The Rutgers men’s basketball team expressed excitement, yet cautious optimism during its Media Day on Oct. 29.
“We have to play together as a team. We have to play through foul trouble, especially earlier in the year when they blow the whistle like crazy. Everyone has to be ready ... We need everyone to buy in. If that happens, then we can make the tournament," said head coach Steve Pikiell when asked if qualifying for the NCAA tournament is a realistic goal.
As the team co-captains, junior guard Geo Baker and senior forward Shaq Carter will be primarily responsible for implementing the team-oriented vision that Pikiell wants. Both of them emphasized the importance of their leadership roles this year, both on and off the court.
“I want to make sure guys are doing the right thing off the court,” Baker said. “Getting to class on time, not going out on game day or before practice. It all starts with me, I have to lead by example.”
Baker’s influence is showing. Pikiell mentioned that the Scarlet Knights currently have a 3.10 cumulative GPA — the best they have ever had. This shows that they are not only getting to class on time, but also are working just as hard in the classroom as they are on the court.
“I’ve been here for a long time, so there’s certain stuff that I know that other guys don’t know, and I have to communicate that stuff," Baker said in terms of basketball aspects. “For example, I have to make sure (true freshman guard) Paul (Mulcahy) understands where to be on defense, and he can’t get down on himself when he’s missing shots. A couple guys really look up to me, so I have to have a positive mindset and do the right thing so that they do the same.”
Baker helping out the younger players is a good sign for team chemistry. The only way Rutgers has a chance at the NCAA tournament is if it plays as a team, not a collection of individuals. Team leaders helping out young players is an essential piece to the puzzle.
Mulcahy was able to offer a freshman’s perspective on the new season and experience.
“It’s all new to me, so I’m trying to enjoy everything ... Everyone’s been taking me under their wing, offering assistance with basketball, life and school," he said.
Despite being new, he sounded confident that he could help the team right away.
“I think I can bring a winning attitude and make people better. I can get them the ball in the right places. I can help on defense as well ... I just want to be an all-around player," Mulcahy said.
The combination of veteran leadership and the infusion of young energy should make for a well-rounded squad. With the Big Ten having eight teams in the NCAA tournament last year, the Knights will have their work cut out for them in terms of competition.
With that being said, the maturation and versatility of the team help its chances of qualifying.
“I look forward to all the challenges and the marathon of the season, and all the different turns it takes,” Pikiell said.
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