The Rutgers men’s basketball coaching staff has been as active on the recruiting trail as I can ever remember any being since I’ve followed the program over the past 30 years. The last Saturday in June is just another example of their diligence, as Andrew Slater of 247 Sports reports that ten recruits, spread through the classes of 2018, 2019, and 2020, are set to visit campus.
While there are several intriguing names on this list, the fact that Jalen Carey, a consensus 4-star point guard from New Jersey, is visiting for at least the fourth time is very encouraging. I’ll be honest, with a top ten list of schools that includes an offer from Kansas, I wasn’t thinking Rutgers had much of a chance. While UConn has been in hot pursuit as well, Carey has to be interested enough in the Scarlet Knights to take a second visit in a relatively short period of time. He was on campus in early May, along with another returning visitor on Saturday in 3-star wing Justin Winston, his teammate at Immaculate Conception, among others. This will be at least Carey’s fourth visit since last fall, when he visit with Winston last September and then again for the Michigan game last October.
Carey spoke with Slater last week and had this to say about his recruitment:
“Rutgers is on the list, yeah. I did a visit recently. It was a great visit. I talked with all of the guys. I loved the visit. I’ll probably get out there one more time, a couple more times.”
“Yeah, they view me as the guy that can get them back on the map. The guy that decides to go to a school not with a big name and decides to put them on the map.”
When asked about Kansas being the favorite, he responded:
“(laughs), I don’t really have a favorite school.”
On what he is looking for in the school he ultimately chooses:
“Somewhere like home, where I don’t have to worry about anything. Somewhere I fit in and just be able to play right away. That’s my main goal- to go to a school that’ll get me to that next level.”
I understand the skepticism on Rutgers truly having a chance with Carey, but the staff is certainly working hard and giving it their best shot. I do think the athletic and versatile game of Carey would fit well in the style of play that Pikiell ultimately wants for the program. Carey could also end up playing more off the ball in college, depending on the makeup of the roster he ends up on. Having such a talented player continue to take interest in Rutgers is progress, however small, for a program that has struggled for so long.
The fact that Winston is coming back for another visit is encouraging as well. The 6’6” wing from the class of 2019 is an intriguing prospect who reportedly holds offers from Minnesota, Penn State, Pitt, Seton Hall, in addition to Rutgers and others, according to 247 Sports. As mentioned above, Winston has visited the program multiple times and Rutgers seems to making him a priority for his class.
Both players are coached by Jimmy Salmon, a true power broker in the state who is the founder of AAU team New Jersey Playaz, where Carey and Winston also play, and is now the head coach at Immaculate Conception. Longtime Rutgers fans know how close the program came to landing another top recruit who played for Salmon in Tim Thomas two decades ago. The last three players Rutgers landed that played for Salmon’s NJ Playaz squad that I can recall was four year starter Marquis Webb, the point guard on the last winning team in 2006, Mike Rosario, the former McDonald’s All-American who ultimately transferred to Florida, and Myles Mack, one of the best players for Rutgers in the past 20+ years. If Pikiell is able to build a strong relationship and land players under the Salmon umbrella, it would be a major coup for the program and a huge plus for the future.
Another promising development is that four recruits from Our Savior New American are set to visit on Saturday as well. If that school sounds familiar, it’s because it’s where 2018 4-star commit Mamadou Doucoure plays. It’s an obvious sign that the staff are building positive relationships with certain programs and that’s a positive step forward. Clarence Nadolny is a 6’2” combo guard from the class of 2019, as are the twin brothers Drame, Hassan and Fousseyni, a pair of 6’5” wings, while Jefferson Koulibaly is a 6’3” point guard in the class of 2020. The players from the Centereach, New York are on the radar of other local programs like St. Johns and Seton Hall as well. The twin brothers also play for the NY Rens of the EYBL circuit and were selected by Mali to play on their national team last summer at the 2016 FIBA U17 World Championship. It certainly won’t hurt Rutgers’ chances with these players once Doucoure joins the program and hopefully boasts of his positive experience playing on the banks.
Other visitors from the class of 2019 expected on Saturday are Jared Garcia, a 6’7” wing from Texas, Zach Crisler, a 6’8” forward from Pennsylvania, and Kareem Reid, a 6’8 forward from Queens, New York. While none of these players are ranked at the top of their class, they are the type of players that could see their stock rise over the next year plus as they continue to develop. Garcia has received interest from Texas and Texas A&M, while Reid has caught the eye of other local programs like Monmouth and Iona, who 247 Sports reports he holds offers from, as well as UMASS.
In addition, Matt Zona, a 6’8” forward in the class of 2020 is set to visit on Saturday. The local big man was considered to be one of the best freshman in New Jersey last season, as he had a solid debut campaign at Bergen Catholic. He also plays for the prominent AAU club, the New York Rens, where 2019 megastars Scottie Lewis and Bryan Antoine play. Getting Zona on campus so early in his recruitment makes all the sense in the world.
With the July live recruiting period less than three weeks away, the coaching staff continue to plug away in working to rebuild the program. While one scholarship remains open for next season, UConn transfer Vance Jackson still remains as a possibility. He has now visited TCU, New Mexico, San Diego State, Washington and Rutgers, with a decision expected soon. Despite him having to sit out next season, he would be a major addition for Rutgers and a huge talent to have on future rosters.
All the while, the staff has done a great job in laying a foundation for future classes. The 2018 class is of major importance and Rutgers remains in serious contention for 4-star guard Montez Mathis. An intriguing point guard from Virginia in Mac McClung visited recently and could be a perfect fit for the program with his style of play. Pikiell and his assistants were very active in reaching out to multiple 2019 recruits last week when the contact period opened for players in that class. I’ll be reviewing some priority targets in that class very soon.
The bottom line is Pikiell and the staff are everywhere. They are prioritizing local prospects, but they aren’t recruiting in a vacuum either. Rutgers has been active in recruiting players from all over the country, as the recent addition in 3-star California big man Myles Johnson being just one example. Rebuilding a program takes time. Rebuilding a program that hasn’t had a winning season in over a decade and without an NCAA Tournament appearance in over a quarter of a century takes a relentless staff with a vision and ability to sell the future.
The jury is still out on how well Pikiell can close out key recruits at this level, but there is no denying what a great job he has done in getting the attention of many prospects that can help move the program forward, now and in the future. Only time will tell, but this is the most promising state of recruiting that the program has had since the early days of Mike Rice. How the next two classes turn out will have a major impact on how successful Pikiell ultimately becomes at Rutgers. As of now, relish in the fact that on the last Saturday in June, the program is hosting a bevvy of recruits who are interested in the future of the program under his direction. That’s certainly a sign of progress.