It was January 9th, 2016, Rutgers vs Nebraska at the RAC where the 1975-1976 Final Four team would be honored. I was able to get two tickets as a birthday present for my father. Rutgers was at the tail end of the Eddie Jordan era but despite their struggles, I was confident they’d fight hard in front of the home crowd honoring the greatest Rutgers men’s basketball team in history. Instead, it was another embarrassing loss to a program that was clearly headed towards the lowest depths of the Big Ten. Driving home that night I can honestly say it was the only time I had to really question — why am I doing this to myself? As Rutgers fans we’re used to hard times, but man, this one felt personal.
Fast forward to September 5th, 2017, I wrote my first article for On The Banks entitled, A Long Term Path To The Dance. The program was now in the hands of former Stony Brook head coach Steve Pikiell. After a nightmarish Jordan era, the program seemed to have turned a corner. Yes, the losses continued but the way in which they were losing seemed to be changing. Coach Pikiell instilled fundamentals such as defense and rebounding, something that would keep them in games despite their shooting issues. Insert a few under the radar recruits like Myles Johnson and transfers like Jacob Young and suddenly Rutgers had the talent to compete in the Big Ten. Yes, they have their faults and at times will make you pull your hair out. But consider the progress this program has made. They’ve gone from being the joke of the Big Ten to having quality quad 1 wins on its NCAA Tournament tresume.
So as Rutgers prepares for it’s first March Madness appearance since 1991, I’ve got one message to fans — just enjoy it. Whether they lose in the first round or go full Cinderella mode and get to a Sweet Sixteen, just enjoy the ride and to quote Rutgers legend Jim Valvano, “Don’t give up. Don’t ever give up!”