Ahead of the first game of the 2018-2019 season, we will be previewing every player on the Rutgers men’s basketball roster. First, let’s preview the three walk-on’s as a group. It’s an important role and walk-on’s are the unsung heroes for every college basketball program. With the graduation of Jake Dadika, who had some memorable moments on the court over his career and is now a graduate assistant with the team, Rutgers needs other walk-on players to continue to contribute in a positive way. Two players from this group return and one new addition rounds out the walk-on’s.
The redshirt sophomore is a solid practice player and important program guy for this team. He was the all-time leading scorer at Sandwich high school in Massachusetts and was the 2015 CapeCod.com’s Player Of The Year. While he is just 5’11”,Downes is known as a hard worker in practice and he helps push the backcourt on a daily basis. He also helps to run the opposition’s offense in game prep during practice. Downes saw action in five games last season, with his best outing in the opener against CCNY, producing 3 points and 3 steals in 9 minutes. He was also an Big Ten All-Academic Honoree and is a member of the Student Athlete Advisory Committee at Rutgers.
The 6’10” sophomore big man is a valuable practice player due to his size and effort level. He had Division I offers with Patriot and Ivy league schools, but opted to walk-on at Rutgers after a solid scholastic career. He was a three year varsity starter at Randolph high school and during his senior season was a First Team All-County and All-Conference, had back to back triple doubles in the state tourney as a senior and made the New Jersey North-South All-Star game. Nathan has added size to his big frame and I thought he looked improved in the one practice I’ve seen so far this fall. He will help push the frontcourt and gives the team another Big Ten body to deal with in the lane during practice. Nathan saw action in seven games last season, including a few in conference play and grabbed a career high 5 rebounds in the win over Fairleigh Dickinson. Nathan offers another option for Pikiell to use in a pinch in game action if the frontcourt is in foul trouble or he wants to shake things up. Certainly a useful walk-on for sure whose continued development will make him even more valuable as his career progresses.
The lone newcomer to the group, Brooks is a 6’1” guard who played the previous two seasons at Division II West Virginia Wesleyan, where he averaged 4.4 points per game in 40 appearances. As a sophomore, he averaged 6.1 points and 16 minutes per contest in 23 games. Brooks played most of his high school career at Rutgers Prep before finishing at Vermont Academy. He will have to redshirt this season due to NCAA rules and will have two years of eligibility remaining after this season. Brooks is a solid addition and is another player who will help this team in practice. He is quick and athletic as well.
Overall, Rutgers has a solid group of walk-on’s that will provide valuable support in practice this season. Even though Brooks can’t see any game action this season, it made sense to add him to the roster. Hopefully, Downes and Nathan see plenty of late game minutes with Rutgers having the contest out of reach for the victory. It’s likely Pikiell will give both of them some spot minutes earlier in games at times when he wants to motivate certain players, something he has done in the previous two seasons. Regardless of how they are used in games, all three walk-on’s will be important players on a daily basis for a team looking to move up the Big Ten standings this season.
(Watch Downes drain a jumper and defend Issa Thiam on the wing in this video.)