Rutgers coach Steve Pikiell has depth in the backcourt but did not have the key body in the post until Thursday.
With the commitment of San Jancito (Texas) 6-foot-9 power forward Candido Sa, Rutgers has its biggest addition of April.
“He’s a pretty skilled big man,” said head coach Scott Gernander. “He has the versatility that he can do a bit of everything. He’s a 6-foot-9 kid but he steps out and he shoots it. He can get by bigger defenders and post up smaller guys. He was second in the nation in blocked shots this past year, so I think they like his length and that he’s aggressive both offensively and defensively.”
Sa held plenty of options, including an expected Texas visit, but appreciated the honesty and interest of the new Rutgers staff. A relationship with support staffer Greg Vetrone facilitated the relationship and a recent visit from the staff led to Thursday’s commitment.
“He was really comfortable with them the entire time,” Gernander said. “He knew [Vetrone] from his little stint when he was working out with the Canaries Basketball Academy over there. … Steve came in to watch him play one day and he said he really liked the head coach and their campus was beautiful. I remember him telling me he thought he might go there. Pitt and Texas, he got a bunch of high-major calls but he even told a couple of them he wasn’t interested. Texas was trying to get a visit. He was set to go but they had to push it back a week and he said, you know what, I’m going to go to Rutgers. He was comfortable the entire time.”
Sa was a steady post presence at the junior college level and brings the same consistency and passion to the Big Ten.
“I’m really proud of him and I’m more proud of him as a student,” Germander said. “He was a qualifier out of high school but coming over here was his first time in the states. It was an adjustment with the physically of the game. Academically, a lot of guys need help but he was low maintenance.”
Sa will be ready to play early and often for Pikiell in the 2016-17 season.
“He’ll be ready right away,” Gernander said. “He’s mature kid –23 by the time he starts. He’s played with the Olympic stuff with Portugal and all of that national stuff. He’s been around. We have a darn good JUCO basketball league, and he’s battle tested. I know the Big Ten is another animal. The thing I’ve always said is that he’s an even-keel guy. No emotion. He can make a big play. Sometimes you want a little more fire out of him but he doesn’t get rattled. He shows up every day. He started every game for us for two years. That doesn’t happen often with big men, I don’t think he missed a practice for two years.”
Sa projects to sign and join Pikiell’s program this summer where he will work closely with assistant Jay Young.
“He’s still offensively, I’d like to see him more assertive,” Gernander said. “He’s always been a guy that plys his role. He’s not overly hungry with his shots. Steve knows, I think he needs to get three more rebounds a game outside of his area. He’s a 6-foot-9 athlete. He needs to go for it a little more. There are times in the gym where I look at my assistants and say, next year that’s Michigan State. He needs to go up and finish that. He’s got some areas he needs to work on and they know that. You can’t teach 6-foot-9 and his skill. He’s ready.”