Kadeem Jack and Myles Mack take the headlines, and deservedly so, on senior night tonight. But when it comes to the team itself, look for forwards Malick Kone and Stephen Zurich to get just as many cheers when it comes to the pre-game ceremonies.
Neither Kone nor Zurich lit up the stat sheets during their Rutgers careers, but both brought value and stability during an ugly coaching transition in 2013.
“It’s never been about playing time,” said Zurich, who walked on under Eddie Jordan after time as a team manager. “I’ve been so blessed to be able to play here, compete at the Division I level in the Big Ten and all of that. I’ve never cared about that. I love coming out and competing every day against guys like Myles, guys like Kadeem, and I just try to be a great teammate more than anything.”
The 6-foot-5 Zurich sent plenty of time as a teenager at the RAC, where he cheered on his older sister. Heather Zurich played four seasons for coach C. Vivian Stringer, including the famous 2007 run to the NCAA Tournament title game. She now works as an assistant coach at UC Santa Barbara.
The youngest Zurich wears No. 21 just like his sister, and her impressive career helped draw him to Piscataway.
“That was one of the coolest things,” Zurich said. “I obviously spent a lot of time at the RAC watching my sister’s games and now being a part of this program. I really do love it here, and I’m going to miss it.”
Kone spent four scholarship years at Rutgers, but almost left in 2013. Kone received a release to transfer during Mike Rice’s final season as head coach. After interim athletic director Carl Kirschner hired Jordan, Kone reconsidered.
“Of course I am happy that I decided to stay,” Kone said. “I learned a lot about hard work. I made friends that will last forever. That’s more important than anything.”
Kone plays his 97th career game tonight. He enters tipoff with 257 career points, 206 rebounds and career 41 percent clip from the floor.
The Guinea native’s shining moment came during the upset over No. 4 Wisconsin. In the last Rutgers win, Kone scored seven points in 22 critical minutes. He has the same approach against ranked Maryland tonight.
“I’ll do the same thing baby,” Kone said. “I’m not going to think about it. I’m just going to play ball. Whatever happens, happens. It’s a game. We’re here to win. If we win, great. If we don’t, just enjoy the moment.”
Most importantly, Kone, Zurich, Mack and Jack are all on track for May graduation.
“That’s great,” Kone said. “I never thought about coming here and going to college here and getting a degree here. This time, I look back, I will say ‘wow. Thanks God. I’m thankful for everything.’ Even in basketball if I don’t go to the next step, this is a lot for me. That degree is forever.”