Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
The news just keeps getting better and better for the Rutgers basketball program.
Greg Echenique, a 6-foot-8 forward/center from St. Benedict’s Prep in Newark who originally committed for 2009, will suit up for the Scarlet Knights this fall. He is a native of Venezuela.
Echenique has not passed through the NCAA Clearinghouse, and he must wait until his grades arrive from Venezuela in about two weeks and his current English class ends a week from Friday.
“Gregory had a choice of returning for a fifth year of high school or going to college and moving on to his college life and he felt like it was in his best interest to begin college and he felt like he was physically and mentally and emotionally prepared,” St. Benedict’s coach Dan Hurley said Tuesday by phone.
“The only reason why we considered a fifth year for him was because of the language and cultural issues, but he’s handled everything incredibly well and he’ll be graduating the end of May. Gregory is a very strong student and we expect him to have no issues.”
Echenique, ranked No. 45 in the Class of 2009 and No. 5 among centers, averaged 11.2 points, 9.2 rebounds and 3.3 blocks last season, when the Gray Bees finished 24-1 and No. 2 in several national polls. He initially chose Rutgers over numerous other schools, including Duke, Villanova and Maryland.
Hurley recently discovered that Echenique had completed his freshman year of high school in Venezuela, opening up the possiblity of him going to Rutgers for next year. There had been speculation that Echenique might redshirt, but Hurley said he would not.
“He is not redshirting,” the coach said. “As of now it has been discussed a little bit it is not in my mind probable.”
Rutgers now has a four-man recruiting class lined up for next season led by Echenique; Mike Rosario, the McDonald’s All-American who plays shooting guard for Dan’s father, Bob Hurley at St. Anthony; Pat Jackson, a 6-6 wing from Brooklyn Boys & Girls; and Christian Morris, a 6-8 post from South Kent (Conn.).
A year ago, Rutgers really only had three legitimate post players in Byron Joynes, Hamady N’Diaye and JR Inman.
With Joynes graduating, the Knights will now add both Echenique and Morris into the mix with N’Diaye and Inman, giving them some strength, power and rebounding presence in the paint.
“It gives them another strong inside presence,” recruiting analyst Tom Konchalski said. “He’s going to help because he competes. He plays hard. He’s willing to do the dirty work. He doesn’t require X number of shots. He’ll improve offensively and he has improved offensively in the last year. He’s a big strong physical kid who competes.
“He’s played a tough national schedule and for a demanding coach. He hasn’t been the star offensively and he’ll really help them. It would have been silly for him to sit out this year because he’s probably better than the guys he would have been watching.
Rutgers also has commitments from Dane Miller, a 6-7 junior wing from Rush Henrietta High outside Rochester, N.Y., and Austin Johnson, a 6-7 junior forward from Blair (N.J.) Academy.
This week the Scarlet Knights also received a commitment from 6-7 forward Jonathan Mitchell of Mount Vernon, who will sit out the 2008-09 season but can practice with the team next year.
Echenique and his parents, Jose and Maria, decided on Rutgers after visiting in March.
“Since I came to this country with my parents, I felt a connection with the coaching staff,” Echenique said then. “They were the first school to offer me a scholarship and they have been there watching me develop throughout my high school career.
“Coach (Fred) Hill and Coach (Jimmy) Carr have always been there for me. They are people that I have been able to develop a great relationship with, and depend on as mentors. A big part of my decision was the belief that Coach Hill and his staff have in me to help them take the program to a higher level. The future is bright at Rutgers and I look forward to being a member of the school community.
“By going to St. Benedict’s Prep, New Jersey has become a second home to me. I want other players to believe in Rutgers the way I do. What has always impressed me about the RAC and the Rutgers fans is that they love the basketball team and are supportive whatever the circumstances. Coach Hill and his staff and have convinced me and my family that the balance of academics and athletics is a perfect fit for me. In the long run, what convinced me most was not the fact that they play in the Big East or the facilities, but it was the people who make up the program.”
Echenique leaves for Venezuela June 2 and will work out with the Venezuelan Senior National Team, and also compete with the Junior National Team at a qualifying tournament for the Junior World Tournament. He will be down there for two months, and then arrive at Rutgers in August.
Adam Zagoria is a New York Times contributor and Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013.
He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.