Steve Pikiell’s office will not be his office much longer.
The Rutgers men’s basketball program, as well as the women’s basketball, gymnastics and wrestling programs, are expected to move out of their respective current headquarters at the College Avenue Gym, Livingston Rec Center and RAC and into new, state-of-the-art RWJBarnabas Athletic Performance Center in the next few weeks, with a complete opening of the building to follow in the fall.
In the meantime, Pikiell sat down for a wide-ranging conversation with NJ Advance Media on Wednesday to discuss the imminent move and much more. Below is Part 2 of the interview in a Q&A format. You can find Part 1 by following this link. Pikiell’s comments on Eugene Omoruyi’s recent transfer can be found here.
Here is Part 2:
How is it going to feel when you get to walk into the APC and the practice facility for the first time without a hard hat on, and it’s all ready?
“An absolute game-changer for us. The RAC is great, but it’s well-used, it’s well-scheduled. We’ll have our own place (to work out) when our guys have a break in the action. I think for player development, being able to get in whenever and knowing that facilities are open 24 hours a day, state-of-the-art locker room, state-of-the-art film room. It’s going to be tremendous.
“And it goes to show you the commitment that (athletics director) Pat Hobbs and this university have to basketball. All the schools in the league have them. It’s a really great recruiting tool, and it’s a development tool. One thing we’ve really don’t a great job at is, when I took the job I wanted to find kids under the radar screen and develop them. We’ve done an unbelievable job with that, including Gene (Omoruyi). Two points a game as a freshman, four points as a sophomore, 13 points as a junior. That goes to show you what we’re doing is working, and not just with him. It’s going to be the same improvement people are going to see with Caleb (McConnell), Ron (Harper Jr.), others. That’s what we do.”
You just formally announced Steve Hayn’s promotion to assistant coach …
“I love him.”
How did you make the decision to go with him to replace Jay Young?
“It was a great move for a lot of reasons. I interviewed a zillion people, too many. But that’s a good thing too, because there’s a lot of interest in the job. And I’m also excited that Jay is the first guy since Dick Vitale to leave and become a head coach from here (at Fairfield). That helped me with the pool of candidates, because now people see that I can go there as an assistant and be a head coach.
“I’ve worked with Steve, and I’ve always known he was a big man guru. We had a pro at Central Connecticut, Corsley Edwards, was drafted by the Sacramento Kings, first draft pick ever. Steve recruited him and developed him. I was working with the guards, Steve with the big men. One of the voids we had when Jay left was that. Steve is an ultimate scouting report guy. Preparation, game prep, he’s had to do more at less places, with no budgets, and I love that.
“He’s a grinder, blue collar kind of guy. The more I went out and talked, the more people I met, I just kept coming back to Steve as the perfect fit. And his learning curve is a lot less. He’s been here, he knows the players, he knows me, he knows how I prepare. He has a really good basketball mind. He kind of checked off every box. Very few guys did. And then when you factor in that he’s been here with me, swinging punches for all these years, it was an easy choice.”
So you had a full-on search?
“Yes, and the good part of it is, I love all my guys. Shoes (Vetrone, the director of player development), Ben (Asher, Pikiell’s special assistant), Steve. I’ve hired good guys, that’s the good part. All of those guys were in play. But I just felt like Steve brought more of the things that Jay left with and brought to the program. Steve has a very nice way about him, and it’s been seamless. I feel very good. And he has some unique recruiting ties to a lot of places. He was at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy, he was at Dowling, he was at Stevens, you’ve got to recruit a lot of different places. He’s got a lot of different ties that have been good for us.”
How do you think the new longer 3-point line impacts your team?
“I’ve been waiting on that, because we have the practice facility floor and we need to paint the right stripes. I knew it was going to happen, but they weren’t sure if they could do it for this year and have all the gyms done.
“The good part of that is I think we’ve got better shooters to begin with. It hasn’t been one of our strengths, so it can’t hurt us any more. It can only be a positive for us. I think it [opens things up a bit more] and keeps changing your program to be positionless. We’re going to Europe this summer, so that’s when we’ll really get to utilize it.”
What do you hope to get out of the trip to Spain in August?
“I’ve gone on trips at Stony Brook, but this will be my first one here. They’ve been great trips. They’re educational (players will receive Spanish language credits), it’s camaraderie, it’s them being together. It’s also an opportunity to play pro teams. These guys are good. Every kid that’s in your program thinks they’re going to play pro, and they’re pretty good in Europe too. It’s not just the NBA that’s good. And it gives you a chance as a coach to kind of figure out your team a little bit early and try some different combinations, do a lot of different things. I’m excited about it, and I know the kids are excited about it too.
“I’m getting emails from Rutgers alums in Spain that people are coming to games. It’s the power of Rutgers, and it’s not just local. It will be a fun trip, an educational trip, a physical trip, it will be a basketball trip, team bonding and some different experiences for the kids, which I’m really excited about. You have the best memories sometimes when you take those trips with your players.”
John Beilein leaving Michigan for the Cleveland Cavaliers was one of the biggest stories this offseason. How close are you to him, and what do you think his departure means for the Big Ten and college hoops?
“I love John Beilein. I love John Beilein. First of all, he did an unbelievable job. He was a great example of a coach that did it right too. I don’t want to speak on his behalf, but I could sense some of his frustrations with how things are going. Just the new obstacles, I don’t think these are obstacles he saw 20 years ago. I think he dealt with a lot with kids can put their name in (for the NBA Draft) and now kids can hire agents, then take their name out. Not just the portal had changed for him, but those things too. Again, I don’t want to speak on his behalf, but I think he got a great opportunity, and he just wants to be a basketball coach too.
“Everyone’s replaceable and everything, but he did a heck of a job. He’s a really good coach. He brought Michigan to places it hadn’t been in a long time, and he’ll do a great job with Cleveland. He reached out to me the other day. I just congratulated him. I always thank him because when I came into the league as a new coach, he accepted me and said, ‘Do things your way. Do things the right way.’
“He greeted you with that message, and I kind of took pride in doing it that way anyways, but it was nice to hear it from him. He said, ‘I never changed. I recruited kids I believed in. I didn’t always get the sexiest (recruits).’ Some of his kids weren’t five-star kids. But he won with them.”
James Kratch may be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @JamesKratch. Find NJ.com Rutgers Football on Facebook.