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. — For the second time in the last two seasons, Derrick Randall must fill in for Kadeem Jack.
A year ago, the two were teammates at South Kent (Conn.) before the 6-foot-10 Jack left in the middle of the season and ultimately enrolled at Rutgers in January.
Now, with Jack out 3-4 months with a broken foot, the 6-9, 235-pound Randall will again be asked to step up in Jack’s absence.
“Yes, this is going to be the second time filling in for Kadeem again so I just gotta get more conditioned and be prepared for this Big East Conference because everybody in this Big East Conference is tough,” Randall told SNY.tv.
Under second-year coach Mike Rice, Rutgers opens the season Friday night not against a Big East opponent, but against Dartmouth of the Ivy League. The Scarlet Knights then travel to play at Miami on Tuesday.
Jack had been expected to be an athletic big for Rutgers, but he went down in October with a broken bone in his right foot.
“You have to go a long way to find somebody with his potential and his athleticism,” Rice said of Jack.
“Is it all there? No, it’s certainly a work in progress but he certainly has tremendous athletic potential, whether it’s offensive rebounding, blocking shots from the weak side, sprinting the floor, being the front man on my press, so it’ll hurt but that’s why we recruited hard and we recruited depth so some of the other freshmen will have an opportunity for the first three months to see what they can do.”
Randall is used to filling in for Jack. He did it last season, too.
“I had to adjust to playing the whole time because Kadeem left South Kent and then we didn’t have no other big man so I was playing 30 minutes,” Randall said.
The learning curve is steep for Randall, a Brooklyn native who was 5-9 until high school before growing about eight inches to 6-5 in the summer before his freshman season at Paterson Catholic.
That’s when he played organized basketball for the first time.
“I didn’t play basketball until my freshman year,” he said.
By his sophomore year, he grew to about 6-7 or 6-8, before growing another half inch before graduating.
Randall was basically a big body playing on a loaded Paterson Catholic team alongside Rutgers point guard Myles Mack and Seton Hall wing Fuquan Edwin.
“We would beat teams by like 50 or 60 points because we played like little kids,” Randall said, referring to Paterson Catholic’s league games in the Bergen-Passaic Scholastic League. “It wasn’t no competition.”
Because he was too old to play his senior year at PC, Randall headed to South Kent for a prep year. In addition to playing briefly with Jack, he teamed the whole year with current St. John’s freshman Maurice Harkless, whom Randall calls his “best friend.”
“From Paterson Catholic [the] transition to South Kent was totally different,” Randall said. “When I went to South Kent it was a lot of competition so I had to adjust to that.”
Still, his game developed under head coach Kelvin Jefferson, who believes Randall can now help Rutgers in the low post.
“Derrick will bring a lot of toughness and energy to the Scarlet Knights,” Jefferson said. “You can always count on him to make an athletic play, be it a dunk or a big-time block. He’s a player who can affect the game on both ends of the floor.”
Randall won’t have to go it alone. Fellow frosh Greg Lewis and sophomore Austin Johnson must also step up with Jack.
“They both [Randall and Lewis] have their strengths and weaknesses and they have to adjust to the Division 1 level, but I think they try incredibly hard every day,” Rice said.
“They’re going to go in and play and hopefully get an offensive rebound, get a defensive stop, take a charge, score a bucket for us. Those are the things we’re going to ask them to do.”
Said Randall: “It’s going to be a hard thing but I feel like we’re going to adapt to it.
“Maybe the first game we might have a little scuffle and stuff but when the season progresess we should be doing well.”
(Photos courtesy Daily News, NJ.com, Scarlet Knights)
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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 and filmmaker whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, 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.