While it was a busy week with transfer news across the college basketball world, the only development at Rutgers entering Friday was sophomore point guard Corey Sanders declaring for the NBA Draft for the second consecutive year. The general feeling around the program is he will likely return for next season. If he does end up officially leaving, then the staff would have the summer to replace him. However, backcourt mate Nigel Johnson will definitely not be back after announcing his intentions to transfer once he graduates at the conclusion of this spring semester. He will be able to play immediately as a grad transfer and has one year of eligibility remaining.
While it is a big blow production wise, as Johnson was the second leading scorer on the team behind Sanders with 11.3 points per game, it was an up and down season for the Eddie Jordan recruit. Johnson showed his full potential during the Big Ten Tournament, where he scored 21 points in both games. However, he was benched in the second half of games against Indiana and Illinois. His tendency for forcing shots and not reversing the ball on offense was likely a frustration for the staff at times and was an issue to various degrees throughout the season. The bottom line is he is now gone and it gives head coach Steve Pikiell an opportunity to bring in someone he believes can help continue to move the rebuilding process for the program forward in a positive direction.
It’s important to recognize that this staff is well prepared and has been working on contigency plans all winter, in case roster spots did become available. They have been relentless on the recruiting trail ever since arriving on campus last April. Remember, starting center and grad transfer CJ Gettys didn’t even commit to the program until last August. Let’s look at six players who could potentially be a good fit at Rutgers.
The 6’4 guard and Pittsburgh native started his career at Penn State and averaged 8.7 points his sophomore season. However, he transferred to South Florida and this year was his first season he could play after sitting out the previous one. Thorpe was the best player on the Bulls, leading the team in scoring, assists, and steals. He averaged career bests of 15.1 points, 4.6 assists, 2.9 rebounds, and 1.6 steals per game. Thorpe also shot 85% on 123 attempts from the free throw line and 38% on 104 attempts from three-point range. He was also a very good on-ball defender. He was originally offered by Rutgers back in high school and was also recruited by Pittsburgh, where current Scarlet Knight assistant Brandin Knight was at the time. It’s likely Thorpe will have many options to consider and it won’t be easy to land a player of his caliber for a rebuilding situation. If Rutgers was able to though, he would be a major addition to next season’s roster.
A source confirmed this week that the Bryant star, who recently announced he was transferring, is being considered by Rutgers. He scored 1,025 points in two seasons at the Northeast Conference school and led the team with 20.3 points per game this year. The 6’2” guard can rebound as well, as he pulled down 4.2 boards per game this season. He only shot 41% from the field in each of his two seasons, but also shot 37% from three-point range in both as well. He also shot 80% from the free throw line in his career at Bryant. The competition will be steep for the scoring guard, but Rutgers is certainly interested. Zouzoua would be a sit out transfer, meaning he would not be eligible this coming season, but would have two seasons to play afterwards.
Bryant University transfer Nisre Zouzpua has heard from NC State, Illinois, Missouri, Arizona State, Maryland & Boston College.— Evan Daniels (@EvanDaniels) March 24, 2017
UPDATE on Zouzoua 3/27/17:
Virginia and Rutgers reached out to Bryant transfer Nisre Zouzoua today. Averaged 20.3 PPG as a sophomore.— Jeff Borzello (@jeffborzello) March 27, 2017
Remember, Zouzoua would have to sit out next season as a transfer, but would be eligible the following two seasons. If he did land at Rutgers, they would ideally need to still find a grad transfer to help replace Johnson’s production next season. For what it is worth, one respected local basketball writer, Jaden Daly, thinks he would be a great addition to the program:
The Newark, New Jersey native and former Paterson Eastside star had a huge season at JUCO powerhouse Hutchinson Community College in Kansas, the same school that current Rutgers forward Deshawn Freeman played at. He was recently named MVP of his conference and is averaging 17.3 points, 12.8 rebounds, 3.8 assists, 1.8 blocks, and 1.5 steals per game. The 6’7” wing recently told Adam Zagoria that he was considering nine schools and Rutgers was included in that list. However, Kansas recently offered and was mentioned in that group, as was Iowa State, Rhode Island and UConn, among others. Zagoria just tweeted an update in his recruitment this morning:
Iowa State watched Hutch star Shakur Juiston last night. UNLV's Marvin Menzies, K-State's Bruce Weber & Oklahoma also saw him this week.— Adam Zagoria (@AdamZagoria) March 25, 2017
No word on how strongly Rutgers is pursuing the talented JUCO star. Watching this clip below, he looks to be an impact player wherever he may land.
