Observations from the Barn

When Fred Hill was first brought to Rutgers four years ago, the main reason was his ability as a recruiter. Watching summer league action at the Barn, it's apparent that RU is getting what it sought when it hired him. How the Scarlet Knights will perform in 2008-'09 remains to be seen, but it's quite clear that this will be the most talented team Rutgers fans have seen in a very long time.

Greg Schiano (and of course Vivian Stringer) have done their share to change the perceptions and the culture of big-time athletics at the State University of New Jersey. One could say that the "sleeping giant" - as RU is sometimes referred to (often derisively, and by Seton Hall fans in particular) – is two-thirds awake. The only part remaining which has yet to emerge from a deep slumber is men's basketball.

Having ventured to the Barn several times now, one can sense that that part has now, at the very least, begun to stir. There's still a ways to go before Rutgers will legitimately contend for a Big East championship, but this appears to be the year that the Scarlet Knights can begin to make some noise.

They will, after all, start to be expected to, as they've already made some noise on the recruiting trail – and that's where it all begins.

Critics of the league will tend to scoff and dismiss as insignificant or misleading any positive reports from the Barn. No defense is played, they'll say, and then point out that the quality (and availability) of the players drops off dramatically from the RU contingent. Still, talent is talent, and Rutgers has more of it playing in the old gym on College Ave than ever before.

Let's start in the backcourt. With the addition of Mike Rosario, Rutgers now has two guards (the other of course being Corey Chandler) that have the talent to rank among the greatest to ever play at Rutgers. Barring injuries, or any other missteps, Chandler and Rosario seem quite capable of putting their names alongside Ed Jordan, John Battle, and Quincy Douby before their days are through at RU.

That's not exaggeration or hyperbole – it's just a fact.

Of course, it's probably egregious to speak of Rutgers guards and not start with Anthony Farmer. One of three lone holdovers on this team not recruited by Hill, Farmer last year won the Abe Suydam Award as the teams MVP. A very logical choice it was, as in addition to running the show from the point, Farmer also routinely guarded the opposition's best offensive player.

(When he graduates, establishing an Anthony Farmer Award for the player who best combines hard work, leadership, and a positive attitude might not be a bad idea.)

Perhaps the biggest testament to Farmers talents has been demonstrated in his ability to maintain his role as the teams starting point guard. Mike Coburn came to Rutgers last year nearly as heralded as Chandler and his play (particularly after Chandler fractured his foot) did not disappoint. However, Corey is healthy now, and his return to the starting lineup seems inevitable.

This brings out the area of most intrigue on this team, and also highlights the point of this piece: Mike Coburn may very well come off the bench this year (a move he would be wise to not fret over, as his minutes in the rotation seem assured regardless), and that is just something that would have been inconceivable in previous years. On past RU teams, Coburn would not only have started, he would have been the star and the face of the program.

Earl Pettis has looked very good this summer as he readies for his sophomore campaign. Now with a year under his belt to go along with his size, versatility and unselfishness, it would seem that he'll get his minutes as well. Add in good looking freshman Pat Jackson, and it would appear that last years starting forward Jaron Griffin may have a real run for his money in holding on to that role.

Once again, this is all a pleasant dilemma that recent Rutgers teams have not had to contend with.

The improvements up front are nearly as dramatic as in the backcourt. Strength and conditioning coach Phil Dyer deserves much credit for his work with the players, and nowhere has the results of his work seemed more evident than with Hamady Ndiaye. The tallest player on the team (in addition to being the quickest and most mobile player for his size that Rutgers has ever had), Ndiaye, now entering his third year, has bulked up considerably.

Hamady certainly knows by now how vital it is for a big man to be strong in the Big East. Of course, in battling freshman Christian Morris, Hamady may be going head to head in the fall with a player at least as strong as anyone he'll ever face on an opposing team. Morris is steadily shedding the extra weight he put on over the winter and spring, and has made marked improvement over the summer.

The prediction here is that Chris, over time, will establish himself as one the best RU big men before his days are over. Hamady - who is much more vocal on the court now, and whose offensive game continues to progress, albeit slowly – appears well on his way toward doing that. Factor in a fellow by the name of Greg Echenique, who hasn't been at the Barn but is instead tearing it up in South America, and Rutgers seems to have size and talent up front that its never had before in its Big East days.

Then there is JR Inman, who like Echenique, has not been at the Barn. However, he hasn't been playing in South America, instead staying closer to home in NYC. Perhaps the biggest sign of the team's improvement is that it's easy to forget that he was the teams leading scorer and rebounder the last two years. JR's talent is undeniable, and if he can finish his RU career in a manner befitting a player of his skills, RU will indeed be well on its way, and the sleeping giant will be fully awake.

Scarlet Report Top Stories