Rutgers basketball will begin a new era this season as Steve Pikiell takes control of the Scarlet Knights, who finished 7-25 last year.
Pikiell comes from Stony Brook, a team he led to the NCAA Tournament last year. He addressed the media at Big Ten Media Days on Thursday, coincidentally his 200th day on the job.
Pikiell started by saying he was honored to be the new head coach at Rutgers. He said he’s talked to his team about how its picked to finish last in the Big Ten. He said his team is embracing it. He also added he’s trying to make a “night and day” change.
“We’re trying to change the culture,” said Pikiell. “There have been a lot of changes at the university in the last few years. Three league changes in the last four years. A lot of coaching changes and obviously I’m very different in my coaching style than coach Jordan, so I think a lot differently. For our kids, there’s been a lot of transition and we’re going to embrace that.”
The coach said his team has bought in to his program.
When asked on the status of his team in getting to where he wants it to be, Pikiell responded that he first had to recruit the kids already in the program.
“We spend a lot of time with our kids to really help them through the transition and they’ve had a lot of transition too,” said Pikiell. “I’m really happy where they are.”
Pikiell said center Shaq Doorson has lost 45 pounds in 200 days. “He embraced our strength and condition which was great,” said Pikiell.
Pikiell said he’s recruited the staff and coaches to give the program what it needs. He then talked about the youth.
“We have a very young team, we have one senior, just a fifth-year senior,” he said. “Really, no veterans on this basketball team and we’re looking for leadership and some of those things.”
“If you come to our practices and you see us, you’ll see night and day,” said Pikiell. “We practice hard. We practice long. We do a ton of rebounding stuff. We were one of the worst rebounding teams in the country, we’re trying to change that.”
Pikiell was then asked about how he coached at Stony Brook and went largely unnoticed.
“I was hopeful,” he said about being noticed. “Tried to recruit good kids, tried to do things the right way.”
“I like to coach basketball. I’m an in-the-gym kind of guy,” he said.
He then said people can expect to see his team play with a little swagger and that his kids will eventually enjoy playing for him.
“They don’t right now, because I’m changing the culture,” said Pikiell. “Practices are a lot longer. Weight room sessions are a lot longer. Our film room sessions are a lot longer, so they’re kind of learning that.”
Pikiell said the kids on the roster wanted to be coached and wanted to be better. He said a main focus was first solving some health issues.
“Deshawn Freeman has been great,” said Pikiell. “He started off last season, was a very good player, got injured, back healthy. He’s a junior, he’s a pretty good leader, he’s worked very hard.”
“Shaq has lost a ton of weight,” said Pikiell. “He’s a big body, he’s 7-feet.”
Pikiell was also pleased to get transfer C.J. Gettys from UNC Wilmington, who’s also a 7-foot center.
“Mike Williams has jumped on board,” he said. “I really believe Nigel Johnson, who sat out from Kansas State, is a very good player. He’s eligible and back playing. Ibrahima Diallo is back playing from his injury too and I think the minutes that Jonathan Laurent and Cory Sanders got last year were valuable too and they’ll be back in their sophomore years. They’re all working hard.”
Pikiell said the team has some shooters and better defenders now, noting that Sanders can be a scorer and one of the best defenders in the league.