Hoops Practice Report: Mentor Battle at DePaul for Rutgers Coach Steve Pikiell

PISCATAWAY, N.J. -- Coach Steve Pikiell leads Rutgers to a winnable road trip against DePaul and one of his former coaches. What are the keys to the game? What are road trips like under Pikiell?

The Headline – The first road trip for coach Steve Pikiell pits student against teacher and friends against each other. In Chicago, DePaul and head coach Dave Leitao await Rutgers basketball.

Before Leitao's head-coaching career started as DePaul's leader in 2002, Leiato spent 14 years in two stints with Connecticut. Pikiell played under Leiato with Jim Calhoun's Huskies in the 1980s, and also worked together as assistants.

“He's great, one of my dear friends,” Pikiell said. “He's a terrific coach. … He's one of the all-time great people. He's been one of my mentors for a long time. He does a great job, the ACC coach of the year, pretty good coaches in that league too last time I checked. He's going to do a great job building that program back up.”

Their relationship is strong enough that Leitao strongly endorsed Pikiell's hire in the spring, saying “I've known Steve for 30 years and in that time both he and his wife Kate have been two of the most incredible people one could ever know. He has turned around the Stony Brook program and maintained consistent winning in the American East. Rutgers is getting a tireless worker, a tremendous basketball coach and most important, the ultimate representative for the university. With time and patience Rutgers will be a program that all parties involved can look at with great pride and joy. Winning is what he knows.”

The Blue Demons begin the season 1-1 while Rutgers is off to a 2-0 start under Pikiell.

“They're very athletic,” Pikiell said. “They attack the rim. He does a very good job. They play hard. We're on the road. We haven't had a lot of success on the road, so [it is] dangerous. They've got a great point guard Billy Garrett Jr. I think he can play anywhere. The kid [Eli] Cain out of Jersey, I think he can play anywhere. They pose a lot of problems, a little undersized, a little different in how they play. We haven't seen anything like them to date.”

Cain, out of Newark (N.J.) St. Benedicts Prep, led DePaul with 21 points in a 78-72 win over Robert Morris.

Worth NotingRutgers has not won on the road since Myles Mack beat the buzzer at Monmouth in December of 2014. Thursday night is the first time on the road under Pikiell other than a Monmouth preseason scrimmage.

It's a business trip,” Pikiell said. “Hopefully [we are] well prepared, going out to Chicago a great place. Part of this tournament, which is exciting, you've got to be different on the road. You've got to be focused, excellent basketball, we're not familiar with the rims, referees aren't from your conference so a lot of differences when you go on the road.”

Quote of the Day – “When I got here, I was like 207 pounds. I've gained like 20 pounds since then. That helped me a lot. … Everybody makes jokes that if you want to find Candido, you've got to go to the dining hall. I'm always there.” – Candido Sa.

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