By Matt Sugam
PISCATAWAY – Inside of Rutgers’ locker room there’s a thick yellow rope that weaves through the three rows of plush black chairs in the film viewing area. It’s there to signify the mantra of the season, “hold the rope,” and the players hold it while they watch film.
The meaning behind the saying is simple. That the team needs to stick together and be there for one another.
“That represents us,” interim head coach David Cox said. “That represents the team and a time like this – so much adversity, a very trying time, a time that many of our young men have not been through before, I think it was important for us as a team to have that visual reminder.”
The Scarlet Knights had to rest on those sentiments more than ever the last four days after their head coach Mike Rice was suspended for three games. And they did – with the rope sitting across the team’s bench for the first time – storming out to a 25 point first half lead against UAB before holding on for the 88-79 win at the RAC.
And so, shortly before tip, the rope was draped accross the bench without any of the players knowing about the gesture until they sat down for the announcing of the starting lineups. It would serve as a visual reminder for the 40 minute contest.
“It definitely reiterated that we needed to stay together – play for one another,” senior forward Austin Johnson said. “And I think that we did that.”
They did. Thanks to a mentality engrained in their heads symbolized by a rope.
“It’s our mindset. We got to stay together,” senior wing Dane Miller said. “Basically it’s a lot of people against us, so we got to stay together, because win or lose that’s all we have.”
Which is why this team has banded together, and stuck behind their coach despite his suspension for throwing balls at players’ heads. And why they rallied behind one of his overriding messages for the season.
“That rope was Mike Rice’s rope. That’s his idea,” Cox said. “He brought that in at the beginning of the year and he made every coach, every player and every manager hold onto that rope. He explained the importance of holding onto that rope, especially in difficult times, so we wanted to hold onto that rope for Mike Rice today and for this program.”
And the message Rice gave back in October resonated more in his absence than while he was around.
“It’s been the mantra of the year, but I think the last couple days, it’s been really the mantra,” Miller said. “I guess it’s just us – the coaches, the players, the managers, the trainers – we just have to stick together because if we lose a game we get crucified. If we don’t win the game the way we’re supposed to win the game we get crucified, so we just have to stay together.”
And hold the rope.