Alex Goodlett /

"Ghost Gang" Comes Up Big for Rutgers Basketball

PISCATAWAY, N.J. -- DeShawn Freeman and CJ Gettys became instant friends in the Rutgers locker room. In Steve Pikiell's first win as head coach, the self-anointed "Ghost Gang" showed what their relationship can do on the court.

In what smells like a southern “buddy cop” movie in the making, Rutgers big men DeShawn Freeman and CJ Gettys became instant friends when the latter enrolled as a graduate transfer.

Call it a basketball thing, a North Carolina thing, a southern thing, whatever. Freeman and Gettys coined it the “Ghost Gang.”

Ghost gang, you can go ahead and quote that,” Gettys said. “That's me and DeShawn right there. We're like one and two, peas in a pod. I play off him and he plays off of me. His energy gets me going. My energy gets him going. You're going to see a lot of things to come from us two.”

Freeman and Gettys connected through a friend of a friend from their UNC Wilmington and Hutchinson Community College days.

We hang out every day,” Freeman said. “It's a south thing, a North Carolina thing. We're really good friends.”

If Friday's night's tip-off is any indication, an off-court bond is just as strong on the hardwood.

Freeman and Gettys found each other often in the post game as starters at the four and five.

Freeman went for a double-double in his first game back since a 2015 knee injury. Gettys gave 17 minutes, 11 points and six rebounds.

It's a North Carolina thing,” Gettys said. “We definitely established that connection with North Carolina. We hang out off the court a lot, and I think that establishes our camaraderie on the court a lot and makes it easier to play with one another. When you're at the four and five playing against a zone, it's high and low. He's a great energy guy. He's at the right place at the right time all the time.”

Rutgers coach Steve Pikiell talked up Gettys' leadership in preseason, and it clearly influenced Freeman within their friendship. From injured and frustrated last season, Freeman became team captain under Pikiell.

Last year, man, I don't want to look toward that,” Freeman said. “With the great coaching staff we have now and trainers and strength coach, they're helping me out as far as staying healthy. That's a huge part.

Last year, it was like 'whatever' to me. This year, I'm keeping a positive attitude. If I'm being a captain, and I have that attitude, then other guys are going to have that attitude. I'm staying to work hard and get my team to do the exact same thing.”

Worth Noting – While freshman Issa Thiam beat out juniors Mike Williams and Nigel Johnson for the starting shooting guard spot Friday, the older duo happily brought heat off the bench.

Williams and Johnson combined for 31 points, three steals and seven rebounds on 57 percent shooting.

They cut it close, cut it to five and then me and Mike came in and brought a lot of energy,” Johnson said. “We kind of flipped it around and got it up to like 20, eventually almost 30. We took the momentum and we kind of kept it the rest of the game.”

Thiam only shot 29 percent in his debut. His teammates have high confidence regardless.

He shoots the mess out of the ball,” Johnson said. “He's a 6-foot-9 knockdown shooter. It's pretty rare that you come across that. When you find it, you gotta use it.”

Fun Stat – In a game that devolved into horde mode, sophomore Ibrahima Diallo stole three balls and grabbed four rebounds in a matter of seconds. The big man averages a steal per minute for Rutgers this season. That is sure to last.

Quote to Note – “It's a familiar foe with me. Drexel was in the CAA. We faced them two times a year. I could give you the scouting report in and out. They're a lot different from Molloy. I don't expect to see much 2-3 [zone defense]. I think they feel they can match up with us a little bit. It's going to be an exciting game.” – Gettys.

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