Rice: Culture Changed at Rutgers

After showing improvement in several key areas, including the ability to be competitive in the Big East, first-year Rutgers coach Mike Rice told ScarletReport.com the "cultural mentality" of the program was changed. The next step is getting leadership from the returning players, and Rice talked about who needs to step up in that role.

Rutgers didn't get its coveted postseason berth, thanks to a number of close losses and the officiating debacle in the season-ending St. John's loss, but on a grander scale the season was a success.

Speaking Monday with ScarletReport.com, Scarlet Knights first-year coach Mike Rice said the groundwork was put down by a cooperative senior class that will serve the program well moving forward.

"It's such an overused term, but changing the cultural mentality of this program had to be done, and I think that was accomplished," Rice said. "Nothing is easy in the Big East, and so it wasn't easy, but with the help of the seniors, it was accomplished. That was the biggest and most important thing."

Rutgers finished 15-17, including 5-13 in the Big East, which are the same records as in 2009-10, but the development of the program went far beyond that.

In looking inside the Big East, Rutgers improved in scoring defense (69.3 ppg), field goal percentage defense (.421), 3-point field goal defense (.359), turnovers forced (219) and committed (217). Offensively, Rutgers improved in field goal shooting (.441) and 3-point shooting (.348).

The Scarlet Knights' 13 conference losses in coach Fred Hill's final season came by an average of 17.2 points, with two losses by seven points or less and five by 23 points or more.

Rutgers' 13 losses this season came be an average of 8.8 points, with six losses coming by seven or less points and the largest margin of defeat being 18 points.

"You always have doubts about when you take over a program that didn't have much success whether they're going to listen to you or not," Rice said. "So, you always have some doubts, but in the end, with a very good staff and a team that embraced my formula, it wasn't that difficult."

Jonathan Mitchell, Mike Coburn and James Beatty were the senior leaders who Rutgers will have to replace, and Rice is counting on his returning players -- wing Dane Miller, center/power forward Gilvydas Biruta and wing Mike Poole -- to lead a talented crop of freshman, led by St Anthony (Jersey City, N.J.) point guard Myles Mack.

"I think it's very instrumental," Rice said of the role of the returnees. "It's called leadership, understanding how hard it is to win in Division I, and the Big East, how hard you have to work to prepare for that success.

"So, whether it's Dane or Gilvydas or Mike, we still don't have a (senior), those guys have to lead by example, that's for sure."

Rutgers' other scholarship underclassmen are guards Austin Carroll and Tyree Graham (who sat out the season with a knee injury), center Austin Johnson and power forward/center Kadeem Jack, who enrolled in late December and red-shirted.

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