate, and instill confidence in his players. He comes across as genuine in every way, crossed with an old school workmanlike attitude.
In the video, Pikiell discusses his style as a coach:
“I’m a hands on coach. I don’t golf, I have no hobbies. I have four kids in my family. I love them to death and I have fifteen players that are in my program, they’re basically my family. My philosophy is one that I want to get invited to their weddings down the road. I want them to believe in me. Every day doesn’t have to be a great day. Every day they don’t have to love me. But they understand I have their best interests at heart. I’m trying to make their dreams come true.”
There is no doubt that Pikiell eats, drinks, and sleeps basketball. It’s clear he will take losses the hardest, as he should. There is nothing endearing about indifference. As fans, we want our coaches and players suffering after losses more than we do. Pikiell checks that box in a big way, he and the staff will agonize over every detail in order for the team to improve.
He won’t always push the right buttons or figure out the right answers certain games, but it’s obvious he will do his damnedest to try. He doesn’t seem the type to make excuses and seems obsessed in being successful in every area. Not only is he consumed by winning, but most importantly, he seems to want to achieve success by investing in the players and doing it the right way.
Pikiell also talked about his preferred style of play on both ends of the floor:
We are going to play full court basketball. I’d like to play early in the shot clock. I’d really like to explain to fans that the first ten seconds are (for) our players of the shot clock and our guys (can play) as fast as they want to go. That’s their ten seconds.
We will defend and rebound. That’s been my resume for 11 years, we’ve done that. As a head coach and everywhere I’ve been an assistant coach, we’ve won on defense and rebounding. I look forward to a good brand of basketball where we’re competitive, where we’re tough. We are going to rebound and we’re going to play fast. I really look forward to bringing that here to the RAC.
Pikiell comes across more focused on building a certain identity within the team through their style of play, as opposed to micromanaging or controlling plays called. Playing up tempo, efficient, smart basketball is easier said than done. However, it is a style that most recruits will want to play in, as it provides them a freedom to make decisions and play at a fast pace. Of course, discipline and good decision making is crucial, which is on the coaching staff to lay a solid foundation within that system.
His track record lends belief he will achieve success, and that it’s only a matter of time. While recruiting is monumentally important, Pikiell and his staff have a proven record regarding player development. Jameel Warney is the crown jewel for Pikiell, legitimate proof that he can take an unheralded recruit and make them into a superstar. Take a look at Warney’s stats at Stony Brook here. Warney was rated a 3-star recruit by ESPN, a 2-star recruit by Scout, and was not rated by Rivals. It’s not everyday a player with that little recruiting hype becomes a three-time conference player of the year, even in a mid-major conference like the America East. Warney went from averaging 12.4 points, 7.2 rebounds, and blocks per game as a freshman, to 19.8 points, 10.8 rebounds, and 3.0 blocks per game as a senior. Pikiell was able to identify Warney as a player with potential to be a great and put in the work to make him so.
In addition, Pikiell loves to play his bench, as his last five seasons at Stony Brook he played nine or more players at least nine minutes per game. That’s not uncommon for bad teams, but Stony Brook had a record of 119-48 and made five consecutive postseason appearances playing ten players deep. That resonates with recruits, as opportunity to play right away is more attainable with a coach who uses a deep bench.
In the past eight seasons, Pikiell’s teams at Stony Brook have been ranked in the top third of college basketball teams on the defensive end. That’s incredible consistency and a major reason they annually made a postseason tournament.
With all the work that Pikiell has put in so far, along with his personality and proven track record, you can’t help but be excited about the future of the Rutgers men’s basketball program. The pessimists will say that these videos are PR tools to promote the coaches in a positive way. That’s true, but the body of work that Pikiell has completed in his first few months, in addition to his decade of building Stony Brook from bottom feeder to perennial postseason performer, the likelihood of future success at Rutgers seems realistic on his watch.
As we turn into the home stretch of summer, watch this video of Pikiell in action to get your blood pumping for hoops season. He may not have been athletic director Pat Hobbs first choice for the job, but early on, it’s hard to argue that he won’t prove that he was ultimately the best choice to lead Rutgers basketball.