While the Rutgers basketball team has been having workouts for months, official college basketball practice begins around the country this weekend. That means Steve Pikiell can finally get his hands on the entire roster to run drills, five on five practices and train sessions.
Real games are only six weeks away.
Recently, Pikiell sat down with Jerry Carino for an illuminating question and answer session.
In the interview, Pikiell makes it very clear this squad has made a lot of progress from the end of last season when Rutgers only won 7 games the entire season. He also is crystal that they still have a long way to go to be competitive.
The biggest focus during the interview is twofold:
Pikiell talks about how the team wasn’t even able to get through a one hour workout when he arrived on campus. He says after twenty minutes, the team would have their hands on their knees, breathing heavily.
Therefore, much like the hiring of Kenny Parker in football, David Van Dykes hiring as a strength and conditioning coach for basketball has been key. Now the players can get through the workouts, so Pikiell’s staff can focus on making the team competitive.
Because of the workouts, Pikiell says Shaquille Doorson has lost a ton of weight and now is starting to show some athleticism. It’s a sign Van Dyke’s routine is working on the team.
Pikiell also talked about a leadership void, pointing out that the only senior is CJ Gettys--and he’s only been on campus a short time.
So, what does it all mean?
It means Steve Pikiell’s role this year isn’t just to be a head coach. He must be a sculptor. He, Karl Hobbs, Brandin Knight, and Jay Young must take a team with some talent (see: Sanders, Corey, Johnson, Nigel, and Omoruyi, Eugune—who Pikiell singled out in the interview) and mold it into something competitive. No one is expecting miracles this season—fifteen wins would count as a miracle.
But what fans want to see are close game, tough defense and some rebounding.
Pikiell must take these players and change them from an unorganized bunch of players who showed flashes last season, and make them a well oiled unit. He must create a team that is quick on the defensive end and can pull down the rebound to end a defensive possession. There is speed and length on the roster, and they can get out and run on offense.
But the key is to slow the opposition down. That is where Pikiell’s challenge lies. It’s why it’s so important to find a leader who can get the team to rally around them. If the leader (re: Sander, Corey?) can get the rest of the team to fall in line, then they can overachieve this year.
Shooting is going to be a problem. Points likely won’t come in bunches for this squad, so they’re going to have to grind.
They have to get stronger and they have to listen to Pikiell’s staff.
Practice is starting soon, now is the time to fall in line. The Big Ten is built on toughness. That’s what Pikiell has to develop. That’s what he has to mold. Start there.
Do that and maybe not only will the future of Rutgers basketball look bright, but also this very season.