PISCATAWAY, N.J. — New Rutgers coach Eddie Jordan faces a unique situation as he heads into his first year at the helm of his alma mater.
He takes over a program that has just left the Big East and will spend one year in the American Athletic Conference — where Rutgers was picked 10th out of 10 teams — before entering the Big Ten in 2014.
Beginning next year, that will mean a regular slate of games against a powerhouse league that currently has five teams in the Top 25 of the Coaches’ Poll: No. 2 Michigan State, No. 9 Michigan, No. 10 Ohio State, No. 21 Wisconsin and No. 24 Indiana.
One thing’s for sure: Jordan and his staff must step up their recruiting efforts if they are going to compete with the big boys.
“Recruiting is important and obviously for our recruits, we can sell the Big Ten because they’re coming in for that year,” Jordan said Tuesday at Rutgers media day.
Rutgers sits in the middle of a vast reservoir of talent that runs from New York through New Jersey down to Philadelphia and Washington, D.C.
Yet for years, other programs have plucked the top players from Jersey and pulled them to more established programs.
Samardo Samuels went to Louisville.
Kyrie Irving headed to Duke.
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist left for Kentucky.
Kyle Anderson departed for UCLA.
Karl Towns Jr. is headed to Kentucky in 2014.
And the list goes on and on.
“If Kyrie Irving would come to Rutgers, that would be big in the past,” Jordan said of the Cleveland Cavaliers point guard. “But we’re doing what we can. We’re expressing relationships and sometimes when you go to other schools, it looks nice. But maybe that’s why three years ago there were 300 transfers, two years ago there were 400 transfers, last year it was over 500 transfers. So maybe if you go to school for the right reasons instead of the aesthetic reasons, then maybe it will fit. That’s what we’re selling.”
The good news for Jordan is that New Jersey is currently loaded with talented players in the Classes of 2015, ’16 and ’17.
Roselle Catholic guard Isaiah Briscoe is ranked No. 17 nationally in the Class of 2015 by Rivals. Trenton Catholic guard Malachi Richardson is No. 22, Pope John forward Moustapha Diagne is No. 26, Roselle Catholic forward Chris Silva is No. 101 and St. Anthony forward Markis McDuffie is No. 142.
In the Class of 2016, Gill St. Bernard’s guard Tyus Battle is No. 11. Roselle Catholic point guard Asante Gist is also highly-regarded, as are the St. Peter’s Prep trio of Veer Singh, Najja Hunter and Kaleb Bishop. St. Peter’s Prep also features 2017 point guard Nate Pierre-Louis.
So far, the local high school coaches believe Jordan is on the right track.
“Eddie is certainly doing what he needs to do, which is be around as much as he can be, be involved as much as he can be early in the kids’ careers,” Roselle Catholic coach Dave Boff told SNY.tv.
“I think he’s got a unique situation right now because the move to the new league [Big Ten] is going to generate some excitement and kind of give him an opportunity to start over. As opposed to being a team that’s struggled for years in the Big East, he can pitch it as this is a new start for Rutgers basketball in a new league, and I think that’s something that will have some kids excited about potentially going there.
“I think that’s an angle that he should play up because it’s something so different and so new, and I think that will get kids excited.”
Jordan also has an NBA background, which appeals to players. Kadeem Jack said he opted to stay at Rutgers instead of transfer in part because of Jordan’s NBA legacy.
“Coach Jordan has an NBA background as a player and a coach, who wouldn’t want that?” St. Peter’s Prep coach Todd Decker told SNY.tv.
Still, Rutgers will have to battle with the likes of Arizona, to say nothing of local schools St. John’s and Seton Hall, for Briscoe, and with established powers like North Carolina, Ohio State, Georgetown Indiana, Syracuse and UConn for Richardson.
The same goes to varying degrees for players like Battle, Gist, Singh and Pierre-Louis.
“Obviously, it’s difficult because historically the kids at that level in New Jersey have gone out of state except for a small handful that have stayed at home,” Boff said. “I think what he needs is really he needs to find one kid in that 2015 class, he’s gotta get one of those guys to say that I’m going to stay home and help the state university try to get back on track. I think once you get one, then the dominoes will fall and potentially you’ll get some other kids to come along. I think it all starts with finding the one kid who has that commitment to the state who wants to stay home and see Rutgers do well.”
Said Jordan: “The school sells itself. It’s a great school, great location. We have the New York media. Those recruits will have the Big Ten Network and no other school in the country can say New York and Big Ten. So if they want exposure, it’s here. If they want NBA experience, it’s me. I have guys on the staff with NBA experience. If they want a terrific education, this is a terrific place to go. And for New Jersey guys, you can go away from home being home.”
It has always been a Catch-22 for Rutgers in recruiting.
You can’t win without good players, and you generally can’t get good players unless you win.
For a team picked 10th in the 10-team American Athletic Conference, that may not be easy this year.
“I think we can [win] now with the coaches that we have and if we start winning I think guys are going to start coming here,” said junior guard Myles Mack.
Mack stayed home out of St. Anthony and didn’t opt to transfer this past spring in the wake of the Mike Rice fallout because he said he felt “loyal” to the school.
Now Eddie Jordan needs to find the next wave of young Jersey players loyal to the state university.