Team preview: Rutgers
Blue Ribbon Yearbook previews the 2006-07 college basketball season, exclusively on Insider.
(Information in this team report is as of October 1.)
Fred Hill insists it wasn't supposed to happen this way. He would be Rutgers' head coach at some point down the line -- probably -- but not after just one season. When he joined Gary Waters' staff last year, he was supposed to use his tremendous contacts to lure players to campus, and Waters would mold them into a contender. If, after a few years, a school from Waters' old Midwestern stomping grounds came looking for him, Hill would ascend to the top.
It happened, only not after a few years. It was just one. Now, anyone who watched Rutgers play last year could see that Hill was far from a hired recruiting gun. He did as much talking (at times, more) than Waters did in huddles and during play. He was constantly in the ears of players, imparting wisdom. When one has as much energy as Hill, it's hard to keep it underground. So, Hill talked and yelled. Cajoled and implored. Coached and coached some more.
Now, he'll do it as the boss man, for the first time in his life. There is no doubting his credentials as a recruiter. During his stops at Seton Hall and Villanova, Hill proved himself to be a tremendous relationship builder. No one in the Jersey-New York area is as welcome in gyms as Hill. It helped him at 'Nova, where he was able to lure Randy Foye, Allen Ray and Mike Nardi to Jay Wright's program. Now, he wants it to pay off at Rutgers.
In some ways, it already has. The Knights will welcome guard Corey Chandler to the program next year. He's a solid top-40 recruit. Also expected in New Brunswick is shooter Justin Sofman, who originally committed for this season but needed a year of prep school to mature. (He just turned 18 in August.) That's not a bad start.
Unfortunately for Hill, neither player had the name recognition of Lance Thomas, for whom Rutgers lost a highly-publicized spring recruiting battle with Duke. The Knights also came in second for Dan Werner, losing out to Florida for the Jersey product It was a classic confrontation. Hill brought his Rolodex and Jersey Guy persona to the arena against Coach K and the Duke national reputation. Though Thomas chose to play in Durham, Hill is undaunted.
"I don't know what everybody's expectations were, but guys weren't going to come to Rutgers just because I became head coach," Hill said. "We're fortunate that I have recruited New Jersey and New York for 25 years, and that I have a lot of good relationships, but a lot of great programs come in to recruit players here. I certainly think we have an opportunity to recruit every great player, and that's certainly our philosophy. But we're not going to get every great player. I've been fortunate in the past to get my fair share, and we want to get our fair share at Rutgers.
"[Losing out on Thomas] was not a setback. We went toe-to-toe with Duke and went down to the wire. It's good to be in battles to get some of these guys. We said, 'We're here, and we're a great option.' There are going to be guys for whom it's a good fit. Even to get in late with Dan Werner, who is going to defending national champion Florida, is a thing we want to do."