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Rutgers Basketball Recruiting Picking Up As Jose Alvarado Decision Looms

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Syracuse v Rutgers Photo by Chris Chambers/Getty Images

Last week, the top target for Rutgers basketball in the class of 2017, NYC point guard Jose Alvarado, included the Scarlet Knights in his final three schools that he is choosing from. His decision is between Rutgers, Seton Hall, and Georgia Tech. Last night, Alvarado stated he will announce his decision on Thursday afternoon at his high school, Christ The King in Queens, New York.

I broke down Rutgers chances with Alvarado last week here, and news of him announcing so soon bodes well for head coach Steve Pikiell. There is no understating the importance of Alvarado for the program right now. Landing their point guard of the future, to go along with underrated combo guard Geo Baker, fills out their 2017 recruiting class, barring any transfers at the end of the season. While the staff will always be recruiting in case a spot does open down the road, gaining Alvarado’s commitment before the season will take a ton of pressure off of them. They can focus on the team making progress on the court, while also turning their eyes mostly towards the recruiting classes of 2018 & 2019.

The fact that Seton Hall is a main competitor for Alvarado also heightens the importance of Rutgers winning this first recruiting battle between their blood rival with Pikiell as head coach. It will send an immediate message that the program is making significant progress quickly, as Alvarado would mark the highest rated local recruit Rutgers would have landed since former great Myles Mack. The stakes could not be higher at this point in Pikiell’s tenure.

With that being said, the coaching staff continues to pound the pavement on the recruiting trail in a manner that the program hasn’t experienced in many years. Since last Friday, when the period that coaches are allowed to visit recruits at their schools opened, Rutgers has been out and about checking in on players they have already offered, as well as doling out several new ones. Let’s start with the new offers and then review several elite recruits in the class of 2018 that Rutgers continues to pursue.

New Offers

Akok Akok

Rutgers made a trip to Putnam Science Academy in Connecticut to watch several players, but it appears that Akok was the only one the staff offered. The 6’7” forward from the class of 2019 has had a busy few days, as indicated by our friend Matt Agnoli at RHoops/247 sports.

Akok might not be done growing, as it was reported he has gotten two inches taller in the last year. He also has a wingspan of 7’1”, so his stock will only rise if he continues to sprout. Akok impressed scouts at the Hazelton Camp back in August, where he displayed three-point shooting range and explosiveness to the rim on the defensive end. He is another somewhat under the radar player who seems close to seeing his recruitment blow up shortly if he continues to develop.

According to the New England Recruiting Report, Putnam Science Academy hosted many schools last Friday, including Kentucky, UConn, Indiana, Seton Hall, Iona and others, including Rutgers. The well respected school is a great place for Akok to continue to blossom. You may remember PSA from when Rutgers offered 7’3” center Chol Marial earlier this summer, although he recently moved to Canada. They still have plenty of talent, as Akok’s teammate at PSA also caught the attention of the Rutgers staff as well.

Eric Ayala

The 6’2” Ayala is a 3-star combo guard from the class of 2018 who is receiving attention from multiple power five programs. According to 247 Sports, Ayala has received offers from Maryland, Oklahoma State, and UConn since the July live recruiting period ended. They also report Ayala has unofficially visited Maryland and Villanova recently, and that Arizona head coach Sean Miller also visited PSA this week. Rutgers will be in a dogfight to land Ayala, but you have to love the moxie of Pikiell and the staff for continuing to engage with top recruits who are being courted by college basketball’s elite. It’s certainly a change in approach and attitude with the new staff from previous regimes and I absolutely love it!

Kahlil Whitney

The Chicago native recently transferred to New Jersey power Roselle Catholic, as his father lives in Newark. Pikiell wasted little time, as he offered the guard in the past few days. The 6’6” forward from the class of 2019 was called the best freshman in the city by the Chicago Sun-Times in this article from last season. Whitney’s former coach Alonzo Crowder had this to say about the rising sophomore:

“Kahlil is a hybrid athlete,” Crowder said. “However he still needs a little bit of improvement on his ball handling, he needs to get it on a string. In terms of shooting the long ball, shooting the mid-range and being a slasher and a guy that plays around the rim he’s really good. He’s one of the best I’ve seen and I’ve been around the game a long time.”

St. John’s offered Whitney this past week as well, and it’s likely he will breakout this coming season playing under head coach Dave Boff. Pikiell is certainly well known to Roselle Catholic, turning former Boff pupil Jameel Warney into a star at Stony Brook, as well as taking freshman guard Matt Bullock as his first recruit at Rutgers. Whitney’s recruitment will be fascinating to watch in the next few years.

