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October 27, 2010

Hoops Notebook: A new season

Less than week remains between Rutgers and its first exhibition game of the 2010-11 campaign. On Wednesday, head coach Mike Rice met with reporters at Rutgers Media Day to talk about where the program stands heading into his first season in the Big East.

Tough tests ahead
Rice knows he will face his share of tough tests this season with only nine scholarship players and a daunting Big East schedule awaiting. It will be a fight to get to .500 but Rice has already started to change the hoops program.

"There are several challenges that lie ahead with this team and the one that my staff and I have focused on is changing the culture of how we do things here," said Rice.

He expounded on how his staff intends to do just that.

"The level of demand, the preparation and the intensity that goes into practice. Changing the culture of how we defend on a nightly basis, how we go about preparing for an opponent, how we go about having the necessary intensity and energy to reach our fullest. It is a challenge in making them consistent and making them understand that maybe you have more, that they can give more."

An early assessment
With a week an half of practice already completed, Rice has gotten the chance to make a bit of an early assessment of his team. In the early going, the trio of senior captains James Beatty, Jonathan Mitchell and Mike Coburn have all made an early impression.

"Those three have been the most consistent in everything I ask," said Rice. "Who has risen to that challenge? I would say my three seniors. To be honest, they have more at stake than anybody, even the head coach. Because everybody says we're so undermanned and it's a rebuilding year. It's my seniors who have the most at stake. Those three have had the best urgency, the most intensity."

Winning the recruiting game
Rice has already proven his worth as a recruiter, pulling in the sixth ranked class of 2011 according to rivals.com. He offered some insight on why he has been able to accomplish such a feat.

"I think we've been successful so far because there's a lot to sell at Rutgers, whether it's facilities, whether it's the best conference in the country, whether it's sandwiched between two of the top four media markets in the country. There's a ton to sell, including playing time. …My staff and I have just focused on some of the relationships we build and now just sold a future to these recruits that's very believable."

Keeping it fresh
This season is likely to see a lot of Scarlet Knights come on and off the court as Rice likes to keep fresh legs out on the floor. He commented on that aspect of his coaching philosophy.

"If anybody had got the chance to see my first three years at Robert Morris, I sub. There's somebody at the scorer's table every two or three minutes. It's just the way I play basketball. It's just the way I think the game should be played. You play as hard as you can for as long as you can. That usually lasts four to six minutes, maybe some of our better conditioned or more important players would play at most seven. That's just the way I feel you should play. If you're relaxing on the floor, if you're resting on the floor, you're being selfish."

The Rutgers defense could also undergo multiple looks throughout the course of a game.

"I will be changing defenses a little bit more to disrupt the tempo and flow of the other team," said Rice. "There will be things I'll try."

Rice has also stressed the importance of communication in all forms.

"If you watch our practices, there is always communication between me and the team or my staff and the team," said Rice. "We talked about creating that chaos, creating an atmosphere that maybe they're not comfortable in and so they get comfortable in it. What I don't see yet, because our team is still a working project, is communicating with each other. We have some doing it and some younger, underclassmen just don't know the need yet."

A team effort
This year's RU team is going to have to compensate for a lack of height in the frontcourt with Austin Johnson serving as the big man even though he stands at only 6-foot-7. Rice explained how the undersized lineup will have to attack the boards.

"We can't just put it on Austin or Gilvydas [Biruta] or J-Mitch or one of the other players. It's got to be teamwork. It's got to be they send two players to the offensive glass, we need to send four players to the defensive glass. That's the way we have to do it all year. We have to outnumber people, we have to be there for one another, quicker, more aggressive. That's the way we're going to succeed."

Miller, the man?
After last year's breakout campaign as a true freshman, a lot of eyes will be watching Dane Miller, including Rutgers' opponents. Although those opponents may be keying on him, Rice wants to see a well-rounded team.

"[Miller] reads the internet and he reads the newspapers, he'll be a focal point whether it's stopping his penetration, slowing him down in transition, keeping him off the offensive glass, whatever they may be," said Rice. "It can't be that this year. We have to be different in our attack on our opponents. That's the one thing I really do like about this team. You don't know who's going to shoot the basketball on our team on any possession. You don't know how we're going to attack you because it's going to be different than pretty much every Big East team."

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