By Matt Sugam
NEW BRUNSWICK – Despite all the preseason hype thanks to the best recruiting class in school history, Rutgers didn’t live up to the lofty aspirations last season. As the third youngest team in the country, the team showed that youth too often en route to a 14-18 record.
And they looked it.
They passed the eye test of looking bigger and stronger. And they’ve displayed it in practice.
“18-year old boys come to college and have barley have ever lifted and so now, they’re just different,” Rice said. “Even in practice the last month you can see a difference in what they’re able to do with the added strength and muscle.”
But it’s not just the freshman.
Junior guard/forward Mike Poole looks significantly bigger. Something Rice wanted, saying at the end of the season one of the things Poole needed to do in the offseason was get stronger.
“Mike Poole has gained 22 pounds since he’s stepped on campus here, and again, if you don’t think that’s a difference you don’t know the Big East,” Rice said. “Now Mike won’t get bumped off his drive, he’ll be on balance.”
They’ll also have more athleticism, adding power forward Wally Judge — who redshirted last season after transferring from Kansas State — and junior college transfer Vincent Garrett.
The 6-foot-9 Judge was the missing piece the the puzzle last season, while Garrett is a 6-foot-6 wing that can run the floor and defend. The winner of the MidKnight Madness dunk contest, Garrett also showed he can slam home highlight reel dunks.
“I think we’re going to surprise a lot of people with what this team can accomplish,” Rice said. “But again, we don’t know it until the lights come on.”
That won’t be until November 9, when they open the season against St. Peter’s. And Rice is eager to see what his team can do as he tries to guide Rutgers to it’s first NCAA Tournament in over two decades.
“I’m very excited to show everybody what direction this program is going,” Rice said. “And again, I always say it’s going to happen. That’s my phrase. It’s going to happen. We’re going to do it here. We’re going to win. I don’t know when, but I can see progress and I can see guys chemistry and developing and maturing.”