Joel Brown

In an impressive move, Pikiell ventured to the west coast and appears to be first in on another 2019 recruit, offering point guard Joel Brown from Arizona. The Toronto native is left-handed and recently transferred to the Aspire Academy, another prep school with a reputation for developing players. It’s possible Pikiell learned of Brown through incoming freshman Eugene Omoruyi, who is also from Canada and may have crossed paths with the young guard.

Isaiah Kelly

The 6’7” Kelly is a 3-star forward from Georgia who has picked up a bunch of offers mentioned in the tweet above, all in just the last week. According to 247 Sports, Kelly also took an unofficial visit to Georgia last weekend, as well as Iowa State and Butler earlier this summer. With multiple high majors showing interest as well, Kelly will be a difficult recruit to land. However, it’s encouraging to see Pikiell and his staff not getting pigeon holed with just local recruits, as they continue to make an effort to recruit nationally as well. Rutgers can’t afford to put any eggs in any baskets at the moment, needing to continue to grind and trust their relentlessness on the recruiting trail pays off with a program changing class of 2018.

Established Targets

Louis King

Rutgers just hosted King at the beginning of September, so it’s encouraging they visited him as soon as they were eligible to do so. The 5-star forward from Hudson Catholic and EYBL power Sports U would be a gigantic recruit for Rutgers and it’s evident they are making every effort to be a contender for his services. Heavyweights like Kansas, UConn, Louisville, and Indiana have all offered the 30th best player in the class of 2018, according to ESPN.

Luther Muhammad & Jahvon Quinerly

Muhammad and Quinerly are teammates of King at both Hudson Catholic and Sports U. Rutgers tracked Sports U consistently during the July live recruiting period and continue to pursue the “Fab Five” as they have been dubbed. The group, which includes Naz Reid and Atiba Taylor, hold offers from Seton Hall and UConn, as well as Rutgers. As SNY’s Adam Zagoria wrote yesterday, St. John’s is making a big play at the Hudson Catholic trio, with Muhammad appearing to be a top target for head coach Chris Mullin.

Quinerly recently received visits from Kansas, Maryland, Louisville, and Arizona, as well as taking an unofficial visit to Syracuse, per 247 Sports. It’s going to be extremely difficult for Rutgers to compete against those powers for the top point guard. However, the 6’3” Muhammad seems more likely, although battling the Johnnies and Seton Hall for the talented combo guard will not be easy by any means.

Naz Reid

The crown jewel of Sports U was visited by St. John’s and Rutgers last week, who are working hard for Naz Reid, a consensus top 10 player in the class of 2018. It was a very big deal for Rutgers to host Reid on campus back in August, as he was without a doubt the highest rated recruit to visit in years. Reid spoke to SNY’s Adam Zagoria last week, who included this interesting tidbit regarding the power forward’s recruitment:

Reid listed St. John's, Rutgers, Cal, Kentucky Syracuse, Seton Hall, Kansas, and UConn among those recruiting him the hardest. While listing off teams, he paused and repeated himself for one school in particular.

"Definitely Rutgers," Reid said.

Wow, that is an impressive list of schools and it seems Pikiell and the Rutgers staff is making an impression on the talented big man. The Roselle Catholic star will continue to be a main target for Rutgers this winter, so hopefully he visits the RAC for a few games.

Conclusion

The bottom line is Rutgers has made tremendous progress on the recruiting trail since Steve Pikiell was hired in April. His attitude and approach in selling the program to recruits near and far has been impressive. While Rutgers is actively pursuing so many top recruits from the class of 2018 & 2019, their top priority all long has been Jose Alvarado. The New York Post’s Zach Braziller had this great profile on Alvarado’s recruitment and it highlighted how serious Pikiell is pursuing the city tough floor leader. It’s extremely rare for a head coach in major college basketball to be the lead recruiter for a player, but Braziller said that is exactly what Pikiell has been with Alvarado.

For Rutgers to truly make progress on the court, they need players. For a dream like scenario of a Naz Reid or Louis King to ever come to Rutgers, Pikiell needs to land Alvarado first. He is a well respected, gritty player who is the reigning Catholic School Player of the Year in New York City. Securing Alvarado would be a major perception changer in recruiting circles, as well as give Pikiell his point guard of the future. Thursday, September 15th at 2:45 p.m., Alvarado will announce his commitment. If you love Rutgers basketball, say an extra blessing or prayer tonight. If Rutgers does win the recruiting battle for Alvarado, it will be a major statement that progress is happening sooner than expected. Steve Pikiell has a plan and Alvarado is a big part of it. As Tom Petty sings, “the waiting is the hardest part.” Let’s hope it will be worth it!

UPDATE: Alvarado Picks Georgia Tech Over Rutgers.