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No rest for the weary this offseason for Rutgers basketball

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The roster reshuffling has officially begun.

Rutgers v Houston Photo by Justin Tafoya/NCAA Photos via Getty Images

The news of Myles Johnson entering the transfer portal on Thursday should not be much of a surprise. He publicly stated more than once that he has applied to several engineering graduate schools which includes Rutgers. However, for Johnson to be able to fully consider his options, he had to enter the transfer portal. Now he can freely communicate with those other schools and in turn the basketball programs, that he is considering. And yet, this predictable news struck a nerve with some Rutgers fans on this site and other platforms. The reactions ranged from casting doubt on the rest of the roster, questioning head coach Steve Pikiell’s ability to keep talent and openly worried about next season’s outlook and beyond.

I understand the visceral reaction that was caused by the news of Johnson leaving.....to a point. He was a tremendous player in his Rutgers career and big men like him don’t grow on trees. However, Johnson has always been different in that academics is a big driver to his decision. He could have the chance to go to three of the top engineering grad schools in the country and still play basketball in a power five conference. If that’s what ultimately happens, then good for him. He deserves that opportunity.

That being said, we are living in a new reality across the college basketball landscape now. Here are reasons why you shouldn’t worry you and instead why you should be excited about this offseason.

Everyone needs to readjust from past history with transfer activity within the game of college basketball. Everything has changed now. Players are going to leave their original school in record numbers.

The NCAA is set to pass a new rule that student-athletes in all sports can transfer without having to sit out a year moving forward. The pool is massive and will exceed 1,000 players in the portal by this weekend. This offseason will result in unprecedented turnover across college basketball. Schools can no longer block players from going to other programs, even within the same conference. That’s a major change too.

Not only is right now the craziest portion of the offseason with the transfer portal expanding by the day, but every fan base is lamenting that its team has gotten worse because none of the players available have chosen a new home yet. Every college basketball roster has holes. It’s way too early to panic.

Rutgers is coming off its most successful season in 38 years. The result of that success works both ways. Steve Pikiell is going to be able to compete for some of the best transfers on the market. At the same time, current players may decide to enter the portal to test the waters and see what options are out there. Their stock could be improved after helping Rutgers to its first NCAA Tournament berth in 30 years.

It is important to remember that when players enter the transfer portal, it is not the same thing as a resignation letter. Players can enter the portal and still return to the same school they were already a part of. So being objective, depending on a players situation, can you blame them for putting their name out there and seeing what options come their way?

I don’t agree with the notion that a player entering the transfer portal means something is wrong with the program or they aren’t happy. Another unique factor to this offseason is that after almost a full year in isolation, it seems pretty normal that an 18-22 year kid would like a chance to see what other opportunities and college environments are out there.

Myles Johnson won’t be the last Rutgers player to enter the transfer portal this offseason. The way college basketball is trending right now, the data backs that thought up. Even if there are several players that do explore other options through the transfer portal, the sky will not be falling.

This is a transition period for Rutgers under Pikiell, but that doesn’t mean it will be a step back next season. Between coming off it’s best campaign in almost four decades, Pikiell’s reputation for developing players and resurrecting the program, to having a state of the art practice facility and one of the best homecourt advantages in college basketball, Rutgers is well positioned to add talent to the roster. If you are concerned that Pikiell won’t have success filling roster spots as they become available on the transfer market, just think back throughout his entire tenure.

His first season Pikiell brought JUCO transfer Candido Sa to the program. The big man was fielding interest from Texas, Baylor, PITT, and Western Kentucky. While Sa didn’t become an impact starter, he served ably as a reliable bench player for two seasons.

In addition, graduate center C.J. Gettys from UNC-Wilmington committed to Rutgers at the end of the summer. He started all 33 games that season and posted the best stats by far of his college career with 7.7 points and 5.0 rebounds.

The next year Pikiell brought in Peter Kiss from Quinnipiac who started 12 games and averaged 6.0 points and 18 minutes per contest. JUCO guard Souf Mensah joined the program as well. This was the worst transfer class that Pikiell had at Rutgers. Kiss played just 2 games the following season and Mensah was out of college basketball altogether. The key takeaway though was that each year Rutgers was improving and that was in large part due to the steady increase in talent being infused onto the roster. He continued to get better players and some like Kiss went from starter to end of the bench.

During the summer of 2018, fresh off a quarterfinals run at the Big Ten Tournament at Madison Square Garden, Pikiell shocked many by landing former 4-star guard Jacob Young. If you remember, his visit and subsequent commitment came very quickly and seemed to be virtually out nowhere. There were no obvious connections between Young and Rutgers. However, it came down to fit and while it wasn’t exactly clear the role that Young would play, we know now Pikiell knew exactly what he was doing by adding him to the roster. His impact was huge as he became an integral part of the core of the team that produced the two most successful campaigns in back to back years.

While Young sat out that first season due to transfer rules at the time, Pikiell brought in another JUCO big man named Shaq Carter. He was one of the most highly sought after JUCO players that recruiting cycle. His presence off the bench and as a rim defender for two years was sorely missed this past season.

Akwasi Yeboah came to Rutgers during Pikiell’s fourth season from his former home at Stony Brook. Although he never played for Pikiell there, the relationship was strong after being recruited by him initially. Yeboah was a valuable starter last season who could play inside and out, defend, rebound and was a veteran leader on the team.

The bottom line is that Pikiell has hit on more transfer players than he has missed and it came during a time that the program had little credibility. He landed them all before ever posting a winning season at Rutgers. Even so, he has added a transfer that has started double digit games in four of the last five seasons.

Pikiell has built things from the ground up and his consistency in finding transfers that are good fits and that are productive has been key to his success. Now that an offseason that will be like none other previously, he has Rutgers with serious momentum coming off its best season in 38 years. There should be confidence that he will find the right fits to fill out the roster for next season depending on what is needed.

It’s going to be a roller coaster ride this next few months. Pikiell likes to stay under the radar when pursuing targets so don’t be alarmed if you don’t hear Rutgers name too often. He has proven to navigate the transfer waters well and now that the storm is here, Pikiell is ready. If he can land a talent the likes of Young after winning six Big Ten regular season games over two seasons, he will be just fine plugging holes this offseason with a deeper and more talented pool to draw from than he has had in years past. The interest from higher end players to want to come to Piscataway will be greater than ever before.

Rutgers basketball is in a period of transition. Several core players that helped turn things around are or may eventually leave this offseason. However, Pikiell has built a strong foundation for continued success. Players will come. Players will go. The path for the program to continue moving forward is still clear with a steady driver like Pikiell at the wheel. Enjoy the ride.