By Matt Sugam
PISCATAWAY – Kadeem Jack had been watching from the sidelines since coming in as a freshman midway through the 2010-11 season. He thought that would be enough.
That was until he started banging around down low with Big East big men. Then came the reality check.
Notre Dame was visiting the RAC last season and Jack was getting his first career start. And it wouldn’t last long. As the first shot caromed off the rim, Jack was overmatched.
“I was boxing out their big man Jack Cooley and I had all my strength on him, pushed him back and the ball went up and in the blink of an eye he just pushed me out of the way, got in front of me, and he got the rebound, went through it and got an and one on the shot and I was out of the game for the rest of the game,” Jack told SNY.tv before finishing with a wry smile and saying, “so that was my welcome to the Big East moment.”
The play was a microcosm of Jack’s season. After missing the first 12 games healing from foot surgery, the highly touted recruit struggled, averaging 1.2 points and 1.6 rebounds with his minutes fluctuating from game to game.
And much of the hardships were rooted to the foot injury. Aside from shaking off the rust and playing in the Big East for the first time, Jack’s foot was never quite right.
The Queens, NY native was struggling with it almost daily. One day his foot would be fine. The next it was sore. The issue only compounded the fact that he was coming back midseason as a redshirt freshman.
“I feel like he was thrown into the fire basically in a weird time of the season,” Austin Johnson said. “He came back from an injury right in the heart of the season.”
So aside from adjusting to the speed and physicality of the game, he had to find his role.
“It was a tough time just trying to figure out where you fit in in the big picture,” Jack said. “That’s the toughest thing to go form thinking you’re going to play a certain amount of minutes every game to not knowing whether or not your going to be healthy enough to play.”
Now that he is, Jack is expected to be a major contributor in the frontcourt along with Wally Judge. To get himself prepared for that, Jack has bulked up.
Last season Jack looked like a beanpole. Now he’s added 20 pounds to his 6-foot-9 frame and is close to 230 pounds.
And Jack has seen the difference in practice when he goes against the 6-foot-9, 250-pound Judge.
“Where I’m getting with my strength level, before he could also just push me around, but now I’m finishing through contact with him and Austin Johnson who’s another big guy,” Jack said. “It’s just a difference because now I can hold my own and can actually see the difference between me last year and me now.”