Rutgers men’s basketball completed its best season in decades with one of the strangest months in the sport’s history. They defeated a top ten team in Maryland, won a key road game at Purdue, completed a 20 win campaign for the first time in decades, finished in a four way tie for fifth place in the Big Ten, and was poised to end a 29 year drought in earning a bid for the NCAA Tournament. Of course, it all came to a screeching halt with the global pandemic of COVID-19 and sports across the world have shut down indefinitely. However, Sunday is a huge day for the program, as it could end this March with a victory that could resonate for years on the recruiting trail.
4-star big man Cliff Omoruyi is set to announce his college decision on Sunday at 12 p.m. ET. It’s between Auburn, Arizona State and Rutgers, all of whom he took official visits to in recent months. If Omoruyi chose Rutgers, he would be the highest ranked recruit to become a Scarlet Knight since McDonald’s All-American Mike Rosario came to Piscataway 13 years ago. Omoruyi is currently ranked as the 41st best prospect in the nation, as well as 3rd in his class in New Jersey and 8th overall at his position per 247 Sports composite rankings. I previously profiled his potential impact here.
As Rutgers basketball fans, we have been here before, as there have been plenty of near misses over the years for this program when it comes to top recruits from the Garden State. The ghosts of Tim Thomas, Jay Williams, Troy Murphy, Lance Thomas, Josh Hart and even Isaiah Briscoe echoed through the rafters of the RAC for years after Rutgers fell short in landing those impact players. With each, there were periods during their recruitment where it seemed Rutgers had a legitimate chance to land them. Tim Thomas going to Villanova after they hired his high school coach and Williams’ mother falling in love with the Duke campus after he was supposedly set on joining his best friend Dahntay Jones on the banks is stuff of that keeps longtime fans up at night.
Even under Steve Pikiell, his recruiting success has come mostly outside of New Jersey. Plenty of top NJ talent never included Rutgers as a finalist, including recent recruits during the Pikiell era like Naz Reid, Scottie Lewis, Bryan Antoine, Louis King, and Jahvon Quinerly. It wasn’t fair to expect they would with the rebuilding that was needed at Rutgers and Pikiell wisely added talent wherever he could find it.
While Ron Harper Jr. and Paul Mulcahy were great local recruiting wins the previous two cycles, both were ranked as the 7th best recruit in New Jersey in their respective classes. Recruiting isn’t just about rankings and its clear both players are excellent fits for the program. However, it’s important for the long term success of the program under Pikiell that he eventually land an elite recruit in the Garden State to continue to improve both perception and the on court product of Rutgers. Winning does that more than anything and after a breakout season, landing a top 50 national recruit in Omoruyi would be the cherry on top to a tremendous fourth year for Pikiell.
Omoruyi would give Rutgers a much needed inside presence next season and beyond. The difference with him and other top New Jersey recruits is that Omoruyi is a bit raw, having only played organized basketball for a handful of years. His athleticism and explosiveness is off the charts. He could be a great rebounder and rim defender as early as next season, but he will need time to develop offensively, as do most 4 & 5’s when entering the college game. With a 6’10” frame and his natural athletic ability, Pikiell and the staff could develop him into a top big man in the conference. Pikiell has proven his worth in developing so many less heralded recruits than Omoruyi over the years. In addition, he helped make Jameel Warney, who also played for Omoruyi’s high school coach Dave Boff at Roselle Catholic, a three-time conference player of the year at Stony Brook.
The key difference with Omoruyi between other top recruits that Rutgers has missed on previously appears to be that he has a reported desire to stay local, wants to go to a great engineering school, and is very likely to stick around for more than just a season before chasing his professional dreams. Recruiting is about fit and between his off the court goals, as well as his needing a staff to help him grow on the court, Rutgers seems like an ideal option. Of course, all the national experts from 247 Sports are predicting Arizona State as of now, but where Cliff ultimately ends up remains to be seen. (Update: two analysts have flipped their prediction to Rutgers after this article was posted.)
The coaching staff, players and even fans have done all they can to show Omoruyi that Rutgers is the place for him. We’ll find out Sunday if he does become a Scarlet Knight and if that happens, Pikiell will complete the best month for the program in many, many years, as well as change perception on the recruiting trail for the future. With the way this past season went, why not believe Rutgers will win this battle too?
Update: Omoruyi committed to Rutgers, click here for the story.