Head coach Eddie Jordan enters his first season directing the Rutgers men’s basketball team with seven returning letterwinners and five scholarship newcomers on the roster. After being named the University’s 18th head men’s basketball coach on April 23, his initial three months on the job have been extremely busy. Charged with returning Scarlet Knights’ basketball to a measure of success reminiscent of what he, himself, experienced as a student–athlete, Jordan has been unrelenting in his task. Games have yet to be won, but victories are taking place every day.
According to Henry Ford, “coming together is a beginning; keeping together is progress; working together is success.”
On this particular July afternoon, the team is working together at the RAC, an arena Jordan played in as a member of the NBA’s New Jersey Nets. It’s especially warm and student-managers surround the court’s perimeter with an ample supply of towels in hand. During a drill, a returning player makes an error, halting the activity.
“My bad,” the player utters, which has become a requisite response in the world of sports.
Jordan briefly stops the player, makes eye contact, and simply replies “your bad, is my job.”
With that, Jordan imparts the preferred course of action and the drill resumes at full speed. The floor squeaks in response to the repeated impressions of red and white Nike high tops. The moment of clarity is in the rear view mirror and Jordan drives the practice forward.
Teaching moments are rarely, if ever, wasted under Jordan’s watch. A hardwood veteran with a measured approach, it provides him the opportunity to share the knowledge he has gained from 28 seasons coaching at the NBA and collegiate levels. As a player, he earned All-America accolades at Rutgers before earning an NBA Championship ring in 1982 with a Los Angeles Lakers team that featured Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Magic Johnson.
“It’s definitely been busy and I love every minute of it,” Jordan said when asked to reflect upon his first three months on the job. “We have been making contact with recruits and I’ve been talking to a lot of donors and making appearances at fundraising events. I’m trying to get the program back under my wings and develop relationships with different types of people - donors, recruits, their families, their high school coaches and AAU coaches. We have a tremendous staff in place and we are coming together.
“I’m very proud of our players and like what I have seen. They are willing to listen and work hard. What we are doing is new. With newness comes some unfamiliarity and some setbacks, but we are working through those setbacks. We are willing to be a family and help each other. That’s what we are right now.”
It’s continually said that recruiting is the life’s blood of a program. Although official games will not be played until November, the Scarlet Knights have made a positive impression on the recruiting trail. With the help of assistant coaches David Cox, Van Macon and Kyle Triggs, Jordan has brought in key players for 2013-14 and received commitments from several highly-touted prospects for the future.
“We are looking for dedicated student-athletes, talented student-athletes,” said Jordan. “We need good, talented kids, kids who are dedicated to working hard and who understand that academics are a big part of coming to college. We need to have toughness along with that talent. Emotional, physical and mental toughness…kids who love to play. So, that’s the type of kid we want to recruit…a kid that wants to come to Rutgers.”
When fans do file into the RAC for games this winter, they will see a new scoreboard above the court and a playing style reflective of the new head coach on the court.
“We don’t want to give up easy passes; we want to make it hard for the opponent to score,” said Jordan. “We don’t want our opponents to get lay-ups, open shots or open three’s and we don’t want to foul. Offensively, we want to dictate the tempo, meaning up-tempo, and get good quality shots. We want to play a simple game and help each other. Each player needs to help his teammate to score. Basic, sound, fundamental defense is the goal. We need to execute our rotations and play through the possession while finishing with great effort.”
Returning starters Myles Mack (Paterson, N.J.) and Jerome Seagears (Silver Spring, Md.), along with junior college transfer D’Von Campbell (Arlington, Texas) will play prominent roles at the guard positions. In just two seasons, Mack and Seagears have combined to play in 126 games and make 87 starts. An All-Met selection last year, Mack led the Big East in free throw percentage (.882) and 3-point field goal percentage (.462), while placing seventh in steals (1.81) and 10th in field goal percentage (.480). A Big East All-Academic selection, Seagears ranked fifth in the BIG EAST in 3-point FG percentage (.417) in conference games. A junior college transfer who previously played at UTEP, Campbell averaged 12.1 points and 4.0 assists at Hutchinson (Kan.) Community College in 2012-13 to help the Blue Dragons to the NJCAA No. 1 ranking during the regular season.
