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.
NEW YORK — UConn and Rutgers are both large state universities in the Northeast.
Before UConn became a national power in men’s and women’s basketball, it was a wasteland.
Then Jim Calhoun and Geno Auriemma took over in the mid-1980s and set about turning things around.
Between them, they have won 10 NCAA championships at Connecticut, including the men’s victory over Butler last month in Houston, the third for Calhoun since 1999.
Meantime, the Rutgers women’s team has been to two Final Fours under C. Vivian Stringer, but the men’s program hasn’t qualified for the NCAA Tournament since 1991.
Still, Calhoun thinks Rutgers is a sleeping giant.
“It’s a state school,” Calhoun said Wednesday at the New York Athletic Club.. “Let’s see now, you’re at Rutgers. You got Philly. You got Delaware. You got New York, come on now. You got the RAC, which can be an incredible homecourt advantage.
“You need two kids a year, three kids a year, one good one, one real good one.”
Rutgers finished 15-17, 5-13 in the Big East during Mike Rice’s first year.
He brings in a Top 15 recruiting class headlined by St. Anthony point guard Myles Mack, who led the Friars to an undefeated season and the mythical national championship last season.
Calhoun remains impressed with Rice as a coach and believes he can turn it around.
“The guy who’s done a terrific job is the kid at Rutgers,” the 69-year-old Calhoun said of the 42-year-old Rice.
“The team played above its head, in my opinion. They lost good players and he did a tremendous job….He brought organization and discipline and he can really coach. That became very eveident this year. We played well down there, but he did a terrific job.”
Calhoun said he also has high hopes for Seton Hall coach Kevin Willard, whose team finished a disappointing 13-18, 7-11 last season.
“I talked to young Willard and he’s talked about reorganizing — that’s a good term for cleaning up and getting the kind of kids in Seton Hall that belong there,” Calhoun said.
On Pittsburgh coach Jamie Dixon, Calhoun said “he’s just got to win in the [NCAA] Tournament a little more.”
“Otherwise, he’s done everything you can do,” Calhoun added. “His regular season stuff is fabulous, obviously.”
Pitt won the Big East regular season but was upset by Butler in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
The Panthers have yet to reach a Final Four under Dixon.
**Syracuse, Louisville lead Big East preseason rankings
**Calhoun still undecided about future
**UConn looking for Lamb to lead the way
(Photo courtesy NJ.com)
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.