The Rutgers men’s basketball coaching staff has been in hot pursuit of priority target and consensus 4-star guard, Montez Mathis, since last winter. Head coach Steve Pikiell watched Mathis extensively during the second week of the July live recruiting period, demonstrating how important he views the dynamic playmaker. Rutgers has always been mentioned in the schools that Mathis is considering and on Thursday, Evan Daniels of Scout, reported that he is close to making a decision.
From the article:
“I’m close to committing,” Mathis told Scout.com. “I’m going to be committing soon. I think Rutgers and UConn are in the lead,” he added. “Virginia Tech is in the mix, but Rutgers and UConn are the in lead.”
"I like how coach [Steve] Pikiell has turned the team around since he got there," Mathis said. "He's a real out going person. My family loves him a lot. They talk a lot and not just about basketball, so I like coach Pikiell a lot."
"With UConn, coach [Kevin] Ollie has been recruiting me since middle school, so that's a plus," he said. "I like how Kevin Ollie develops his guards and gets them to the next level."
This is a major development, as Mathis hadn’t previously given much of a timetable regarding his decision. There is no doubt that if Rutgers was able to land Mathis, he would build significant momentum for the staff, as they continue to build the 2018 recruiting class.
While UConn is considered a national program, they suffered their first losing season in over three decades last season and experienced major roster turnover this offseason. It’s ironic that one of Pikiell’s first major recruiting battles will likely come down to his alma mater and the program so closely connected to him. Legendary coach Jim Calhoun is Pikiell’s mentor and built the Huskies into one of the most successful programs in the country. Rutgers associate head coach Karl Hobbs was at UConn for many years spread over two stints and played there as well, like Pikiell, who began his own coaching career there as an assistant under Calhoun.
If you are Mathis, there are many positive things to consider regarding Rutgers. First off, as good as a reputation as Ollie has developing guards, the Rutgers staff is made up of former high major guards, with Brandin Knight, a former Big East Player of the Year, assigned to coaching the backcourt for the Scarlet Knights. Brandin is credited with the development of former Pitt players such as All-American Sam Young and All-Big East guards Levance Fields, Ashton Gibbs, and Travon Woodall. Pikiell and Hobbs were solid point guards in the early days of UConn as well, which was the spring board for their coaching careers. In fact, the entire staff has a long track record of developing players for the next level.
Aside from the potential to develop under the staff, Mathis will be prioritized by the program in a way that he likely wouldn’t elsewhere. He would instantly become the signature recruit of the Pikiell era and would likely be marketed as such. Mathis would also have the opportunity to earn the right to start day one of his freshman season.
His style of play is a perfect fit for how Pikiell ultimately wants to see Rutgers execute on the floor. Mathis has the ability to score in multiple ways, has a high motor, is an excellent defender, and has been labeled a “blue collar star.” That is exactly the type of high profile player Pikiell needs to rebuild the program. He has prioritized Mathis as such, offering last December. UConn didn’t offer Mathis until late April during that previous live recruiting period.
If this team is successful in the future with Mathis leading them, he would become an instant Rutgers legend. He could obviously do the same at UConn, but he would join a long list of guards who have had success at the sixth borough (editor’s note: I use this term as to mock UConn, due to the utter ridiculousness of it). At Rutgers, Mathis would be a trailblazer and has the potential to change the trajectory of the program forever. And if Mathis ultimately chooses UConn, Pikiell and the staff have wisely positioned themselves with several other top 150 recruits as options, including Frankie Policelli and Wynston Tabbs, as well as 3-star guards Matt Cotton and Saddiq Bey, in addition to some under the radar players.
In looking at many 2018 & 2019 targets of Rutgers, this will certainly not be the last time they battle UConn for recruits moving forward. While those battles are important, landing Mathis would be a program defining recruiting win for Rutgers. It would be an official signal that things are truly changing for the better on the recruiting front under Steve Pikiell. Mathis has the chance to change perception and help build a program changing class that already includes 4-star commit Mamadou Doucoure. Based on what Mathis told Daniels, it’s likely his decision will come in the next couple of weeks. For Rutgers, it could result in major progress, both in rebuilding the program with a future star, as well as proving they are now a real threat on the recruiting trail.