The roster for the Rutgers men’s basketball team will look very different next season, as just five scholarship players that have seen game action previously return. While replacing Corey Sanders in the backcourt will be a major task, especially establishing who will be the player to take over offensively at the end of games, there are options. The Rutgers roster has Geo Baker returning after a promising freshman campaign, transfer Peter Kiss is now active and has already spent a year within the program, as well as newcomers 4-star recruit Montez Mathis and 3-star recruit Caleb McConnell coming on board. While a true point guard is still missing for next season and Texas transfer Jacob Young will have to sit-out the game schedule, it’s possible that Rutgers will experience more scoring production from its backcourt next season versus last, even with the loss of Sanders and captain Mike Williams.
In my opinion, the loss of Deshawn Freeman is more of a concern from a production standpoint on the offensive end next season. While Freeman struggled at times in Big Ten play and wasn’t always a reliable low post scoring threat, he had a solid two year career at Rutgers, as he was most notably the leading rebounder and captain for the Scarlet Knights the past two seasons. In his senior campaign, he averaged 11.1 points, 7.3 rebounds, and 1.5 steals in 25.3 minutes per game. Freeman did regress shooting wise from the floor during his junior season, dropping from 48.9% from two-point range to 42.9% his senior year. However, he did improve from the free throw line, making 71.5% of his 130 attempts, a 10% improvement on a similar amount of attempts from the previous year, which is substantial. The bottom line is Freeman gave Rutgers a reliable, Big Ten quality forward for two seasons and his overall production will be missed.
While Rutgers hopes for continued improvement from captains Shaq Doorson and Eugene Omoruyi, the latter certainly having a chance to average close to a double-double next season, their production needs to increase versus being replaced. The addition of redshirt freshman Myles Johnson could be a big boost for the frontcourt, but how much of a factor he can be in his first high major season remains to be seen. Enter JUCO transfer Shaq Carter, who in my opinion is the logical replacement in the starting lineup for Freeman. Not only do they have similar backgrounds in starring for nationally ranked JUCO teams before arriving at Rutgers, Carter has the opportunity to step right in based on his skill set to be Freeman’s natural replacement and perhaps even be an upgrade.
At 6’9”, Carter is two inches taller than Freeman, but has similar strengths with his rebounding ability and knack for scoring near the rim. He is a bit more bulky as well, giving hope that he will be ready to step in and battle in the interior in Big Ten play from game one on, giving the Scarlet Knights an even more physical presence down low defensively. Carter is an active player on the defensive end and gives Rutgers added size at the forward position. He runs the floor well for a big man and seems to play under control on both ends, despite being so active.
He played at JUCO powerhouse Eastern Florida State the past two seasons and 247 Sports ranked Carter the second best JUCO forward and 12th best JUCO player overall for this past recruiting cycle. The 6’9” Carter took official visits to Rutgers, Xavier, Washington State, and Middle Tennessee State (a solid mid-major with connections to ESFU) and held over a dozen mid to high major offers. They included Purdue, Auburn, Iowa State, LSU, Wichita State and Memphis, according to 247 Sports. If Carter hadn’t signed with Rutgers in the fall, he would have been one of the top JUCO players available this past spring and his list of suitors likely would have grown, as programs like Kansas, USC, and West Virginia showed interest before he signed with Rutgers.
Carter posted solid stats at Eastern Florida State in his two seasons, registering 58 starts in 71 games. As a freshman during the 2016-2017 season, Carter started all 37 games, averaging 9.2 points, 6.2 rebounds, and 1.1 blocks in 21.8 minutes per contest. He shot 56.6% from the field on 235 attempts, while his biggest weakness was from the free throw line, making just 59.5% on 126 attempts. Shaq was a key member of a team that made it all the way to the JUCO national championship game, where he performed well despite his team losing, producing 14 points on 5 of 9 shooting from the field, 4 of 4 from the free throw line, while adding 8 rebounds and 2 steals in 29 minutes.
As a sophomore, Carter played 34 games and averaged 8.0 points, 7.0 rebounds, and 0.7 blocks in 20.5 minutes per contest. He improved his shooting from the floor to 58.5% on 183 attempts, while experiencing a slight dip from the charity stripe, making 58.2% of his 98 attempts. Eastern Florida State won 30 games and has several players headed to Division I programs next season. Considering his minutes were limited with a loaded roaster and that he only averaged about 6 field goal attempts per game over his two year career there, Carter actually has the potential to improve his offensive production if he can seize the starting role at Rutgers.
However, don‘t expect him to take a 15 foot jumper on the perimeter or even venture behind the arc much, something Freeman did more of towards the end of his career on the banks. Carter’s offensive game is less diverse than Freeman’s, as he rarely takes shots outside of the paint and from too far away from the rim. Carter fits perfectly with the mentality Pikiell preaches to his big men, as he has the ability to rebound on the offensive glass and finish with put backs and dunks. He is also a big target with solid hands for the guards to find in traffic when attacking the rim. One aspect of Carter’s game that is is desperately needed is that he plays with high energy on both ends of the floor. He doesn’t appear to take defensive possessions off and should be a solid defender in the paint at the next level. Paired with Omoruyi and Doorson in the frontcourt, as well as a bulked up Johnson, Rutgers could have improved interior defense next season with the addition of Carter.
Shaq #2 also played with the USA Elite Selection U23 Team after his JUCO season was over, gaining valuable experience to help prepare him for the college game.
He is now at Rutgers and working daily within the program. With two seasons of eligibility and the need to replace the production of Deshawn Freeman the previous two years, Rutgers needs Carter to hit the ground running in November once the season begins. He is a player who is still developing after a late start to the game of basketball while growing up. With the right tutelage, Carter could become more valuable to Rutgers than even Freeman was. And, of course, he is in good hands with assistant Jay Young, who coaches the frontcourt. That’s not meant to disparage what Freeman contributed to the program over the past two years, because it was substantial. I just think Carter has the potential to be even better, based on his skill set and room to still develop his game. If head coach Steve Pikiell wants to lead Rutgers out of the Big Ten basement for the first time ever next season, he’ll need Carter to be a big contributor from day one.