When sophomore forward Gilvydas Biruta announced his intent to transfer and was granted his release from the Rutgers men's basketball program last month, Mike Rice and his staff immediately hit the recruiting trail trying to find a player to fill Biruta's scholarship void.
They found that player this afternoon when Baytown (Tex.) Lee College forward Vincent Garrett pledged his verbal commitment to the Scarlet Knights.
A Chicago native, Garrett, a 6-foot-5 wingman, averaged 16.0 points, 6.0 rebounds and 2.0 assists to earn All-Region XIV South Zone First Team honors this past season. Rutgers had initiated contact with him during mid-season, and he chose the Scarlet Knights over Oregon State, Texas A&M and UNLV.
"Narrowing the list down was really hard. There were a lot of good programs and I couldn't play for all of them," Garrett said. "I just sat down with [Lee assistant coach Marcus King] and head coach [Roy] Champagne. Rutgers was second behind UNLV; I was supposed to UNLV first but they pushed it back because they were looking at another kid. Then Oregon State came in mix.
"Other schools came in late but I wasn't really for that. I wanted to go for the schools putting time in early. I took a visit to Rutgers first then Oregon State and compared them. They're both great programs and in the end it was Rutgers."
Rice and assistant coach Jimmy Martelli were the point men in Garrett's recruitment. Rice visited the swingman on multiple occasions and joked that he'd come down on a weekly basis until he could guarantee a commitment, or at least a visit from the Chicago (Ill.) John Marshall High alumnus.
Garrett said Rice's fiery and demanding temperament was a prime factor in him choosing RU.
"That's something I can see myself playing for," he said. "I like to drive for a person to push me harder. You can't get better if no one is pushing you and I just looked at Coach Rice as somebody who could push me and help me get to that next level."
First and foremost, Garrett says he is most concerned with helping Rutgers get to the next level as a program. Next year is a pivotal year in the Rice tenure; progress must be made, and Garrett says he wants to be a major part of it.
"I didn't want to go somewhere that is known for winning games," he said. "I wanted to go somewhere where I can help change things and help them win games. At Rutgers, they have a great coaching staff and great players: Eli Carter, Myles Mack, Jerome Seagears, Wally Judge, Derrick Randall. They like to get up and down the court and are looking to win.
"I want to be a leader. Being one of the older guys--not to say those other guys aren't mature--I want to help them."
Garrett's alma mater is the same high school that produced Arthur Agee, one of the stars of the basketball documentary "Hoop Dreams" as well as former Scarlet Knight women's standout Cappie Pondexter. Garrett credits Marshall and his old head coach, Henry Cotton, with turning him into a basketball player.
"I went to high school and I wasn't going to play until coach asked me to try out," he explained. "I had first started playing in eighth grade. Once I got into it, I liked it."
While at Marshall, Garrett was an undersized "5" man who relied on his athleticism and aggressiveness to compensate for a lack of height. Now that he has honed some perimeter skills during his time in Texas, he feels his game is well-rounded.
"My style of play is being able to score and shoot the ball very well from 17-feet and out," he said. "I can go off the dribble, elevate and create space and shoot over smaller defenders. I post up from time to time if I have a smaller defender on me. I thank Lee College and Coach King and Coach Champagne for everything."