While shooting guard Issa Thiam has six starts on his resume, he is still “a baby” in his college basketball development.
At least, that's what his head coach sees after a hard-working preseason and 6-0 start to the year.
“He's six games into it, so he's not experienced at all,” said coach Steve Pikiell. “Issa's been fine. Issa practices the right way every day. He works hard. His preparation, he's figuring out. The tapes are out now too.”
Thiam's next challenge as a long, athletic two-guard is in-season change. Pikiell and former coach Eddie Jordan both knew Thiam could shoot when recruiting him.
Now, the rest of the country is aware.
“They know he can shoot, and so he's got to make adjustments to that,” Pikiell said. “As competition gets bigger, stronger, better, faster, he's got to get bigger, stronger, better, faster. He's a baby in this whole thing and he's got to keep learning. Keep working, but he has a terrific work ethic which I'm real pleased with. Not a lot of freshmen can work the way he works.”
Thiam faces his biggest challenge against Miami, which has athletic guards on the perimeter.
“i feel like I'm still learning every day,” Thiam said after Rutgers came from behind against Hartford. “My teammates have a lot of trust in me. They always believe that my next shot is going it. It's been a lot of fun. I'm taking it in every day with something new. I'm just following my coaching to make it better every day.”
Thiam leads Rutgers with 12 made 3-pointers and 33 attempts. Mike Williams led Rutgers with 50 last season, and trails Thiam by one made shot in the first six games.
“I love it,” said point guard Corey Sanders, who shot 31 percent from deep last season. “You see it in the out-of-bounds play when he was open in the corner. I threw it and I just automatically ran back to halfcourt because I just knew it was going in. Just to have some of those guys on my team, even like Mike. Mike hit a big shot for us. Issa was hitting shots all night. Just to have those guys around me just makes everything easier.”
Thiam's teammates remain confident in him as a shooter based on what they've seen from him in practice.
“We haven't had that since I've been here, and to have it, it's a big help,” said captain DeShawn Freeman.
Thiam enjoys his role, saying Williams and guard Nigel Johnson push him hard in practices off the bench.
“I'm a shooter, but my teammates help me,” Thiam said. “I love too shoot. I never want to stop shooting. I didn't expect anything to be [handed to me] but I knew I would get an opportunity if I kept working hard when I came in.”