But this is Rutgers, where story-book-like tales with happy endings are about as commonplace as bowl games and trips to the NCAA tournament. Initially things seemed to be going along just fine this past season, with that unusual arrangement on the Rutgers bench where Gary Waters sat right next to, and worked quite well with, the man who he and everyone else knew would have his job in the not too distant future. Still, the future was supposed to be not too distant, not right now. Then came that infamous snowy day in February, and before you knew it Gary Waters was a lame duck coach before the season was even over.
The way it all played out in the press and in public was the first blemish Hill had to endure – through no fault of his own. The handling of Waters' forced resignation simply did not look good and sparked immediate grumbling and speculation among some people about what role, if any, Hill might have had in the affair - even though it was abundantly clear that he was more than willing to wait his turn for the position and was merely an innocent bystander caught in an extremely awkward situation. Still, the perception that Waters was not treated properly (even though he was compensated quite handsomely, since at Rutgers paying people not to coach is one of the things done best) saw the Hill era ushered in under a slight taint that it did not deserve.
Unfortunately for Rutgers and Hill, whatever negative perceptions there were about the Waters affair reverberated in the Lance Thomas recruitment. It appears that the Waters situation did not help that recruiting effort, and in fact may have even hurt it, as apparently some of Thomas' family members were not happy about the way it all was handled. While it is easy to dismiss this as inconsequential and/or unsubstantiated, the fact remains that Lance Thomas isn't coming here. The recruit we all thought might finally be the one - the one to take "the chance" and be the big name who would get others to follow - well, we're just going to have to wait a little longer.
He's not coming here and others, like his teammate Eugene Harvey, aren't coming either. He's going to Seton Hall. Yep, they're real cocky again these days, those big bullies up north (oops, we're the real big university and they're the small school), who have gone to the NCAA's 5 times since Rutgers last went. There was a point during this past season when it seemed as if momentum was finally starting to shift back RU's way, but now that Louis Orr has been fired (a move on paper far more controversial than Waters' dismissal), and replaced by Bobby Gonzalez, the SHU faithful are rejoicing once again. Once again they feel that they have the upper hand with a superior coach, like they did back when we hired Kevin Bannon and they hired Tommy Amaker, and when they hired Orr while we got Waters. Their belief in Gonzalez being better than Hill is based simply on Hill having no prior head coaching experience while Gonzalez does – successfully - and while that may or may not matter, the fact that Gonzalez was able to come in late in the game and pick up Harvey has them celebrating in South Orange.
So while optimism abounds once again at Seton Hall, the feeling is not nearly so positive at Rutgers, at least for the upcoming season. The primary reason for that is that while Lance Thomas is not coming, it's also looking more and more like Quincy Douby isn't staying. While there has been no announcement yet coming from the Douby camp, all signs indicate that it is just a matter of time before he is officially NBA bound. It looks like it may be time for the RU faithful to trade in those shirts that read "I Doubylieve" for ones that state: "My Douby leave".
Are there any positives at all that a Rutgers fan may take from this? Well, for one thing, the timing is quite good. At least we know from the outset that Douby won't be here: I'd rather we know now while there is still time to adjust, as opposed to say, having a star player becoming academically separated from the university in mid-season (anybody remember Tom Savage?). Also, when Douby becomes an NBA first-round draft pick, it will hopefully begin to dispel the faulty notion that one needs to go to one of those more successful programs in order to make it to the NBA - which was perhaps the biggest reason cited by those arguing that Lance Thomas should choose Duke.
How about for the season? With Lance Thomas turning RU down and Quincy Douby turning pro, are there any reasons at all to be optimistic? Sure there are. For starters, we have an incoming recruit, Hamady N'diaye, who looks to be as promising a big man prospect as we have ever had. Quite simply, we have never had a player his size laden with his potential. We have JR Inman, who in an injury-shortened rookie season had begun to show us more in his first year than any freshman at Rutgers since Phil Sellers. There's Anthony Farmer, who played quite well in his first year while also battling injuries, and Marquis Webb, our supreme defensive stopper. Byron Joynes, meanwhile, virtually lost an entire year while hampered by injuries, and if he's fully recovered, may be the surprise of the upcoming season.
Then there are the recruits we are currently involved with – which brings us to back to Fred Hill. There are many names being bandied about right now: Keon Lawrence, Dan Werner, and Marvell Waithe, to name just a few. Landing any of those three would be huge. Indeed, we are apparently more involved with legitimate blue-chip players now than we ever have been. Now is the time for Hill to add more young talent to an already promising core of players, and to continue to work the recruiting trail in the manner his reputation was built on. This team may indeed struggle this year. Replacing Douby's 25 points per game may be too much ask for, and the backcourt, as it stands now, will be very thin once again. But perhaps the main reason for optimism is that the Fred Hill Jr. era at Rutgers has only just begun.