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.
Embarrassed on Court, Rutgers Also Invisible in Recruiting
By ADAM ZAGORIA
As embarrassing as Rutgers’ 84-55 loss to New Jersey rival Seton Hall on its home floor was on Saturday, it may not be the most disturbing thing about Eddie Jordan’s program at the moment.
To be sure, the loss — the second straight in which Kevin Willard’s team drilled Rutgers — was pretty damning.
“It’s bad, real bad,” one of the program’s few remaining longtime boosters texted from his courtside seat at the RAC. “Rock bottom.”
But what is — or at least, should be — more disturbing than the game itself is what a handful of top New Jersey high school and AAU coaches told me on Friday.
I texted about a half dozen of the state’s top coaches and asked them which of their recruits had been invited, or were planning on attending, the Seton Hall-Rutgers game.
In past years, it has been common for players from the state’s top high school programs — St. Anthony’s, St. Patrick’s, St. Benedict’s, Roselle Catholic, Hudson Catholic, Seton Hall Prep, etc. — to be invited to Rutgers or Seton Hall when they face each other.
As I wrote recently, three of those schools — St. Anthony’s, St. Patrick’s and reigning New Jersey Tournament of Champions winner Roselle Catholic — had 24 players with Division 1 scholarship offers.
Here’s a sampling of the text messages I got back. (These coaches all spoke anonymously because they didn’t want to go on record ripping the state university’s basketball program.)
“Who are they playing this weekend?” one AAU coach asked.
“What’s at Rutgers?” a high school coach asked.
“What time is the game?” a second high school coach asked.
So, to summarize so far: Rutgers, the state university, was scheduled to play Seton Hall, its top in-state rival, in men’s basketball in a noon game on Saturday — and several of the top high school and AAU coaches in the state didn’t even know the game was taking place.
“They hadn’t reached out,” the AAU coach said of Rutgers.
Do you think that happens when Louisville and Kentucky play?
North Carolina and Duke?
How about just Providence and Rhode Island?
I asked a top Class of 2017 recruit from one of the above schools if he went to the game.
“Nah, I laid back,” he said.
Did he know any other recruits from New Jersey who attended the game?
“As of right now, no,” he said.
One high-profile coach pointed out to me that the game was slated for noon on a Saturday and that many of the high school teams are busy practicing — or playing — and that they were too focused on their own teams to worry about the college programs.
Fair enough, but generally speaking, most of the coaches said they just didn’t feel like Rutgers was recruiting their players hard or at all.
“I don’t even know who the Rutgers assistants are, to be honest, other than Dalip [Bhatia],” one coach said.
When I explained they were Van Macon and Greg “Shoes” Vetrone, his response was, “I’ve not even sure if I’ve ever met them, to be honest. If I saw their faces, I might say, ‘Oh, that guy’s been in our gym, but if Van Macon or Shoes walked by me, I would not know who they are.”
I know Van and Shoes and they are good guys, I’m sure they and the staff believe they are trying the best they can.
But this is not a good look when the state’s top high school coaches are saying this stuff.
Rutgers doesn’t have a single commit for the Class of 2016, and they don’t appear to be seriously in the mix for any of New Jersey’s top D-1 players.
“I don’t think any of our guys were invited [to the game],” an assistant at one of the state’s top programs said.
Seton Hall doesn’t get all the top Jersey kids, either.
Let’s face it. Kentucky, Louisville, Duke, Syracuse, UConn and other elite programs have been eating New Jersey’s lunch for years.
See: Karl-Anthony Towns, Kyrie Irving, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Tyler Ennis, Malachi Richardson and on and on and on.
But Seton Hall just smacked Rutgers by 29 with several home-grown New York and New Jersey kids like Khadeen Carrington, Isaiah Whitehead, Michael Nzei and Angel Delgado playing big roles.
Seton Hall made the bold move earlier this year of offering a “Fab Five” group of 2018 recruits from the Sports U program.
The Pirates may not get all of those kids, heck they may not get any.
But it was a smart, bold move to make the group offer and it got some publicity. Several high-profile New Jersey coaches praised the move in my story.
“They want to try to get all five guys,” Sports U coach Brian Coleman told SNY.tv for the initial story. “They feel like if they could get these guys that play together to stay home, it would be great for their state, it would be great for their team because they’d have a group of guys that are familiar with each other and they’re kind of looking at them as kind of like the next Michigan Fab Five.”
Did Rutgers make the group offer, too?
“They haven’t,” Coleman said then. “I can’t say, should they do it? I don’t really know the needs of their team. They got a couple of young guards that they signed….I think it would be good for them to try to recruit some of these players because they’re really good guys and they’re young players.”
None of those players were invited to the Seton Hall-Rutgers game on Saturday.
Leaving fans and boosters to wonder if the program has hit rock bottom.
Photo: Via AP
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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.