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Enjoying the Build: 4 Thoughts on Steve Pikiell

The head coach enters his third year... wait, didn’t he just get here?

NCAA Basketball: Big Ten Conference Tournament-Indiana vs Rutgers Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Time flies in the blink of an eye, as the saying goes.

I very clearly remember watching Steve Pikiell’s first few weeks as Rutgers men’s basketball head coach with keen interest. Pikiell was coming from a much lower conference and the Scarlet Knights swung hard and missed on Danny Hurley. How would Pikiell handle the jump to the Big Ten?

The answer so far? Swimmingly. He hired a top notch staff and worked hard on recruiting. After guessing wrong on one recruit and missing his top 1s target in year one, he’s really hit his stride. There have been some electrifying moments here at Rutgers under his watch and now the team is truly his.

So, lets look at Pikiell going into year 3—always a key year in a coach’s tenure:

Pikiell is a genuine guy: I’ve met Pikes a handful of times and people who work for the Rutgers programs more than a handful. Pikiell is always willing to stop and shake the hands of a fan or a reporter or a player. He’ll sit and listen (like, really listen) to you as you try to get your comment in and he will give a thoughtful response. This has rubbed off on the people who work for the program as well. Have a question? People answer and help you with a smile. That goes a long, long way when you’re rebuilding a program and things get tough. Likability helps.

Pikiell Loves Rutgers: You see signs of it everywhere. From day one, he’s gone out to visit the frats to drum up support. This year, he’s judged bed races, been to volleyball games and cheered for the field hockey as they left to head to their NCAA Tournament game. He’s always in videos with Pat Hobbs on social media. And, in any interview, he makes sure not only to pump up the basketball program, but all the other great things at Rutgers too. Again, this helps his likability, and gives him slack with the fanbase when things go wrong.

Pikiell Has a Plan: After striking out with Jose Alvarado, Pikiell’s recruiting really picked up. He landed Geo Baker and Eugene Omoruyi, two underrated guys who he’s started to develop into key players. And then he really prioritized guys who were talented that he was also sure he had a good chance of landing. He eyed Montez Mathis and won a tough battle to get him. He landed Ron Harper Jr before he blew up into a 4 star recruit. And he followed and recruited Paul Mulcahy for a long time and locked down an early verbal commitment from him. To go along with that, Pikiell’s teams have an identity. They are relentless, defend and rebound. You always know what a Pikiell team is going to look like when they hit the court. Pretty soon Pikiell ball will be known as Rutgers basketball. The team has an identity that has been consistent for two years.

Pikiell Has Patience: You can see the coach has been through this all before, and he knows what it takes to turn the program around. He knows that at Rutgers, winning has to be about player development because you aren’t going to land the top guys in New Jersey year in and year out. You have to be smart and you have to take your lumps. But, he also knows you have to show signs going forward. In year 1, the team actually looked like a basketball team. In year 2, he locked down some signature wins against Seton Hall and Indiana. In year 3? There has to be signs of progress again—more competitive games and a few more upsets. The team has to pass the eye test. It probably won’t show in wins again this year, but the worm has to turn a little more. Pikiell knows this.

How excited are you for year 3 of the Steve Pikiell era at Rutgers?

To listen to our podcast with Coach Pikiell, click here.

For more previews of the upcoming basketball season, be sure to click here.