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Anyone who doubted that a full-fledged revival of Rutgers basketball is underway only needed to tune in to last year’s NIT championship game between the Scarlet Knights and Michigan. When Rutgers made a big second-half run in a game it ultimately lost, 62-55, Madison Square Garden rocked, in a way it hasn’t for the New Jersey school since its heyday of the 1970s and early 1980s.

“The people are really coming around,” said coach Gary Waters, whose team recorded the program’s first 20-win season since 1982-83. “There’s an excitement around Rutgers basketball that hasn’t been felt around here in a long time. And it’s not just basketball … football’s turning around, too. It’s an exciting time for Rutgers sports.”

Despite the well-founded optimism, the locals might have to temper their enthusiasm for the time being. It’s true the Scarlet Knights have a bright future. But Rutgers graduated the bulk of its frontcourt production in seniors Herve Lamizana (a third-team All-Bug East selection) and Alex Axani, the team’s two leading rebounders. And only one returning starter is a senior.

Looking into the future, Rutgers already has commitments from three of this year’s top 150 high school seniors in the country, according to And they’re all in-state recruits – forward Gerald Inman of Montvale St. Joseph’s (No. 85), guard Anthony Farmer of St. Augustine in Richland (No. 131), and forward Jaron Griffin of Manchester (No. 147), which has sent hopes sky-high in New Jersey.


But in the interim, this season’s Scarlet Knights are likely to go through growing pains. Last year’s freshman hotshots – 6-3 shooting guard Quincy Douby (12.5 ppg, 1.9 rpg), the top-scoring freshman in the Big East, and 6-5, 205-pound point guard Marquis Webb (7.2 ppg, 2.9 apg) – will have to step up their games this winter and carry the load while Waters looks to find a winning combination up front.

“There’s no secret what we’re up against this year,” Waters said. “We have a lot of young talent who maybe overachieved last year and we have almost nothing coming back up front. You can look long-term and see things are going to be strong in the future, but this year we just have a lot of question marks.”

One thing isn’t a question mark: This team belongs to 6-4 senior guard Ricky Shields (15.5 ppg, 4.7 rpg). Last year, Shields was the team’s top scorer and was third in the Big East in three-point field goals made (93) and ninth in three-point accuracy (.373).

“He knows he has to produce,” said Waters, who has won 50 games in his three seasons at Rutgers. “Everyone’s going to focus in on him this year, and that’s exactly the type of challenge he wants to thrive on.”

That sort of challenge goes double for the smooth-shooting Douby, who was voted to the Big East All-Rookie team. Like Shields, the Brooklyn product also hoisted his fair share from behind the arc and finished second in the conference in three-point accuracy (.426). He’s also the team’s best free-throw shooter (.826 on 71-for-86 shooting). Douby opened eyes with a 35-point performance against Iowa State in the NIT semifinals at MSG, for which he received an award for the best college hoops performance of the season on that famed floor.

“Last year, he was helped out by the fact that no one really knew who he was,” Waters said of Douby, who averaged just more than 25 minutes per game. “This year, there’s no hiding him. Quincy knows he’s going to have to bring his ‘A’ game every night.”

Webb ran the point last season and led Rutgers with 96 assists on a team that – not surprisingly considering the style of offense the Knights ran – was 13th in the league in that category. Given the questionable frontcourt situation, though, Webb could be moved up to the small forward spot, which would cause more shuffling around the rest of the backcourt.

“With Marquis’ size and our lack of experience up there, we may have no choice,” Waters said. “We know he’s capable of playing the 1, the 2, or the 3. We’ll see how things progress and then move him around as we need.”

Senior Juel Wiggan, 6-3, may be the best pure ball handler on the squad. He spot started last year, averaged 21 minutes a game, and was second on the team with 86 assists. He’ll be around to provide some much-needed depth.

The Knights’ only noteworthy backcourt recruit is 6-2 freshman Manny Quezada from Washington Heights in New York city, a talented shooter who averaged 24.4 points last year as a senior at the St. Albans School in Washington, D.C.

Rounding out the returning backcourters is 6-0 sophomore Shayle Keating, who appeared in 11 games in 2002-03; senior and Hofstra transfer Tyler Glass, 6-1, who sat out last year; and 6-1 Jon Mimmo, who appeared in seven games. Calvin Wooten, a freshman last year, transferred to Oakland (Mich.).

As if there wasn’t enough trouble up front for the Scarlet Knights because of graduation, 6-8, 235-pound power forward Adrian Hill tore his ACL playing pickup ball around Memorial Day weekend and isn’t expected back until mid-season at the earliest. The junior, a strong leaper with killer dunking skills, was selected the team’s most improved player last year after averaging 6.4 points and 4.7 rebounds.

“That one hurt,” Waters said. “You obviously don’t want to rush him back too soon after something like that. Hopefully he’ll come along in time to contribute.”

Hill’s injury left Rutgers with precisely one other frontcourt player with any experience coming back, 6-9, 270-pound sophomore center Byron Joynes (2.0 ppg, 1.9 rpg), who averaged nine minutes per game last season. Waters praised Jones for losing a considerable amount of weight and greatly improving his conditioning in the off-season.

