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.
Steve Pikiell Says Rutgers Players Were in ‘Awful Shape’ When He Took Over for Eddie Jordan
PISCATAWAY, N.J. — New Rutgers coach Steve Pikiell said the basketball team was in “awful shape” physically when he took over for Eddie Jordan last spring.
And none of his players disagreed.
“We probably were one of the worst-conditioned teams he’s ever had,” Rutgers sophomore guard Corey Sanders said at Tuesday’s Media Day.
Jordan went 29-68 in three seasons at Rutgers, including a 7-25 campaign last season in which the Scarlet Knights finished 1-17 in the Big Ten. His alma mater fired him in March, and then hired Pikiell as his replacement out of Stony Brook.
Pikiell, in turn, brought in David VanDyke as his strength and conditioning coach after VanDyke had spent the previous 11 years at Stony Brook.
VanDyke’s reaction upon seeing the Rutgers players last spring after Jordan’s staff left?
“We got a lot of work to do,” he told me. “They didn’t have somebody with them for those last three weeks [after Jordan was fired] and it doesn’t take long for somebody to get out of shape so if you’re not out there internally motivated to go out and run and stay in shape, you can get in pretty terrible shape.”
Greg “Shoes” Vetrone, an assistant under Jordan and now the director of player development under Pikiell, said Jordan had more of an NBA approach to coaching and developing his players, an approach that obviously didn’t work at Rutgers.
Jordan’s strength coach was Rich Dalatri, whose bio says he spent 19 years with the Nets and two with the Cavaliers.
“I think it’s a lot different than the players he worked with in the NBA because when you work at the NBA level, those guys are developed, they’re men,” Vetrone said. “In fairness to Rich, that was the first time he ever worked in college so I really don’t think he understood the growth that these guys could still make.”
Vetrone added of Jordan: “I think strength coaches have their own program and when you’re not versed in it, you think that that strength coach is the best for you.”
Said junior guard Mike Williams: “We were training but it was too pro mentality. In the NBA people do that [train] on their own, you don’t have to teach them to do that. In college we would do it but we wasn’t getting really taught that much, this is more like a teaching aspect. Nothing against those guys, they were all great guys, coach Jordan, Coach [Mike] O’Koren, they were great guys, I love them to death. But I feel this change is something we really needed.”
Vetrone said the players have turned 180 degrees under VanDyke.
“The conditioning is A-plus,” he said. “Candido Sa came in here, he gained 20 pounds in the summer. He was 200 , he’s 225 right now. He gained 25. Some of our players were here a whole year and didn’t gain 25.”
On the flip side, 7-footer Shaquille Doorson said he lost “about 50” pounds after missing last season with a foot injury. He’s now at 275.
“Everybody’s more leaner,” Williams said. “Look at Shaq, Shaq was the size of a cadillac last year and he slimmed down a lot and we owe that to our strength and conditioning coach, David VanDyke. We all owe that to him because he saw how we looked and he was like, ‘In order for us to play in the Big Ten you need to be in better shape physically.”
Said Doorson: “I was injured last year so I was on the knee scooter so that just got me gaining a lot of weight. Then this man right here [VanDyke], he saved me.”
“He’s back from his foot injury,” Pikiell said. “He’s athletic, he’s lost 52 pounds. You’ll see a bouncier Shaq.”
VanDyke credits the players with doing the work.
“The first thing that had to happen was I had to develop their trust in me that I had their best interest at heart,” he said. “That was job day one and then from there it was getting them to be consistent with the training, with their diet, with their lifestyles. If you give me enough time with a guy and they stay consistent when they’re away from me, they’re going to have great results like what you see with Shaq and Candido.”
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.