Last week, Rutgers lost out to Georgia Tech for NYC point guard Jose Alvarado, who was their top target in the class of 2017. The big question is who will head coach Steve Pikiell and his staff make a priority, now that Alvarado is off the board? It’s actually not a big mystery at all, as the clues have been there for awhile now. And it certainly is no Plan B.
At the conclusion of the July live recruiting period, I listed four players as the top targets for Rutgers with the class of 2017. At the time, Rutgers had two available scholarships for this class, so landing at least one of their top targets was a must.
The first was combo guard Geo Baker, who committed to Pikiell soon after. Securing Baker right after the live period ended was absolutely huge. It helped build momentum and Rutgers received multiple high profile visits from elite local recruits during August. They included class of 2018 5-star big man Naz Reid, 5-star forward Louis King, 4-star guard Jalen Carey, as well as 2019 superstar guards Scottie Lewis and Bryan Antoine. The talent that visited the banks last month was more Rutgers has hosted in decades.
Another priority in the class of 2017 was Hasahn French, who plays for the PSA Cardinals, and was a player the staff tracked all summer. Unfortunately, soon after the live period ended in July, French cut his list down and Rutgers was not included. Pat Lawless reports that French has narrowed his choices down even more, with UNLV, VCU, UMASS, Minnesota, Marquette, and St. Louis as his group of finalists.
The top priority of the staff dating back to April when they took over the program was Jose Alvarado. We know how that turned out and there is no denying it was a setback. The floor leader is universally respected as a smart, hard working player who is a pure winner. However, while the 3-star point guard was a key piece to the puzzle in rebuilding the program, he isn’t the only the piece that can fit.
The fourth player I highlighted back at the end of July that Rutgers was targeting was Makhtar Gueye. The forward and native of Senegal has been on Pikiell’s radar for months, offering him back in late April. Rutgers tracked him often during the live period over the summer and Pikiell went out to visit Gueye at Aspire Academy last week in Arizona, where the talented big man is now based after leaving the Winchendon Academy in Massachusetts.
The timing is interesting, as Pikiell visited Gueye two days before Alvarado announced his decision to attend Georgia Tech. While it’s easy to suspect Rutgers had an idea Alvarado was going elsewhere, all indications were to the contrary at the time. The more likely scenario, and one that should make Rutgers fans happy, is that Pikiell is simply a grinder on the recruiting trail who never stops pursuing players he wants in his program. While technically Rutgers would have been out of spots once Alvarado committed, the reality is Pikiell visited Gueye because he covets the talented forward and has plenty of time to figure out the scholarship situation later. The good news is Pikiell must feel he has a chance with the 4-star recruit, as rated by ESPN.
Of course, Rutgers will always be facing stiff competition for any player of similar caliber to Gueye.
Louisville assistant coach Mike Balado in Arizona to see 6-foot-10 center Makhtar Gueye at Aspire Academy— Jody Demling (@jdemling) September 9, 2016
Gueye has received visits from staff from Louisville, as well as the head coaches from UAB and DePaul. According to 247 Sports, coaches from Old Dominion and UTEP also visited recently. UConn has also been on Gueye’s radar, reportedly offering him back in May and hosting him on an unofficial visit in June. Gueye’s offer sheet listed on 247 Sports also includes Florida, VCU and Marquette, to name a few.
Gueye is a coveted big man who is still developing and has a high ceiling regarding his long term potential. The good news is Rutgers is squarely in the mix for his services. Perhaps Pikiell can get former Big East Defensive Player of the Year and fellow Senegal native, Hamady N’Diaye, to help recruit Gueye to Rutgers. Of course, current center Ibrahima Diallo is also from Senegal and can be helpful in their pursuit as well.
It’s easy to say Rutgers will never land top recruits and losing out on Alvarado is just the latest example. It would also be lazy. The fact is Pikiell and his staff have set a solid foundation in recruiting circles in a very short time. They are well organized, identify talent well, and are fearless in their pursuit of players they covet, regardless of the competition they face in landing them.
Remember, it could have been a lot worse around here the past few days had a certain coach been hired instead of Pikiell. We could have had Governor Chris Christie calling for the end of Rutgers Basketball a second time, after the total rational and impartial advisement of Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey. Instead, we have a proven program builder and winner, who is working tirelessly to make Rutgers Basketball Great Again! I don’t know about you, but that is the type of leader that gives me confidence he will ultimately land talented players and most importantly, the right players, here on the banks. Baker was the first in the class of 2017. Here is to hoping Gueye is the second.