“He’s really kicked it up a couple notches in the off-season,” Waters said. “I hope to see the effort translate on the court, because we’re gonna need him.”

So attention focuses, more so than usual, on this year’s incoming freshman, who’ll likely see significant playing time. The biggest buzz is for 6-foot-7, 225-pound power forward Ollie Bailey, out of Farragut High School in Chicago, the same school that produced Kevin Garnett. Bailey averaged 21.2 points and 10.6 boards last season.

“As far as all-around skills are concerned, he’s ready to go,” Waters said. “He’s got great poise for someone his age. He should be able to step right in.”

The other is Dan Waterstradt, a 6-11, 220-pound center/forward from Dearborn Heights, Mich., who averaged 24 points and 14.5 rebounds last season.

“He has tremendous potential, but he’s still a project at this point,” Waters said. “He’ll get his minutes this year, but we have to bring him along at a deliberate pace.”



There has been an interesting pattern in Waters’ three years at Rutgers. In his first season, the Scarlet Knights earned an unexpected NIT berth. That was followed by a 12-16 record in 2002-03. Then came last year’s first-ever berth in the NIT title game, which looks to be followed by another step back this season. And the hype is already building for another “up” year in 2005-06.

There is no doubt the Scarlet Knights are on the right track. Waters, who first earned his mark as a head coach by turning Kent State into a winner, has already established the RAC as a place no one wants to come in and play, with a 16-2 home record last year and a 41-10 mark the last three years.

Waters is looking for the same enthusiasm on-campus this year, but he’s also hoping the fans will be patient with his young team.

“Sometimes you have to take a step back to take several steps forward,” he said. “This could be one of those years. Long-term, the future looks very, very exciting. We’re going to get Rutgers basketball back into the NCAA tournament. But we have to give this time to progress.”

After a bit of a late-season swoon cost Rutgers any real chance at an NCAA berth last year, the Scarlet Knights responded by going on a tear in the NIT. They’ll have to show similar resilience again this season.

It’s clear that in the early going, the key to the Scarlet Knights’ success will rest in Shields’ and Douby’s ability to keep tossing up and hitting threes and their ability to clamp down on defense. If Hill returns, if Joynes is ready to step up his game a couple notches, and if Bailey is as good as advertised, then Rutgers might not have to wait another year or two to get to the Big Dance.

If things don’t go near-optimally under the circumstances, though, then, as Waters says, Scarlet Knights fans will just have to stay patient and keep the faith.


RUTGERS (0-0) at CHARLOTTE (1-0)


Since they’re starting 3 guards, I wonder if we’ll see our small lineup of Mitch, Plavich, Eddie, EJ, and Withers. Looks as if they might be hard to press playing that lineup, but maybe we can capitalize on the boards. They have a couple of very good 3-pt shooters, so our perimeter D will be tested.

I would like to see that lineup and maybe baldwin-basden-ej-withers-iti for a few minutes too. Basden needs to be on either Shields or their hot hand. EJ isnt physical, but you have to like his length\athleticism against their guards.

Last time their coach won, they won 53-50 (50 pts. ??) at our place. I hope they don’t try to slow it down on us, not sure if that is part of their plan.

Another good game preview: Basketball Preview: Rutgers at Charlotte

BTW, predicts an 84-73 Charlotte victory!


I wrote the Charlotte preview for…and I really thought your big guys would own us down low. But you fell in love with the 3 pointers you were making, and lost focus a little. I don’t understand why Lutz was playing your only 4 available guards in the last 10 minutes of the game at the same time??? Is this something he does frequently??? Anyway, I’ve never met a bunch of more gracious and kind folk at an away venue than at UNCC…perhaps we will see each other again in NC. Till then (or maybe next season, when you make a return visit to the RAC), have a great season, and good luck!!! BK

Yeah I noticed how we went 3 guard line up later in the game. Hadn’t thought about it till now. MISTAKE!

[i]Originally posted by BKIn118[/i]@Nov 24 2004, 01:34 AM [b] I wrote the Charlotte preview for I really thought your big guys would own us down low. But you fell in love with the 3 pointers you were making, and lost focus a little. I don't understand why Lutz was playing your only 4 available guards in the last 10 minutes of the game at the same time??? Is this something he does frequently??? Anyway, I've never met a bunch of more gracious and kind folk at an away venue than at UNCC...perhaps we will see each other again in NC. Till then (or maybe next season, when you make a return visit to the RAC), have a great season, and good luck!!! BK [/b]
Best of luck to you guys BK. Both of our programs need each other to do really well the rest of the way out, so I'll be rooting for you guys.

I’m past second guessing Lutz at this point. Think I wanna enjoy my family tomorrow and then focus on a tough Valpo team that gave Cincy a scare at the Shoe.

But your pregame piece was great. Really enjoyed it.

And who knows, maybe in a few years, we’ll be in the same conference. You never can tell anymore B)