Another sought after JUCO player that we do know is being heavily pursued by Rutgers is 6’10 center De’Quon Lake. CBS Sports’ Matt Agnoli recently reported that Lake’s top three finalists include Arizona State, Kansas State and Rutgers.
Bill Self, Norm Roberts (Kansas), Rutgers, Oregon St @ Iowa Western game tonight for 6'10 De'Quon Lake. Evansville, UMKC, Omaha also @ game— JucoRecruiting.com (@JucoRecruiting) March 2, 2017
While Lake already visited head coach Bobby Hurley and the Sun Devils, it’s expected Lake will visit Rutgers and Kansas State in early April. This past season at Iowa Western Community College, Lake averaged 13.5 points, 7.2 rebounds, and 1.5 blocks per game. He also shot 68% from the field. He has two years of eligibility remaining and can play next season. Lake would be an ideal replacement for CJ Gettys in the Rutgers frontcourt next season and getting him on campus is a big step in the right direction.
6'10" De'Quon Lake (@dequonlake) of Iowa Western CC has now committed Arizona State— Phenom Hoop Report (@Phenom_Hoops) March 27, 2017
Lake is now off the market.
One name that I wanted to mention is Penn State point guard Terrence Samuel, who recently announced he was transferring after graduation this spring. The Brooklyn, New York native began his career at UConn, when current Rutgers associate head coach, Karl Hobbs, was there as an assistant. Samuel had his moments for the Huskies, including in the NCAA Tournament, but struggled to find consistency there and transferred to Penn State. After sitting out one season, Samuel averaged 3.9 points, 2.3 rebounds, and 1.8 assists in 16.7 minutes per game this year. However, with a backcourt filled with talented players such as Tony Carr and Josh Reaves ahead of him in the rotation, Samuel opted to leave as a grad transfer. He would be eligible immediately and have one year remaining. Although players typically cannot transfer within their conference, the rule is less strict with grad transfers, as Michigan’s Spike Albrecht was allowed to join Purdue this past season. Samuel could be a solid addition to the Rutgers backcourt next season, although I cannot confirm any interest or contact at this time.
While it’s much harder to find high school players in the current class of 2017 still available, a source confirmed Rutgers is targeting sharp shooter David Collins from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The 6’3” guard who plays for First Love Christian Academy isn’t highly rated, but has generated a fair amount of high major interest, per 247 Sports. While his immediate impact would likely be less than any grad or JUCO transfer candidate, Rutgers needs shooters and players that fit the culture Pikiell is building. He does have high level AAU experience after suiting up for the All Ohio Red program on the ultra competitive NIKE EYBL circuit. Collins could end up being a steal in the 2017 recruiting class for whoever ultimately lands him.
The 3-star forward from the class of 2017 is currently signed with Indiana, but Adam Zagoria reported he has asked for his release. Rutgers is reportedly interested.
VCU, Georgia Tech, Seton Hall and Rutgers among the new schools interested in 6-10 2017 @CliftonMoore16 who has asked for release from IU— Adam Zagoria (@AdamZagoria) March 25, 2017
The 6’10 forward from Horsham, Pennsylvania committed to the Hoosiers back in October and made it official during the November signing period. However, since head coach Tom Crean was fired last week, Moore apparently wants to re-open his recruitment. It’s likely Indiana will not grant his release until a new head coach is hired and can speak with him first. There are hurdles that need to be jumped, but it’s great to see Rutgers wasting no time getting involved with the talented big man.
While Nigel Johnson certainly leaves a big void production wise for Rutgers, who the staff ultimately replace him with will determine how big of a loss he will be for next season. The 2018 recruiting class is so important for the future of the program, but how Pikiell and the staff proceed in reshaping next season’s roster will be fascinating to watch. Rutgers has needs on the court in pretty much every area, but the key is finding players who are the right fit in terms of culture and team chemistry. Hopefully, Rutgers can land one of the players on the list above. Regardless, have confidence that the staff will find a quality replacement for Johnson. Last year they landed building blocks in Issa Thiam and Eugene Omoruyi, as well as impact grad transfer CJ Gettys, very late in the recruiting cycle. They did a tremendous job after starting so late in the recruiting process. After a season that showed marked improvement on the court and the time the staff has put in on the recruiting trail this past year, let’s hope for even better results this off-season.
Update: To read about a pair of top 2017 recruits Rutgers is now pursuing, click here.