Aundre Hyatt was a top recruiting target for Steve Pikiell in the class of 2019, but the competition was fierce. The 6’6” forward had over a dozen high major offers and the Bronx native ultimately chose to begin his collegiate career at LSU.
After redshirting his first year in Baton Rouge, the former 3-star recruit played in 53 games over the previous two seasons, which includes starting 15 games last year. He averaged 4.2 points and 3.1 rebounds in 16.0 minutes per game for the Tigers.
While he only averaged 3.5 shot attempts per game, Hyatt established himself as a versatile player who was reliable and steady, rarely making mistakes. It was the end of last season where he began to make a bigger impact. Hyatt had 8 points and 8 rebounds in a loss to Alabama in the SEC Championship game, followed by 13 points, 10 rebounds and 4 blocks in LSU’s win over St. Bonaventure in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
“I trust him. He’s steady,” said LSU head coach Will Wade after the win over St. Bonaventure. “He came up huge for us against Alabama, he came up huge for us in this game here.”
Even though he only scored 2 points in the second round loss to Michigan, he contributed with 3 rebounds, 3 steals and 2 assists and played tough defensively.
Hyatt took time after the offseason to make a decision that ultimately landed him in the transfer portal in mid-April. He heard from Pikiell, who had originally offered Hyatt back in December 2016 in the middle of his first season in charge at Rutgers.
Pikiell explained why he was drawn to Hyatt once again. “They were the only two guys (Hyatt and Ralph Agee) who didn’t start the conversation about how many shots am I going to get? Am I going to start? They didn’t start off that way. Aundre started off with how he wants to finish his degree and then wants to go to grad school, as well as be part of a winning program.”
On why Hyatt chose to continue his collegiate career at on the banks, he explained, “This isn’t the same school that recruited me four years ago out of high school. The culture here has changed. Ron, Geo, Paul and Caleb have played a big part in that. I’m ready to step in and make an impact on this team and continue to keep the ball rolling. We want to pick up where we left off last year. I’m really excited.”
Pikiell said of Hyatt, “He brings us experience and can really shoot the ball. He’s blended in nicely.”
The LSU transfer shot 44.7% from the floor last season and is a career 75.0% free throw shooter. His offensive rating of 119.1 was the second best on the team for regular rotation players. While he has never been a consistent three-point shooter, shooting 25.8% in his career, both Hyatt and Pikiell pointed to his improvement in this area this past offseason.
“The transition has been good,” said Hyatt in a recent interview at Rutgers media day. “Being with these guys every day, playing for coach Pikiell and the staff has been really good. Learning the new concepts here and the terminology on the defensive end. I’ve been progressing well.”
“He’s taken on our vocabulary,” said Pikiell. “The hardest thing for kids is when they leave a program is how we teach our cores (concepts) and a lot of it is vocabulary. Screen coverages are called differently. He’s learning all of those things. He is really a bright kid. He competes every day. I think he has brought a level of maturity. He wants to be here. He is close to home and excited to be around his family who can see him play. Guys really like him.”
One player who was very familiar with Hyatt before he arrived at Rutgers this offseason was Ron Harper Jr. In being new to the program and learning this offseason, he explained how beneficial his friend has been in his development.
“It’s been really important,” said Hyatt. “If I’m messing up on an offensive or defensive concept, he is right there to help me out. I can go to him and talk about anything. He is a great teammate. We had a relationship long before this in high school.”
When asked about having his friend in the program, Harper Jr. explained how his presence is helping his own game.
“Being able to play with Aundre, I feel like we learn a lot of things from each other,” he said. “He played in the SEC for two years, I’ve played in the Big Ten for three years. Our playing style is very similar. We can guard 1 through 4 and on the court together, you have two guys that can do the same things. Playing against Aundre in practice is a challenge going up against a guy that similar to me. I’m excited to see what he can do this season.”
As for how Hyatt has been received by the rest of his teammates, he explained, “These guys welcomed me with open arms. I feel like the system that is here, I can fit in and play with anybody. I’m a multiple position guy so I can play different spots on both offense and defense. I feel like I fit in really well.”
Hyatt is expected to be the first man off the bench this season as he looks to help a veteran core take the next step both in Big Ten play and in March. His willingness to fit in with a group that has started so many games at Rutgers previously is part of what makes him such a strong addition, both on the court and with team chemistry.
Pikiell loves roster and lineup versatility, especially having the ability to matchup in different ways on the defensive end. Hyatt provides that flexibility and will take pressure off Harper Jr., who really was the only option at the 4 last season. He will also be an important presence on the court with youngers players coming off the bench like Jaden Jones and Mawot Mag.
“I definitely embrace it a lot,” said Hyatt. “At LSU, I had to guard 4’s and 5’s for most of the season. Just having that experience and being able to come here and adding to my game as well has been really good.”
As for what he thinks this team can accomplish, Hyatt explained how much they’ve all learned from dancing in March last season.
“Having the NCAA Tournament experience has been really good because postseason is you either win or you go home,” commented Hyatt. “Having that mentality and going out playing hard starts in practice and with everything we do. Having that knowledge and experience is going to help us go really far.”