The vibe around the Rutgers men’s basketball team this preseason seems to be a mixture of optimism and determination.
Several members of the team spoke to the media on Oct. 8, including head coach Steve Pikiell, graduate student forward Akwasi Yeboah and junior guard Jacob Young.
Asked how his two new transfers are fitting into the team, Pikiell mentioned that they contribute to a general culture.
“They’re in the gym a lot, they’ve added to that culture, and they’re older," Pikiell said. "We’ve been a young program recently, but they’ve given us some age, maturity, and skillset ... They shoot the ball, they handle the ball, they know how to play. We’ve added one to our frontcourt, and one to our backcourt. They’re versatile, playing multiple positions. They’re really good kids, and I’m excited for them."
Pikiell pointing out their veteran presence is notable. Last year, the Scarlet Knights were one of the youngest teams in the conference, with several underclassmen receiving a large chunk of playing time. He certainly seemed to be glad about his team’s added experience.
“I think it’s always good when the team is older. Even our younger guys have logged in a lot of minutes. Our sophomores played a lot of minutes last year as freshmen," Pikiell said. "Jacob Young played a lot of minutes his first couple years at Texas, too. I think anytime you have older guys, it just helps ... They’ve been through the worst, from really good programs too. You’ve got some guys who won a lot, and have gotten older.”
The combination of returning Rutgers veterans, like junior guard Geo Baker and senior forward Shaq Carter, and the new transfers should provide the locker room with a solid nucleus of leadership and experience.
As for the transfers, each of them sounded eager for their new beginning on the Banks. Young sounded happy to have moved on from Texas.
“I feel like when I came here, I got my confidence back. I lost my confidence for a couple of years at my last school," Young said. "My teammates and coaches helped me push through it, and they’re the reason why I’m at the level I’m at right now. Just being happy and enjoying it.”
He not only sounded satisfied and content, but also was focused on his role on the team as well.
“I want to facilitate, and lock up on defense," Young said. "Just keep the energy going, and whatever coach Pikiell needs me to do. If he needs me to score, I’ll score. If he needs me to facilitate, or lock up on defense, that’s what I’ll do.”
Young’s hunger as a defender could serve the Knights well. Last year, they ranked just 11th out of 14 Big Ten teams in points allowed per game, with 68.8. For comparison, Michigan was the best in the conference, with 58.3.
As for Yeboah, he seemed relieved to settle down at Rutgers after years of transcontinental traveling.
“It’s cool. I’m used to moving around. I was born in Ghana, and then moved to England, then moved to the States," Yeboah said. "I give credit to my teammates and coaching staff for helping me transition smoothly.”
Hopefully, that smooth transition will also apply on the court.
Pikiell ended the day giving props to the locker room, specifically the returning Knights veterans.
“I like our locker room right now, I like our leadership. Geo (Baker) has been great, and Shaq Carter has been around a bit too," Pikiell said. "I like being different in that area, as opposed to being young.”
For updates on the Rutgers men's basketball team, follow @TargumSports on Twitter.