Rutgers victory over Lehigh occurred three days before Christmas, but for some of those that night who knew who the very tall visitor in the RAC was, it was hard not to wonder whether the Scarlet Knights were getting a sneak peak at what their present will be this year. A commitment from this young man would truly make this a very merry holiday season for season for Rutgers fans.
More noteworthy in many respects than Rutgers 67-to-61 victory over Lehigh Friday night, which pushed the Scarlet Knights over .500 for the first time this season and gave them their longest winning streak since the '03-04 season, was that taking it all in just several rows behind the RU bench was seven foot senior center Anthony McLain. He was a visitor in the Rutgers clubhouse both before and after the game, and it appears as if the Scarlet Knights are now a leading contender for his services.
Adding McLain, who plays for Fort Washington, Md.'s National Christian Academy, to Rutgers current four-man group, would turn a good recruiting class into a potentially great one. His visit last night, in which he sat a few rows from the jewel of the class, the mega-talented Corey Chandler, only underscores what should be kept in mind about this year's team - that this is just year one for Head Coach Fred Hill, and the talent infusion he will give to this program has just gotten started.
Rutgers struggles against Lehigh - the Scarlet Knights were trailing the visitors from the Patriot League by 10 points with just under eight minutes left in the second half - had many RU fans leaving the RAC more upset than happy, even with a win. But many fans would probably save themselves much aggravation this year by looking for reasons to be positive whenever or however they may be found. Rutgers did not play particularly well against Lehigh, but they were able to turn it on when they absolutely had to, and in the end what will be remembered most was that they won.
Moreover, Rutgers Big East season is just three games away, and with their next game being a visit to Chapel Hill against North Carolina, all victories should be savored this year. Year 1 of the Fred Hill Era will no doubt consist of many games where there will be many opportunities to look for improvement, regardless of the outcome. This is frankly not the year to always measure success based strictly on wins and losses. Lehigh was one of those remaining games where you still could.
Not that there weren't positives to be taken from the game itself. Rutgers once again had balanced scoring, with four players reaching double figures, and Marquis Webb leading this time with fourteen points. The other senior starter, Adrian Hill, had his first career double-double (10 and 10). The four sophomores - JR Inman, Jaron Griffin, Anthony Farmer, and Courtney Nelson - continue to play and improve. And Ollie Bailey and Hamady N'diaye both made positive contributions to the win.
But watching Anthony McLain and Corey Chandler sitting not far from one another in the stands, and seeing them both in the locker room afterwards, and thinking about whatever else Coach Hill will continue to have up his sleeve recruiting-wise, it's difficult to watch this year's team too closely without also thinking ahead to the future. There's a much bigger picture that's just starting to unfold than just what's happening on the court this year for Rutgers basketball, and that was never more evident than this past Friday night.