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3-star guard Caleb McConnell Visits Rutgers Basketball As Program Pursues Several Grad Transfers As Well

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With three open scholarships available, the coaching staff is hard at work

Rutgers v Michigan State Photo by Rey Del Rio/Getty Images

With three open scholarships for next season after the departures of Corey Sanders, Matt Bullock, and Souf Mensah, the Rutgers men’s basketball coaching staff have a lot of work to do on the recruiting trail. However, they’ve proven the last couple of years that they are extremely organized and prepared in their ability to evolve the roster, as evidenced by already having signed 4-star guard Montez Mathis, JUCO standout Shaq Carter, and one of New Jersey’s top scholastic players in Ron Harper Jr. They now have a great opportunity to add even more talent to the roster for next season.

While the spring national signing day period is now open, understand that Rutgers can sign players all the way through the end of summer. The program landed Myles Johnson last year on Mother’s Day and Mamadou Doucoure surprisingly joined the program last August, after reclassifying. The previous year, Rutgers landed CJ Gettys and Eugene Omoruyi in August also. It’s only mid-April and the list of transfers around college basketball is still growing and plenty of possibilities can still develop in the coming months.

Finding impact high school recruits this late in the recruiting cycle is a challenge, but Rutgers has honed in on 3-star guard Caleb McConnell, who visited the program this past weekend.

Update: Caleb McConnell committed to Rutgers on Sunday night.

The 6’5” guard from Ohio is rated a 3-star recruit by 247 sports, who list offers from West Virginia, Wichita State, UMASS, St. Bonaventure, Akron, and Ohio, among others. McConnell played this past season at the SPIRE Academy in Jacksonville, Florida. He is a versatile guard who can handle the basketball, score in multiple ways, defend multiple positions and rebound, making him a good fit in Steve Pikiell’s backcourt. With no true point guard on the roster at this time, Rutgers needs to add ball handlers and McConnell would certainly help in that area. Players who can create off the dribble and get to the rim are a major need and he has that ability. Physically, he needs to bulk up his 175 pound frame, but that’s typical of any incoming freshman and was the case with another under recruited 3-star guard Rutgers found last year in Geo Baker. He would benefit greatly in working under the direction of strength and conditioning guru David Van Dyke.

Getting McConnell on campus this late in the game is a good sign, as Rutgers has made him a top priority in the past month plus. They’ve visited him multiple times and his skill set, along with his potential to develop over his four year career, make him an intriguing prospect. It’s possible he could make a decision soon and if Rutgers does land him, it would be a solid win on the recruiting trail. It would also be good timing, as the staff would have filled one spot for next season in relatively short order. Here are recent highlights of McConnell from the past year.

Another thing to consider is that there is only one senior on the roster in center Shaq Doorson, which as of now would give Rutgers just one scholarship available in the class of 2019. It’s highly unlikely the staff will keep things that way, which means they are looking to add at least one grad transfer candidate. It makes sense to add an experienced player to an overall young group next season. It would also give them roster flexibility by ensuring at least a second scholarship will be available for the 2019 class. Here are some options that the staff have reportedly explored.

Tarin Smith is a grad transfer from Duquesne that is from New Jersey and played at St. Anthony’s in high school. Smith started his college career at Nebraska, but transferred to Duquense after one season. He became a key starter for the Atlantic-10 program and averaged 12.4 points, 3.2 assists, 3.0 rebounds, and 1.0 steal last season. He shot 41.4% from the field, 33.3% from three-point range and 65.7% from the free throw line. As it is with any competent grad transfer player, the competition is fierce for Smith.

Having played for Bob Hurley Sr. in high school made it predictable that newly hired UConn coach Danny Hurley would be among the coaches to reach out to Smith and he was able to get the first visit this past weekend. Smith also played at Nebraska under newly hired UConn assistant Kenya Hunter. The Huskies certainly appear to be the front runner for his services, but at least Rutgers is making a play for the versatile player.

Update: Smith committed to UConn Sunday afternoon.

Another grad transfer that the coaching staff have reportedly reached out to is former Fordham player Joseph Chartouny.

Reading the list of programs that ESPN’s Jeff Goodman reported as pursuing Chartouny highlights how competitive the grad transfer market can be. The 6’3” versatile guard from Canada led Fordham in minutes played, rebounds, assists, and steals last season. His full stat line was 12.2 points, 5.6 rebounds, 4.5 assists, 3.3 steals, but he shot just 37.1% from the field and 28.4% from three-point range, while making 69.7% from the free throw line. Still, Chartouny would be a valuable pickup for any high major program. He reportedly hosted Louisville for a home visit this weekend and is scheduled to take an official visit to Marquette next weekend. This is another target that Rutgers appears to be facing an uphill battle on, but credit them for making a play for him.

While there haven’t been any other grad transfer names reported that Rutgers is pursuing, there are likely several others they are in contact with. One name I’ve heard that Rutgers is pursuing per a source is 6’8” forward Femi Olujobi, who is from Long Island, New York and is transferring from North Carolina A&T. He originally played two seasons at Oakland, before sitting out the 2016-2017 season after transferring to the MEAC school. Olujobi led North Carolina A&T in minutes played, scoring, rebounding, and blocks this past season. He averaged 16.3 points, 7.7 rebounds, 1.2 assists, and 0.7 blocks in 31.9 minutes per game. Olujobi told the Greensboro News & Record a couple of weeks ago that over 50 programs reached out to him once he announced he was transferring. Here is what he had to say about playing near home:

“Being home isn’t a factor, but don’t get me wrong, it would be a plus to go back and play in front of my family or somewhere close,” he said. “I’m not really factoring that into my recruitment too much; I’m just looking for a place that I can fit within the system to be really good.”

Like most grad transfers, finding a program that gives them a chance to play in the NCAA Tournament and puts them on the radar at the pro level seem to be important factors for Olujobi. Rutgers does offer a chance for him to be a impact player next season on the Big Ten stage, which could boost his pro stock immensely. St. John’s reportedly visited with the big man this week, but NY Post reporter Zach Braziller seems to think they aren’t in the race for his services any longer. It will be interesting to see where Olujobi ultimately lands and give Rutgers credit for pursuing him. Steve Pikiell told me last week that the offense would be different next season with a renewed focus on interior scoring, something Olujobi would help quite a bit with. Here are his highlights from last season.

For hoops fans missing college basketball already, recruiting news is a top focus this time of year. For Rutgers fans, there is extra anxiety with the departure of leading scorer Corey Sanders and questions of who will replace the production he, Deshawn Freeman, and Mike Williams delivered last season. The good news is that the coaching staff continues to pound the recruiting trail and are exploring all options among available high school players, JUCO players, and all transfer possibilities. They could choose to fill all three spots, or possibly leave one open to save for the class of 2019. It likely depends on how many grad transfer players they ultimately land.

This is an exciting time as Pikiell is knee deep into his third year on the job, as the roster has turned over almost completely since he took over the program. With just five returning players next season, the team will be very different. How the staff fill the three remaining scholarships remains to be seen, but the possibilities to add talent to the roster for next season are intriguing. It’s important to be patient and measured, but it’s okay to be optimistic too. Landing a four year player like McConnell would be a solid add this late in the 2018 recruiting cycle, while the possibility of adding a grad transfer like Smith, Chartouny or Olujobi would be promising additions for next season as well. If it doesn’t work out with any of those possibilities, know the staff have plenty of other options they are pursuing and there will be plenty of recruiting updates to come in the days and weeks to come. It will be fascinating to see how the roster for next season ultimately fills out.

Update: Caleb McConnell committed to Rutgers Sunday night.