It's an inevitable elephant in the room scenario for the new head of strength and conditioning for Rutgers basketball.
David VanDyke knew the question would come eventually. An impressive part of VanDyke's early resume to many may not please the Rutgers fan base.
Before VanDyke's 11 years with Steve Pikiell at Stony Brook and stints with La Salle and the Philadelphia Eagles, VanDyke worked and played football at Penn State.
“Yeah, I know,” VanDyke said about the Penn State portion of his resume. “But I want to beat Penn State any chance I have, so I'm rooting against them. I'm going against my alma mater but this is who I am now. This is my people now.”
While VanDyke's education in science and kinesiology took place in State College, Pa., his 11 years with Pikiell at Stony Brook made him a perfect fit for the rebuild at Rutgers.
“The energy, everyone is healthy now,” said guard Mike Williams. “Everybody is stronger with coach VanDyke. We're all just really bought in.”
VanDyke overhauled the Rutgers basketball offseason routine with two focuses for the players – commitment and toughness.
Injuries devastated Eddie Jordan's roster last season to the point where shooting guards played power forward and 6-foot-6 wings played center. VanDyke brings an excellent injury-management track record from his decade at Stony Brook.
For some situations, a healthy roster is as simple as toughness.
“The biggest change that I've tried to facilitate happening is getting our guys to expect more from themselves,” he said Tuesday during the program's annual media day. “They have to know they're not made of glass. They're tougher than they think they are. Their bodies can handle a lot more than what they think. There's a difference between being sore and being hurt. It's being able to rise about their expectations and get them to see how much more they can get out of themselves.”
The commitment part of VanDyke's plan comes with a stricter workout schedule.
“These guys really didn't lift much during the season once they started practicing,” he said. “We're still lifting. We're getting in the weight room at least twice a week, and I haven't gotten too much pushback from it. They understand. I think I've done well enough in getting them to understand the why, so they don't try to get out of things because it's hard.”
One of last year's most disappointing injury situations is already an early success story. Pikiell can't go five minutes without praise for 7-foot center Shaquille Doorson and his weight loss. Down more than 50 pounds from last year's scooter-riding sophomore.
“Coach gives me that credit but Shaq did the hard part,” VanDyke said. “I can't live with him 24/7. The 20 to 18 hours a day that he's by himself, he took responsibility for himself and took ownership and decided that he wanted to make those changes. I just helped facilitate that. He did the hard part. I just held him accountable.”
Pikiell was as harsh as possible in his reaction to early player workouts. The strongest phrase from media day was “awful shape for college athletes.”
How did VanDyke react to the roster after he joined the athletic department?
“My first impression was that I'm going to have to take my time,” he said. “I'm going to have to really get them to trust me first, and trust that I'm not that strength coach who's going to yell at you just to yell at you. I'm going to do everything I can to make you a better basketball player. That's my goal. The goal here isn't just to lift more weight. The goal is to get them to be better basketball players. I have to get them to trust me little, by little.”
As far as individual impressions, VanDyke offered the following reactions.
On Corey Sanders – “Corey Sanders is a physical freak. He has unbelievable genetics. His output is tremendous and there's nothing that I can stake claim to other than to keep him healthy. In terms of raw athleticism, that's outstanding.”
On Nigel Johnson – “I think Nigel pound-for-pound is the strongest kid on our team.”
On Shaq Doorson – “Shaq's definitely bought in.”
On the recruiting class – “They've really bought into it and they're great workers. They're going to be a great foundation as we start building class on class on class. They're going to help me set the mentality and the expectation of what we do as a basketball program in the weight room.”