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.
Rutgers Hoping New Practice Facility Helps Offset Negative Recruiting
PISCATAWAY, N.J. — Rutgers’ new Athletic Performance Center is projected to be finished in the summer of 2019, which works out well on the recruiting front considering New Jersey is loaded with high-profile basketball recruits in the Classes of 2018 and ’19.
Could the RWJBarnabas Health Athletic Performance Center actually help sway someone like Naz Reid, the 6-foot-9 Class of 2018 forward from Roselle Catholic, to pick Rutgers over the likes of Kentucky, UConn or Syracuse? What about 2019 studs Bryan Antoine and Scottie Lewis of the Ranney School who are being recruited by those some heavyweights?
It won’t be the deciding factor in recruiting for these blue-chippers, but it can’t hurt as Rutgers tries to keep up in the Big Ten arms race. The basketball teams will continue to play in the RAC, a cozy building that opened in 1977 and can provide a homecourt edge when it’s full and rockin’, but which only recently added air-conditioning.
“It’s great to see Rutgers make the commitment to the basketball program with the new practice facility,” RC coach Dave Boff said of the new practice facility, which had its groundbreaking Tuesday as part of the University’s $100-million facilities campaign.
“These are the things you need to attract elite high school athletes, so this is a huge step in the right direction,” added Boff, whose team won the New Jersey Tournament of Champions crown in 2013 and ’15.
Brian Coleman of the loaded Sports U AAU program that features the “Fab Five” of Reid, Jahvon Quinerly, Louis King, Luther Muhammad and Atiba Taylor, said the new facility should help recruiting — but that Rutgers needs to show results on the court, too. The program hasn’t been to the NCAA Tournament since 1991 and hasn’t made a deep run since reaching the 1976 Final Four.
“I think it should [help recruiting],” Coleman said. “They need a modern facility to compete with the rest of their [Big Ten] Conference.”
He added: “They definitely need to show some improvement toward building a winning culture over there. I think right now Naz is open to everything. The coach and his demeanor are very important to Naz. The winning culture will be important to Naz also. And someone who can help in his development toward becoming a professional.”
Tahj Holden, the Ranney coach who won an NCAA title at Maryland in 2002 and now coaches Lewis and Antoine, believes the new facility should help recruiting in the state, too.
“I think it will help, especially since they haven’t really done anything since I was back in high school, which is when I think they last renovated the locker room,” Holden said. “They still have to win, or at least show that they are improving, in the next couple of years for it to make a true difference.”
From where new Rutgers AD Pat Hobbs sits, the new facility should help offset negative recruiting against Rutgers by other Big Ten and non-conference schools.
“I don’t want to call it negative recruiting as much as they’re proud of what they have and what they offer,” Hobbs told me. “And they point out the differences to recruits as they come in, and that’s fair. So if you have made an investment in a practice facility and that doesn’t exist in another place, you point that out. If you have a coach who’s under a one-year contract or a two-year contract versus someone who’s under a six-year contract, you point that out.
“So I don’t so much view it as negative recruiting, I view it as recruiting. And in recruiting, everybody’s working hard, everybody’s trying to get the best student-athletes and the right fit for their programs. And we just needed to make sure that our coaches have the same resources that those others coaches do, and today is an example of how we’re going to make sure that that happens.”
Hobbs said he’s heard stories from his coaches about losing players to other schools with better facilities.
“I know those conversations happen all the time,” he said. “And certainly coaches tell you that they’ve had those conversations so you want to make sure that your coach doesn’t have to tell you that again.”
Rutgers assistant Brandin Knight told me his school has become an “easy target for some negative recruiting” because it has lacked modern facilities to compete with the Ohio States, Michigans, Michigan States and Indianas of the world.
“I think in general kids like to see all of the bells and whistles so now with Instagram and social media, there’s this constant posting and evolution of what your program looks like and if you lack these things it makes you an easy target for some negative recruiting,” he said.
Knight says facilities “matter” in recruiting and now he can use the upgrades as an incentive with recruits.
“Yeah, I think it goes hand in hand with the positive things that are going on at Rutgers,” Knight said, pointing out the new weight room and locker rooms. “And I think it’s just another indication of the program and the University moving in a great direction.”
How great a direction?
Hobbs, as skilled an orator and politician as you will find among athletic directors, had a bold forecast for the future.
“We will win championships in the Big Ten, I have no doubt about it,’ Hobbs said.
Time will tell, and there’s a long way to go. But this certainly should help recruiting at the State University.
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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.