Steve Pikiell speaks during a news conference announcing him as the new head coach of the Rutgers University men's college basketball team, Tuesday, March 22, 2016, in Piscataway, N.J. The university's Board of Governors on Tuesday approved a five-year, $8 million contract. Pikiell succeeds Eddie Jordan, who was fired after a 7-25 season. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)
Rutgers Scarlet Knights

Steve Pikiell: Rutgers culture is about to change

AP Photo/Julio Cortez

Steve Pikiell isn’t a name that arouses many casual college basketball followers. The former Stony Brook coach, now the new man in charge of Rutgers, is as below-the-radar as a big-time conference coach can be. Yet, a new level of optimism should emerge for the Scarlet Knights and their future — the type that hasn’t been sincerely felt in ages.

It should be warned, however, that optimism should be met with caution.

“People will need to be patient,” former Seawolves and Pikiell-coached star Jameel Warney told Today’s U. “It is going to take time. It won’t happen overnight.”

Rarely do rebuilds of this magnitude get fixed in that fashion. Unfortunately, thanks to the world of 24-7 sports coverage we live in, patience is a virtue few bring to the college basketball landscape.

Yes, Rutgers is a major college basketball program. RU and the overall ineptitude of its athletic department over the past decade have been derided to no end. Yet, something as simple as one wise head coaching hire can change a lot of that.

That’s the hope with the Pikiell hiring: A man who once took what was essentially a program starting from scratch in Stony Brook, who then took it to its first-ever NCAA Tournament last season, will be able to build a similar model of success with the Scarlet Knights.

How will that hope be built? By not only the presence of Steve Pikiell, but the development of the program people will tangibly see in real time.

“I spent a lot of the summer practicing with them,” Warney said. “Rutgers is 15 minutes away from my house. It was amazing to see what coach was doing with those guys. The offense, defense, everything he was implementing.”

Warney, who was a three-time AEC Player of the Year under the coach, is a good source on all things Pikiell-related. He was recruited, coached and mentored by him. Given the fact that the two’s careers can be directly connected, it is intriguing to follow both’s differing paths as they move forward professionally.

“I tell him all the time he owes me money {for getting the Rutgers job},” Warney joked. “He laughs and thinks I’m kidding, but I’m not.”

Their careers, while Pikiell’s started earlier, truly began in earnest when the coach began recruiting a player who would become one of the most prolific players in the history of the America East.

Stony Brook's Jameel Warney knows Steve Pikiell intimately. -- Icon Sportswire

Stony Brook’s Jameel Warney knows Steve Pikiell intimately. — Icon Sportswire

“He came in and was really charismatic,” Warney explained. “He had a plan formed out and really explained to me what my role was going to be. He told me {early on} I had a chance to be special.”

Fast-forward four years from that recruitment, and Stony Brook found itself dancing in its first-ever NCAA Tournament. Warney had become a mid-major darling who had his NBA Draft prospects grow, and Pikiell’s coaching star brightened to the point that he was one of the new “hot names” being floated about for some jobs.

“He’s a player’s coach,” Warney said. “He treats each guy on the guy, one through twelve, the same. Some guys need tough love, and others need a nudge, but each guy is on the same footing with coach.”

He could have stayed with Stony Brook. He could have gone elsewhere. Instead, Pikiell chose Rutgers as much as the university chose him. While not exactly the same as his previous gig, it is a combination of doing more of the same with a few new complexities sprinkled in. He will be recruiting in similar areas, with people of the same codes and characters as before, all while being able to rely upon the maintained presence he has by not taking a gig 1,000 miles away.

A problem, at least in perception, remains for Rutgers even after the new hiring: What makes this era of the program different from any other previously failed attempts?

To be honest, outside of Pikiell’s resume with Stony Brook, there is none. As it is with nearly every other major program in the country, specifically ones that have struggled mightily for some time, it will be a “believe it when we see it” situation.

That can be true, but the most important player in the history of Stony Brook basketball is more than confident it will work… as long as people give the coach enough time to make it happen.

“He just needs some time. Coach will make it work.”

Time is a luxury afforded to very few Division I basketball coaches. Given his track record with Stony Brook, the Rutgers faithful should grant ample time to its new basketball coach, Steve Pikiell.

Steve Pikiell: Rutgers culture is about to change
1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. John Leddy

    October 19, 2016 at 4:49 pm

    Steve Pikiell is going to do great things at Rutgers. Great things. He takes boys and turns them into successful, exceptional men. Give him the chance and he will win. Rutgers will see great progress this year. Just watch.

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