While the season was ended abruptly for Rutgers men’s basketball back in March, the program is set to return with more goals than making the NCAA Tournament for the first time in three decades. In a video conference call with media on Monday, head coach Steve Pikiell addressed his desire to be at the “forefront of the change” in this country following the death of George Floyd, as well as his hope to return to campus with his team in late June and plan to navigate through the global coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
First, Pikiell spoke about promoting social justice and racial equality. “I fully support the fight for change in our country. What happened to George Floyd in Minneapolis is unacceptable and wrong. My heart really goes out to his family and all the families that have been affected by similar events.
“Racial injustice has existed in our country for too long. In the year 2020, it’s evident that we have a long way to go and a lot of work to do. I pledge to do everything I can as the head men’s basketball coach at Rutgers University to be actively involved in the positive change that is needed. Our program will take meaningful action and will be at the forefront of this effort. We will embrace the work that needs to be done in order to provide a better future. We must stand together to create the change that is needed in this country because lives are at stake.”
Pikiell has spoken to many of his players about the recent events in this country since the death of Floyd, explaining his approach by stating, “The real good thing to do at this point is be a real good listener. We just had some real good conversations and more on how moving forward we can effect change. We have on campus the Paul Robeson Cultural Center and he was really a pioneer and an activist here back in the Twenties. There are some really good resources for our players out here in New Jersey. Our players have talked a lot about the different things that we can do: Voting, fundraising, and using our visibility as a program to put together a game plan.”
He continued regarding his and the program’s commitment to change, stating, “Now we don’t have all the answers right now, but what I’m hearing from everyone is change has to happen and we all need to be a part of that change from the basketball coaches, the teachers, regular people and even the media. We need to make sure we are writing more articles about the injustices going on. We have to come together as a team and formulate our game plan because I want to be at the forefront of the change and have a good game plan going forward. When you listen, you find out a lot and it’s a great time to be a good listener for all of us.”
In regard to captain Geo Baker and star Ron Harper Jr. being outspoken on social media during the recent national events, Pikiell praised his duo. “Proud of my guys and appreciate that they have a voice. I support them fully with their platforms. There is a lot of self reflection and a lot of things we can do moving forward. There are a lot of questions and I think it’s a good thing that we ask those questions too. I think our players and our program want to be a part of the solution and the change.”
Pikiell praised the entire team for how they’ve handled things since March, stating, “They’ve had to deal with a lot the last few months and I’m proud of the way they’ve dealt with it during such an unprecedented time. I think as they get back on campus and some normalcy with basketball, it will be a good thing for them.”
Pikiell began the call by issuing the following statement:
“I fully support the fight for change in our country. What happened to George Floyd in Minneapolis is unacceptable and WRONG. My heart goes out to his family and all families that have been affected by similar events. Racial injustice has existed in our country for too long. In the year 2020 it is evident that we have a long way to go and a lot of work to do.”
“I pledge to do everything I can as the Head Men’s Basketball Coach at Rutgers University to be actively involved in the positive change that is needed. Our program will take meaningful action and be at the forefront of this effort. We will embrace the work that needs to be done in order to provide a better future.”
“We must stand together to create the change that is needed in this country because lives are at stake.”
To read about Pikiell’s plan for a return of on-campus workouts for the program later this month, click here.