“With our guard’s experience, they can get their own shots,” said Jordan. “Guard play is important in any team’s success. Moving forward our guards can be playmakers. All of our guards can be playmakers. Myles has shown himself to be a solid leader through his effort and trying to do the right things.”
Sophomore Logan Kelley (Mountainside, N.J.) will provide key depth at the guard position. A team-oriented and hard-working Garden State product who joined the program as a walk-on last season, his dedication earned him a scholarship for the 2013-14 campaign.
On the wing, Rutgers returns junior Malick Kone (Conakry, Guinea) and welcomes junior college transfer Craig Brown (Miami, Fla.), Iowa State sophomore transfer Kerwin Okoro (Bronx, N.Y.) and Pittsburgh senior transfer J.J. Moore (Brentwood, N.Y.). A versatile player and strong defender who can contribute at both the three and the four, Kone played in 28 contests last season, averaging 10.4 minutes. A physical, do-it-all type of player, Brown averaged 18.0 points and 8.0 rebounds as a sophomore in 2012-13 at Broward College in Davie, Fla.
“Malick is probably our best defender versus smalls or bigs,” said Jordan.
Moore and Okoro enrolled in classes at Rutgers this summer, but their availability to compete in games in 2013-14 is pending waiver requests to the NCAA. An experienced, aggressive and athletic wing with a 37-inch vertical leap, Moore played in all 33 games for the Panthers last season, averaging 8.0 points and 3.0 rebounds in 18.7 minutes. A physical guard who provides strong defense at the wing position, Okoro appeared in nine games as a true freshman for the Cyclones.
The Rutgers frontcourt features returning letterwinners Kadeem Jack (Queens, N.Y.), Wally Judge (Washington, D.C) and Greg Lewis (Randallstown, Md.) and welcomes true freshman Junior Etou (Upper Marlboro, Md.).
“Our forwards are very good athletes, they are tough, solid and physical,” said Jordan. “They’re slashing and athletic. We want to establish our interior, establish our paint scores and our interior paint. We need to get lay-ups, get free-throws and make it hard for the defense to guard cuts and screens and get to the basket. Our guards can make their own plays and that is how I see it, bigs and smalls. Get bigs involved, get them to the rim and get them to the free throw line. That’s our approach.”
A player with great versatility and athleticism, Jack has worked hard to improve his jump shot. A two-time Big East All-Academic team member, the redshirt junior played in all 31 games last season and concluded the year by shooting 70 percent in the Big East Championship.
“Kadeem has shown good leadership,” said Jordan. “He’s worked tremendously hard this off-season. On the court, he’s shown a willingness to run the floor and help his teammates get to the basket.”
A redshirt senior with 84 career games under his belt, Judge is the seasoned veteran among the big men. A strong, physical presence, he is a seasoned rebounder who brings consistent energy to the floor. Judge played in all 31 games (30 starts) last season and shot a team-best 52.6 (91-173) percent.
After redshirting last season as a sophomore, Lewis makes his much-anticipated return in 2013-14. A tough, physical big man who excels in the weight room, he has persevered through injuries and is regarded as a good finisher around the basket.
Although the complete 2013-14 schedule has yet to be released, Rutgers men’s basketball fans will have ample opportunity to watch the Scarlet Knights take on many notable opponents inside the truncated pyramid. The home non-conference slate is highlighted by a meeting with rival Seton Hall on Sunday, Dec. 8. In May, The schools jointly announced an eight-year agreement to continue the men’s basketball series at alternating home sites.
“I’m obviously very excited that this series is going to continue,” said Jordan. “I have been a part of this rivalry as both a player and an assistant coach, and I look forward to preparing our team for it. It helps to build spirit and is good for our University, our fans, our students and the New Jersey basketball community. It’s special and we can’t wait to grow the rivalry even more.”
In American Athletic Conference play, the Scarlet Knights will square-off against many high-profile programs, including Louisville, Connecticut, Memphis, Cincinnati and Temple.
“When the defending national champion is in your conference, it’s a pretty good conference,” said Jordan. There’s perennial sweet sixteen and elite eight programs in this league. In non-conference play, we have good teams from the northeast region that we want to establish ourselves against. Every game is hard and we are going to take each game individually and try and win that particular game without looking forward.
“We want our fans to see a disciplined team that executes with a good demeanor on the floor - a team that keeps its composure and helps one another. Ultimately, we need to be organized, play hard and display tremendous competitive behavior. “