Eugene Omoruyi took an official visit to Texas A&M on Wednesday, a week after he shocked the Rutgers men’s basketball program by placing his name in the NCAA transfer portal.
Head coach Steve Pikiell knows the rising senior big man was in College Station, and that he’s expected to visit Oregon next.
“I love Gene,” Pikiell said during a wide-ranging conversation with NJ Advance Media on Wednesday inside his office at the Rutgers Athletics Center in Piscataway.
“Gene was here three years and was great. But Gene wants to go to another school. You don’t always have to agree, 18-to-22-year-olds have to make decisions. You try to guide them to make really good decisions, but you don’t always have to agree with them to respect the decisions they make.”
Accoding to Pikiell, Omoruyi told Pikiell on May 28 that he wanted to pursue a transfer. His stunning Instagram post announcing the decision came a few hours later. Pikiell flew to Omoruyi’s hometown of Rexdale, Ontario, Canada on May 29 to meet with Omoruyi and his family, but the forward did not change his mind.
There has been no indication of any behind-the-scenes event or internal issue led team captain and leading scorer and rebounder from a season ago to decide to leave.
“I think he thinks another place is better for him,” Pikiell said, “and that’s his right.”
Pikiell said he researched the transfer portal after Omoruyi entered it and learned that there are roughly 1,000 scholarship players currently in it. Division-1 teams can offer up to 13 scholarships, so the figure in the portal – which is rising as time passes – is close to 23 percent of the scholarships offered by the schools that have traditional athletics departments that offer them.
“And if they go with immediate eligibility, which is probably where this thing is headed, it’s probably going to be 50 percent,” Pikiell said. “These are the rights the student-athletes have, and I respect the heck out of them. I’m thankful for Gene’s three years. Decisions are made all the time, it doesn’t mean I have to agree with them. Some are good decisions, some aren’t so good.”
Rutgers has two open scholarships now. Pikiell said he doesn’t know if he will end up filling them with the new additions yet. It’s still possible – he points out that Omoruyi and former big man C.J. Gettys were both summer additions – but it is not a given. The transfer portal is a now factor, he said.
“It’s a fine line, too, that you’re walking now. People say all the time, ‘You’ve got to get two more guys,’” Pikiell said. “No, because if you have 13 (scholarship) guys, three are probably leaving. You can’t keep 13 guys, 12 guys – you’ve got to stay healthy, but if you have too many, the portal is an important thing now.
“I’ve gotten a lot of interest, and more interest now that they know playing time is available. But I’ve got to be real careful with that balancing act. I can fill with 13, and then three will be in the portal. I feel like they’re good fits and they want to be at Rutgers and I’ve got some ties to them, then we’ll pursue it. But we have a good team right now, we have good chemistry, good depth. I like what we have.”
Pikiell said he feels coaches have to coach “one year at a time now” in the new climate. He said he feels good about the team he has now, and believes it has handled Omoruyi’s departure well.
“I think the guys have been great. They all look at things, ‘Good luck, we love him,’” Pikiell said. “I think guys see opportunity, and that’s a good thing. We’ve got a lot of depth. That’s a good thing.
“I’ve been saying this – and it’s not about this – but I want kids that want to be at Rutgers. Get kids that want to be here and appreciate the journey that we’re on. I think these kids that are here, I think they’re going to work their tails off to make this a historic year for us. I think they’re excited about that challenge too.”
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