Wanted: Paint Job
Scarlet Knights struggle with big vacancy in the middle
Whistles never bothered Gary Waters before.
After all, he is a basketball coach, and among the truisms of the sport is that fouls will be called. Sometimes they even out, sometimes they don't. A coach goes into each game hoping that his best players remain out of foul trouble, and that his opponent's best players fall into foul trouble.
Sometimes the strategy works and sometimes it doesn't.
Lately, Waters hears the whistles and hopes that the foul has been either:
a) called on someone else's player, or
b) called on a Rutgers player shorter than 6-foot-7
Every team endures growing pains, but the 2003 edition of the Scarlet Knights has given that phrase literal meaning, because as the season grows longer, the Rutgers basketball team is shrinking, in both numbers and height. And the irony is that the player they miss the most stood only 6-foot-4.
6-foot-6 on a phone book.
Rutgers fans suspected that the Scarlet Knights would struggle when hard-working but undersized power forward Rashod Kent graduated Rutgers and headed to the National Football League. Gary Waters was certain that they would. For all of his shortcomings, whether it was poor free-throw shooting or a painfully limited jump shot, Kent was a behemoth in the paint, that claustrophobic area under the basket where half-court offenses often go to die. The power forward from West Virginia patrolled the interior with an icy stare, fast hands, and the build of a W.W.F. wrestler. Players bounced off of Kent the way hail bounces off a stone wall, and his presence forced many players to alter their approach to low-post offense. Troy Murphy altered his. The 6-foot-9 Notre Dame star who is now averaging nearly a double-double for the Golden State Warriors came into the RAC on a wintry night in 2002 and, with the help of a hostile home crowd, proceeded to fall into a full-scale offensive meltdown that ended with a stat line straight from a horror show.
Kent provided strong defense, steady rebounding, intensity, and a low-post presence to the Scarlet Knights. Sure, his foul-shooting was terrible, but the rest of the team wasn't exactly tickling the nylon, either. Number forty-four is now gone from the Banks, and his scarlet jersey rests on the shoulders of an 18-year old combination guard from Detroit. At 6-foot-1, Calvin Wooten won't be intimidating anyone in the low post. Unfortunately, no one else in the Scarlet lineup has been intimidating anyone either. To fill the void left by the graduation of Kent and the transfer of likely replacement Eugene Dabney, Rutgers has looked to a number of players who have, for one reason or another, failed to provide the answer:
BIG: Even after dropping roughly one-sixth of his body weight in the off-season, center Kareem Wright is huge. He stands 6-foot-9 and weighs 270 pounds. Tabbed as the frontrunner for the starting center spot after the departure of Kent and Dabney, Wright flashed a renewed offensive prowess early in the season only to lose it once the more rigorous conference schedule began. But the loss of weight and a few offensive moves have not compensated for a propensity for bad positioning and heaps of foul trouble. Wright has the passion, but cannot rally his teammates and command their attention the way Kent could.