TheKnightReport - Rutgers Hoops HC Steve Pikiell and players talk Media Day 2020
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Rutgers Hoops HC Steve Pikiell and players talk Media Day 2020

On Friday afternoon, Rutgers men’s basketball head coach Steve Pikiell and some of the Scarlet Knights players spoke to the press during their annual media day event as the season is only a few weeks away.

"We’ve been practicing and we’ve been here since June,” Pikiell said in his opening statement. “Very thankful that we’ve been able to keep our guys healthy, thankful to the university, Pat Hobbs, doctors and all the people that have worked for hours, months and weeks for helping keep the protocol here to keep our guys safe and healthy. I’m very thankful for our guys that they’ve really done a great job of sacrificing and keeping themselves healthy. I’m going to miss seeing some of you guys at the RAC, this is our new normal. I’m excited about thee season, our program has come a long way. I’m excited about 16 guys having a 3.0 grade point average and I’m really excited about the development of our veteran guys and our young guys coming in."

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Pikiell kicked things off with a bang, showing a lot of enthusiasm in this year’s squad as he returns seven of his team’s top 10 scorers from last season.

“I am excited that we are a veteran team,” said Pikiell. “This is the first time in my tenure here that we have some guys who have been through a lot. We have seniors and then we have some juniors and sophomores that have logged a ton of minutes, so I’m excited about that. I’m really excited about our depth because I think we’ve really tried to build a program that has a lot of depth, I play my depth. We’re only going to be as good as our bench. I feel like this year more than ever our depth is really going to get tested. I like the fact that we can go 10-11 deep with this group.”

That list of returning players features star players Ron Harper Jr and Geo Baker, both of which are expected to take their game to the next level once again.

Recently Geo Baker was named to the Bob Cousy preseason watch list, which features the top 20 point guards in the nation.

"It’s just a blessing honestly,” Baker said via video call. “It’s something I never really thought about. Every year I feel like no one really shows that much love to me or to our team. It was something that was definitely different and I’m excited about it. I always say preseason doesn’t really matter. I said that when we were picked 12th in the Big Ten and I’m going to say that now. We are getting all this love in preseason and what matters is what you do during the season. I just want to win so I don’t really care about all that.”

Along with Baker being named to a preseason watch list, stud forward Ron Harper Jr also was named to the Julius Erving watch list (best SF in nation) and the top defender in the Big Ten by Lindy’s Sports.

Despite the preseason awards, this year Harper is solely focused on taking his team to the next level.

“We are all hungry,” said Harper Jr. “We have a lot of under recruited and underrated guys on this team. That chip on our shoulder got even bigger when they cancelled the (NCAA) tournament cause they cancelled something we’ve been working our whole lives for, just to prove people wrong and prove that we can do. That just got taken away from us and everyone in the locker room remembers that feeling. Even the freshmen, they wanted to watch us play in March Madness too. The streak just grew one year older and we are just excited to break it.”

On top of the returning players, the Scarlet Knights also welcomed four newcomers to the team led by top 50 recruit Clifford Omoruyi.

Pikiell see a bright future for this entire group and thinks some of these guys will play a big role this season.

“The four guys have been so coachable,” said Pikiell. “They have been great and physically too, they are big and athletic. They are the biggest group that we ever brought in. They are workers, great teammates, I love what they bring to us and they are talented basketball players. I couldn’t be more pleased, they really have fit in great. We lost some really great teammates in Akwasi (Yeboah), Shaq (Carter) and Joey Downes was part of our class last year. But these kids have really come in and gave us an added dimension of competitiveness. Myles (Johnson) and Cliff (Omoruyi) go at it every day, Mawot (Mag) and Ron Harper Jr go at it every day and Oskar (Palmquist) goes at it everyday. They’ve done a really good job of raising the level our practices. I couldn’t be more pleased by far our best class.”

Rutgers Basketball also just signed two more recruits in the 2021 recruiting class that consists of top 120 guard/forward Jaden Jones and three-star point guard Jalen Miller.

"Yesterday we added two more nice pieces to our program,” Pikiell said. “Two great kids with tremendous upsides from great families. All of the qualities I really look for, they are gym rats and really good basketball players. The future is really bright here on the banks.”The Scarlet Knights don’t have an official schedule just yet, but they are expected to take on Sacred Heart in the season opener on November 25th.

Stay tuned for more RHoops team and recruiting news right here on The Knight Report!

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