If there is one anecdote to sum up how far senior center Shaq Doorson has come under Steve Pikiell and this coaching staff, it’s this: In Pikiell’s first game as Rutgers coach against Division II Molloy in the 2016-2017 season opener, Doorson played 1 minute off the bench and the only stat he produced was 2 fouls. It was his first game after missing the previous season due to a foot injury, something he battled with from the early to mid part of his career. It’s amazing to think back to that moment and to realize how far Shaq has come in regard to the impact he has had on the current Rutgers team.
Doorson is averaging career highs per game in points at 3.9, rebounds at 4.5, blocks at 1.1 and minutes at 18.4. He has started every game this season and been a reliable presence in the paint on both ends of the floor. Defensively, he has been a consistent force and rim protector, holding his own against some of the top big men in the Big Ten. Another impressive stat is that Shaq has picked up four or more fouls in a game just twice this season, fouling out just once. He has been extremely steady and reliable, which is invaluable for such a young and inexperienced team.
In regard to efficiency numbers, they highlight how effective Shaq has been this season. He has the 15th best offensive rebounding rate in Big Ten play at 9.7% and 12.2% for the entire season, which is 101st nationally. His block rate of 5.6% is 10th best in Big Ten play and at 6.8% overall is 99th nationally. He is shooting 61.7% from the floor in league action, which is 4th best and his 64.4% field goal percentage overall this season is 58th best in the nation.
While he stands at 7 feet tall, Shaq is all heart and my favorite performance of his this season came against Rutgers’ blood rival Seton Hall. He produced a line of 4 points, 12 rebounds (tied a career high), 3 steals, and 2 blocks, helping to pull the game close in the final minutes after trailing by double figures most of the way. Although Rutgers lost, it was obvious back in December how important Doorson would be for this team in conference play moving forward.
It’s more than the numbers though. His improvement and impact started to shine through last season. He wasn’t the main reason Rutgers went on the Quarterfinals run at in the Big Ten Tournament last season, but he helped solidify things when Pikiell started him the last four games of the year after not having done so previously. His defense in particular stood out at the end of last season and he has been very good in this area his entire senior campaign.
Shaq has fought through a lot of adversity in his career and one of the most enjoyable parts of this season is seeing how much impact his contribution has made. He is one of two captains and has mentored redshirt freshman Myles Johnson, who raves about how much Doorson has helped him. His steady demeanor and imposing physical presence helps Rutgers on the court. Off it, he is a great student studying for his masters degree and is a truly nice person. When I’ve spoken to him previously, he is soft spoken, thoughtful and its obvious how much he cares about Rutgers basketball. This season was his chance to leave a lasting impact on the program, which he took very seriously, and it’s satisfying to see him doing just that.
Under Steve Pikiell and his coaching staff of Karl Hobbs, Jay Young, and Brandin Knight, player development has been a major focus and huge key to the program’s overall improvement. While there have been quite a few success stories so far in the Pikiell era, there hasn’t been a more improbable turnaround then with Shaq Doorson, based on the body of work he produced previously. He transformed his body and got stronger with the help of strength and conditioning coach David Van Dyke, as well as trainer Rich Campbell. Shaq put in the work and after being an afterthought for most of his career, has emerged as an integral part for the surprise team in the Big Ten this season.
Doorson is a relic from the past, the last Eddie Jordan era recruit who remains. He has helped bridge the gap for the program, having lived through dark days for himself being injured, as well as how low things got for the team on the court. He is symbolic of the entire program rebuild, nursing back to health, getting stronger and better, working hard the whole way and then becoming an improved player moving forward. Shaq grinded it out the Pikiell way and has reaped the benefits.
Rutgers (14-14; 7-11) has a major opportunity on Wednesday (7 p.m.) to sweep the season series against Penn State. It’s officially a sellout and a win would guarantee a .500 regular season finish and push Rutgers closer to an opening round bye in next week’s Big Ten Tournament. Those would be significant steps forward after four consecutive last place finishes. The program is achieving a lot of first’s this season since joining the Big Ten and the only player that’s been a part of it all these past five years has been Doorson. Hopefully, Rutgers can continue to climb up the conference standings with a win in the last home game at the RAC. Either way, Doorson deserves to be saluted by the home faithful with multiple ovations on Wednesday night. His impact has been significant and it will be noticed even more next season when he is gone.
Watch head coach Steve Pikiell speak about the impact Shaq has had here: