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Rutgers men’s basketball recruiting update 2.0

Another deep dive into how the Scarlet Knights are attacking the transfer portal as Steve Pikiell looks to add to the roster for next season.

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: NOV 12 Niagara at Ohio State
Marcus Hammond drives past an Ohio State defender during the first week of the 2021-2022 season.

The offseason is almost a month old and Rutgers men’s basketball is actively pursuing players in the transfer portal. With the departure of three seniors and three potential early exits for the pros, head coach Steve Pikiell can sell potential newcomers on the opportunity to make a big impact next season for a team that’s qualified for three NCAA Tournaments in a row. More minutes and more shots are available compared to how the roster was shaping up last offseason. While it’s fair to be concerned in needing to replace so much production from last season, there are plenty of options in the transfer portal to be able to add to the roster. There are currently over 1,200 players in the portal as of mid-April.

Update 4/14: Wright committed to Colorado

Original portion:

Ethan Wright has been the most visible top target for Rutgers this offseason and the transfer from Princeton just visited Colorado this past weekend. He remains uncommitted, so the race for Wright is still alive.

What makes Wright desirable is his shooting, experience, decision making, ability to limit turnovers, his rebounding and his scrappy mentality with a willingness to dive for loose balls. His catch and release from three-point range is so quick and efficient, it makes him difficult to contain along the perimeter.

The Second Team All-Ivy League selection is a highly efficient offensive player who produced a rating of 115.1 last season. He was 76th in the country with a 59.7% effective field goal percentage and had a 13.4 turnover rate that ranked 414th nationally. The surprising part about Wright, a natural 2-guard, is his ability to rebound. He was fourth in the Ivy League with 6.9 boards per game and was 178th nationally with a 21.3% defensive rebounding rate. As good of an outside shooter as Wright is at 39.5%, he shot 61.3% from two-point range, ranking 121st last season.

Hopefully, Rutgers can get Wright to take an official visit soon. While he attended Princeton just south on Route 1, he is from Massachusetts so staying local in New Jersey is unlikely to be a priority of Wright.

Here are highlights from a 28 point game he had last season against FDU.

Wright averaged 15.3 points over four games against South Carolina, Minnesota, Oregon State and VCU in shooting 46% overall and 11 of 26 from three for 42.3%. He also had 39 rebounds in those four games with two resulting in double-doubles. One standout performance was an 14 point, 18 rebound (16 defensive), 3 steal performance against Minnesota.

Geo Baker is already excelling as a program ambassador in his post-playing career phase now that his eligibility is exhausted. He tweeted the below encouraging Rutgers fans to let Wright know how welcomed he would be if he did decide to join the program.

One early target this offseason was Lafayette seven-footer Neal Quinn. He took an unofficial visit in early March, but reports indicated Rutgers ultimately cooled their pursuit of the center. Quinn was also likely looking for a starting role and has a good opportunity to do that Richmond, where he pledged his commitment to last weekend.

One target who I mentioned initially here is Niagara’s Marcus Hammond. Per this report from Zach Braziller of the New York Post, Rutgers is right in the mix for the grad transfer guard.

Adam Zagoria tweeted on Wednesday that Hammond was taking visits to Rutgers and Georgetown in the next 7-10 days with Kansas State expected to host him as well.

Hammond is proven scorer and is a three-time All-MAAC selection, making the First Team for the second time of his career last season. He averaged 18.1 points, 4.7 rebounds, and 2.9 assists per game while shooting 43.0% from the floor. Hammond is an efficient player in several areas. He had a solid offensive rating of 107.1 last season and was good at taking care of the basketball while handling it so much. He had an 19.7 assist rate ranked 406th nationally while also having only a 13.9% turnover rate ranked 487th nationally. Hammond got to the line often with a free throw rate of 33.0% (454th) and took advantage once he got to the foul line shooting 83.1% (163rd). He also was a good shooter from behind the arc at 37.1% (420th).

Hammond started last season with standout performances against two high majors. He had 25 points on 9 of 17 shooting and 4 of 10 from three in a one possession loss at Xavier in the season opener. In the next game, Hammond had 22 points on 7 of 14 shooting including 4 of 9 from behind the arc, as well as 6 rebounds and 3 assists in a 10 point loss at Ohio State.

You can watch Hammond’s season highlights here:

His ability to fill a void as a go to scorer in the backcourt while also being a reliable ball handler adds a lot of value to Hammond’s potential to become a major contributor wherever he ends up. He has the mindset to take big shots at the end of games andhit two game tying three’s last season without much room to operate. Hammond gives the appearance of an ideal replacement for Geo Baker next season, which would take pressure off incoming freshman Derek Simpson initially and provide a experienced mentor for him.

Another player I mentioned as a possibility has since been reported as being of interest to Rutgers per Adam Zagoria.

Additional schools that reached out to Horton per Zagoria include Arizona State, Texas Tech, LSU, Nevada, Bucknell, and Rider.

Ithiel Horton played at Roselle Catholic in high school before beginning his college career at Delaware. He started 26 games over the last two seasons at Pitt but also served a 19 game suspension to start the 2021-2022 campaign. Horton was reinstated after the four criminal charges against him were dropped which included hitting a police officer in the face. To complicate things, Horton’s father was highly critical of Pitt head coach Jeff Capel after the season in this article by Mike Vucovcan of Pittsburgh Sports Now.

Horton averaged 9.8 points, 2.7 rebounds and 1.3 assists in 13 games (all against ACC foes) last season while shooting 36.1% from the floor, 37.9% from three-point range and 87.5% from the foul line. He scored in double digits in six of his first nine games back from suspension, but failed to do so in his last four games of the season.

The 6’5” shooting guard would bring high major experience and a willingness to take big shots from the perimeter. Whether Pikiell determine Horton to be a good fit within the program remains to be seen. Even so, Rutgers showing interest indicates that Pikiell and his staff are doing their due diligence on any available players that could potentially help next season.

Here are highlights of Horton’s season.

Just Tuesday, former 4-star recruit Corey Floyd Jr. announced he was transferring from UConn.

The 6’4” combo guard was heavily recruited by Rutgers out of high school. He was teammates with Cliff Omoruyi at Roselle Catholic and his mother is a Rutgers alum. Floyd Jr. was a top 100 recruit and No. 2 in New Jersey in the class of 2022 before reclassifying and enrolling at UConn last August. He didn’t play at all last season and has four years of eligibility remaining. He’s a tough, physical player who is better off the ball that can attack the rim off the bounce as well as shoot threes.

There is no reported interest that Rutgers is pursuing Floyd Jr. as he just entered the transfer portal this week. However, it seems possible that Pikiell would consider recruiting him once again. His style of play would fit Rutgers well. His teammate last season at UConn, another former 4-star recruit in Rahsool Diggins, was also originally recruited by Rutgers. However, he is visiting Penn State this weekend and also being pursued by Rhode Island. Nothing indicates that Pikiell and staff are pursuing him this time but it’s possible it just hasn’t been reported.

Overall, Rutgers seems extremely active in pursuing targets in the transfer portal. We covered some of the same targets in our recruiting update 1.0 a couple of weeks ago, as well as some other names of note.

Of the targets Rutgers is reportedly pursuing in the transfer portal, it appears that Wright and Hammond are being made a priority. Of course, there are likely other players being targeted that have not been reported as well.

The characteristic most encouraging with Wright, Hammond, and even Horton, are these are players with a lot of experience that have had success at the mid-major level. Horton has done so in the ACC as well. These are seasoned players who are proven scorers. There are plenty of examples of players making the jump to the high major level through the transfer portal that have had success. An example at Rutgers was Akwasi Yeboah, who was a valuable starter for the 2019-2020 team.

As for the dynamic with the 2022-2023 team, developing the roster for next season remains fluid. Here is a current snapshot of the team as of now.

Backcourt: Paul Mulcahy (2), Jalen Miller (3), Derek Simpson (4)

Wings: Aundre Hyatt (2), Mawot Mag (3), Oskar Palmquist (3)

Frontcourt: Cliff Omoruyi (3), Dean Reiber (3), Antoine Woolfork (4)

Declared for NBA: Ron Harper Jr. (1), Caleb McConnell (1), Jaden Jones (3)

Out of Eligibility: Geo Baker, Ralph Agee, Luke Nathan

The great unknown is whether any of the three players who declared for the NBA Draft will return or not? Remember that the newish rule allows early entrants to maintain their college eligibility while signing with an agent as long as they are certified by the NBA. Harper Jr. and Jones have done that, while it’s unknown if McConnell has signed with an agent at all. The deadline to withdraw from the NBA Draft to be able to be eligible to play college basketball next season is June 1. Obviously, if any of the three players returned for next season, it would be a huge win for Rutgers.

It’s important to remember that Pikiell is operating off of a plan that accounts for all contingencies. He has a pulse on the likelihood of those players potentially returning and is recruiting accordingly. I wouldn’t count on any of them returning, but I do think it’s possible more than one return.

It’s also fair to remember that decisions work both ways. Just because a player Rutgers was reportedly linked to goes elsewhere, it doesn’t always mean they chose that school over them. I’ve written examples before but the latest appears to be Quinn.

Also Pikiell and his staff deserve credit for not having any players from last season in the transfer portal as of yet. The average is over three players per team and Rutgers has zero. Players leaving shouldn’t signal red flags as sometimes a change is good for them as well as the program. Circumstances are always different and should be evaluated accordingly. The reasons why Myles Johnson, Jacob Young, Montez Mathis and Mamadou Doucoure left seemed logical. This offseason is different but not having even one player enter the transfer portal is surprising simply because of the culture in college basketball today.

Player development has been a major key to Pikiell’s success at Rutgers and that can’t happen if the players aren’t bought into the system and the coaches. The biggest takeaway this offseason so far is that the current roster is stable. A younger core is showing a unified belief that the program is healthy and continues headed in the right direction. That point should not be overlooked.

In my opinion, it would be ideal to add two players through the portal that have experience and would likely be at a minimum a rotation player who can contribute next season. It’s also possible that Pikiell prefers to add a transfer with multiple years remaining that can develop over time. No matter what happens this offseason, Rutgers must add at least one proven scorer out of the backcourt that can play a major role next season. I think potentially adding another big who can defend and rebound would be ideal as well.

At the end of the day, Pikiell isn’t going to lower his standards and will prioritize players that are good cultural fits and bring winning qualities to the program. Expecting a mass overhaul or importing of 3-4 players this offseason is highly unlikely.

I’ll continue to post recruiting updates as often as there are new developments to report as the roster continues its reconstruction. I’ll also have an update on recruiting updates for the 2023 and 2024 classes soon. Stay locked in with all of our offseason coverage of Rutgers men’s basketball here at On The Banks.