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.
PISCATAWAY, N.J. — One day last week, the freshmen duo of Myles Mack and Jerome Seagears won seven straight five-on-five pickup games against their Rutgers teammates.
Whether the rookie backcourt can carry that success into the regular season remains to be seen, but Mack and Seagears, along with fellow freshman guard Eli Carter, have sparked plenty of optimism at the State University of New Jersey.
“It’s great to have competition, and last year we just didn’t have that because of the fact that when you only have seven or eight scholarship players you know you’re going to play,” Rutgers coach Mike Rice told SNY.tv.
“And these guys are battling back and forth, and it will be a day in and day out [battle].”
The freshmen figure to compete with sophomores Mike Poole and Austin Carroll, and junior Dane Miller for playing time.
The 5-foot-9 Mack and the 6-1 Seagears may be under-sized, but they’re both tremendously quick and athletic.
“We have guards that go for rebounds, that can dunk,” sophomore forward Gilvydas Biruta said.
Rice, whose team finished 15-17 in his first year at the school, likes how Mack and Seagears play together, too.
“Those two could play together,” Rice said, “so it’s not unheard of that they’re going to push some of the other perimeter players further down the line because they both may start.
“These two are very highly competitive individuals. They go at each other, they go at everybody else, to be honest with you, and that’s what I like about them.”
Mack is coming off a senior season in which he played alongside Kyle Anderson and led St. Anthony to an undefeated season and a mythical national title.
“I think he showed last year that he was an elite high school guard and he’ll go through an adjustment period like anybody but the attitude and the talent and the personality, he’s a very, very good leader,” St. Anthony coach Bob Hurley said. “He’s very smart and he has no ego at all. I think he’s the perfect guy to run your team.”
Like Mack, Seagears is quick, athletic and competitive. He enjoys playing alongside another guard similar to himself.
“It’s great because we both get to work off of each other,” Seagears, a Silver Springs, Md., native, said of playing with Mack.
“We’ve been going through it together, and when we both need help, we both have our ups and downs, we just pick each other up,” he added.
Mack said adjusting to the conditioning has been something of a challenge, but says he’s ready for the college level.
“The adjustment came to us naturally because we’ve been playing basketball for a long time,” he said.
Carter, meantime, is a 6-2 combo guard who spent a year at Brewster (N.H.) Academy after playing at St. Anthony the year before Mack and Anderson arrived.
“Eli can score,” Hurley said. “You can run some stuff for him or he can go on these little spurts where he can carry a team for a while. Even though he had the year of prep school, his success has been late so I think there’s abig upside for him.”
Al three frosh watched UConn win the national championship last season behind Kemba Walker and a group of freshmen.
While Rutgers may not be poised for that type of run, the performance of those freshmen has inspired them.
“We definitely want to just use all the freshmen on UConn as a steppingstone for us,” Seagears said. “That was an example to show that age is nothing but a number, and we can do big things in the Big East.
“Turn Rutgers around.”
**Rutgers expecting big year from Biruta
Adam Zagoria is a Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. A contributor to The New York Times and SportsNet New York (SNY), he is also the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker. His articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide. He also won an Emmy award for his work on the SNY mini-documentary on Syracuse guard Tyus Battle.
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.