Rutgers men’s basketball head coach Steve Pikiell turned his vision into a reality in his fourth season on the banks. The Scarlet Knights beat four ranked opponents, won 20 regular season games for the first time in 37 years, and achieved the program’s first winning record in Big Ten play since joining the league six years ago. If the postseason wasn’t abruptly cancelled due to COVID-19, Rutgers would have earned its first NCAA Tournament berth in 29 years. The job Pikiell has done so far has been extremely impressive, but hopefully he is just getting started.
While building Rutgers into a winning team was an extremely difficult task, the next step is establishing the program as one of the better one’s in the Big Ten and across college basketball long term.
Landing Top 50 and 4-star recruit Cliff Omoruyi after this past season was a major step forward on the recruiting trail. Securing a commitment from an impact recruit who was one of the best local prospects in the 2020 class was exactly the type of win Pikiell and his staff needed to keep momentum moving forward. Overall, the incoming class is comprised of four players with different skill sets that is ranked 36th nationally and 6th in the Big Ten per 247 composite rankings. It signals a major step forward for Rutgers, but the 2021 class has a chance to be even better.
Another positive sign of the job the coaching staff is doing on the recruiting trail was securing a verbal commitment of Jaden Jones back in early March. The Top 100 and 4-star recruit is a playmaking wing that can score at all three levels. The fact that he is from Texas and plays for a prep school in Missouri shows the growing positive perception of Rutgers across the recruiting and college basketball landscape.
Getting recruits to believe in the direction of your program is key to success for any head coach, but for Rutgers to take the next step, doing that with elite prospects consistently year over year is essential.
The top target for the 2021 class for the Scarlet Knights lives just a stone’s throw away from campus. 6’8” wing Trey Patterson is from nearby Somerset, New Jersey and attends Rutgers Prep. He is a 4-star recruit that 247 composite rankings list as the 35th best prospect in the entire 2021 class, 8th best wing nationally and 2nd best player in New Jersey. On Saturday, Patterson announced the final ten schools that he is considering and as expected, Rutgers was included.
Simply put, Patterson has the potential to be the best player that Rutgers has had in many years. He can play multiple positions on offense, as well as defend multiple positions at the next level. His versatility, athleticism, and shooting ability gives hope that Patterson can develop into a superstar. He has a great first step, can create off the dribble, is a solid shooter from behind the arc and is an elite scorer at the rim. While Patterson has room to improve defensively, as do most high school players, he is capable of becoming an elite defender at the next level. Adding strength to his already sturdy frame will make him even more dangerous.
Anthony Wright, a former Michigan basketball player, analyzed Patterson’s potential in this highlight video.
Patterson is a polished recruit in the sense that he has been a highly rated prospect for years. He is accustomed to high expectations and the pressure that comes with that, something that will help him as he develops into a lead player for a high major college program. His family is also knowledgeable in the recruiting process, as his father played for St. Francis (PA) and his mother played at Seton Hall.
While Villanova has been speculated as the favorite for Patterson, Rutgers is right in the mix entering his senior season.
Of the ten schools that Patterson listed on Saturday, Rutgers has been recruiting him the longest. They offered him back on May 1st, 2017, well over a year before any other program that the talented wing is still considering. It’s a trademark of Pikiell during his tenure at Rutgers. Establishing priority targets early on in the recruiting cycle, which gives them a chance at the end once the blue bloods circle the wagons later on. It’s something that resonated with Paul Mulcahy and Cliff Omoruyi during their recruitment. It kept Ron Harper Jr. from even wanting to consider other programs in his recruiting process.
Patterson is the ultimate player for a coach like Pikiell. He can play multiple positions on both ends of the floor, has a diverse skill set and by all accounts is extremely coachable. If Patterson ultimately chooses Rutgers, it would be the fourth consecutive recruiting cycle that Pikiell and his coaching staff would land their top target (Montez Mathis in 2018, Mulcahy in 2019, Omoruyi in 2020). That would be a remarkable achievement and quite a statement in recruiting circles.
In regard to the impact it would have on the future of the program on the court, it would be immense. Adding Patterson to a class that already includes Jones would give Rutgers two heralded wings with size that can shoot and score at a high level. For a team that already plays defense at an elite level, the ability to add playmakers on the offensive end is a major key towards becoming a top program.
With three scholarships expected to be available as of now for the 2021 class, Rutgers is also pursuing 4-star point guard Jaylen Blakes from Blair Academy. He is rated the 134th best prospect in the 2021 class, 24th best point guard and 4th best player in New Jersey.
If Pikiell and staff are able to land two of the top four players in the state in this recruiting cycle in Patterson and Blakes, it would be a guaranteed Top 25 class nationally with Jones already committed.
When Pikiell took over Rutgers, his willingness to battle top programs for elite recruits was admirable, but no one ever gave him a chance. It was with good reason, as Rutgers had never previously kept top local players home and he was trying to rebuild the worst high major program in college basketball. It’s incredible to process how drastically things have changed.
After producing a 20 win season and tying for 5th place in the Big Ten, Pikiell’s recruiting pitch has gained considerable credibility. He has produced positive results in a relatively short amount of time, which some believed wasn’t ever possible at Rutgers. It has now become the ultimate selling tool. Pikiell has proven to be a genuine coach that resonates with families on the recruiting trail, but more importantly, backs it up with the loyalty he establishes from his players. This year’s team was fully bought in, played unselfishly and had great chemistry. Now that Rutgers is winning, Pikiell has established a firm seat at the table with top recruits moving forward.
Patterson is an extremely exciting prospect and would be an enormous addition to the program if he ultimately chooses Rutgers. It would mark the biggest win on the recruiting trail during the Pikiell era. While it’s expected Patterson will take his time and likely want to make many visits before a decision is made, it’s clear Pikiell has a legitimate chance to land the program changing player. The most impressive thing about his tenure so far has been his ability to turn checkpoints for progress and success that were once dreams into reality. That is certainly the case for Rutgers now on the recruiting trail and the 2021 class could end up being one of the most special in program history.