Who would have thought someone would need a reservation to get a seat at the Edison Quaker Steak and Lube?
But that’s exactly what happened last night during the Steve Pikiell Basketball Preview radio program. The dining room was packed with familiar faces like NJ.com reporters James Kratch and Keith Sargeant, mega-donors Jeff and Amy Towers, Brian Kelley and a ton of other people ready to get the hoops season started.
Also, I was there.
And, Pikiell was his usual exuberant self. I got to the Quaker Steak and Lube around 7 for a 7:30 start, and the coach was already there, shaking hands and chatting it up with the crowd. He literally hugged kids, took photos and talked hoops with everyone in the room.
Then the radio show started, and hoops play-by-play announcer, Jerry Recco, hit Pikiell up with every question in the book. He talked about every player from Myles Johnson (who could be the “best passer on the team”) to Caleb McConnell (who has a great floater in the lane). He talked about the importance of keeping his coaches together for three years on the banks.
Pikiell had some great quotes on the night. He was asked about the progress of the construction of the practice facility. It used to be recruits would be shown a video that would give them a virtual tour of the place, but now that it’s less than a year away from completion? “Now we actually put the hard hats on and go over there … they can see it and see the court and walk through it. It’s just exciting. It’s huge in recruiting.” The building is something sorely needed by Rutgers, and it’s really happening.
During the night, last year wasn’t forgotten.
When Recco asked him about the team making a mistake in a game last year after practicing it for forty-five minutes in the shootaround, he said, “You also realize it’s a game of mistakes. You try to minimize ‘em and have ‘em bounce back from that.” And I found that to be illuminating. We want these kids to be perfect, but basketball isn’t perfect, it can be gritty and ragged.
A fan on Twitter asked about improving three point shooting this season. Pikiell didn’t avoid the question: “My goal is that they go in…I think we’re going to be a much improved shooting basketball team, but, you know, young players take bad shots…We just keep adding to the pieces that we didn’t have. Issa Thiam shot 38% last year, can we get him to 40-42 percent? Can we get Geo [Baker] to 40%?” That improvement could help the team out a ton. But, he said, making a shot is about more than being a good shooter. “Half the shot is the pass. Last year we had guys that were open…I think we’re a much better passing team.”
No one brought up the football team the entire night, but the impatience of the fans is clear to people at Rutgers. Pikiell talked about turning this program into a winner, and how long it will take. He talked about how, in the past decade, this program has been through a ton of changes from conferences to coaches and even to ADs. He said, “I know some people are impatient with it. Take a deep breath. You see the league we’re in? I just got here. Some people say we’ve been in last place for 6 years. I’ve been here for two. I can’t take credit for those [earlier ones], I can’t take credit for the Final Four in [‘76]. I’ve been here two.” Managing expectations is key.
But, at the same time, Pikiell didn’t shy away from them. At Big Ten Media Day a few weeks ago, Pikiell shared a pretty lofty goal with anyone who was listening. When a fan asked if the NCAA Tournament was a reasonable goal for this team, Pikiell grinned and didn’t shy away from the question.
He, instead, went on an epic monologue. “You know it’s funny, I said that at one of my [press conferences]. That’s your goal every year. Every year I’ve been a coach, that’s the goal. That is 100% the goal of every team…Our goal is to go to the NCAA Tournament. Is it realistic? We have to do a lot of things well and our freshman have to jump on board.…If we can continue to move the program forward, that’s our goal—that’s what we expect to do this year. I came here to dance. That’s what I want my team to do and I want you to be here for it. That’s going to be my goal every year. Is it hard? Yeah, it’s hard…I look forward to going after that goal.”
That moment nearly got him a standing ovation.
All in all it was a fantastic night for Rutgers basketball and the university. It is clear that Pikiell knows how to sway the fans and get everyone excited for basketball season. If you ever get a chance to go to the radio show, I highly recommend it.
Just be sure you make a reservation.
Watch the whole thing here: