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NOVEMBER 10, 2010


Rice hiring increases RU’s upset potential Rutgers, a team picked to finish second-to-last in the Big East. “No [Big East] coach went through Chicago State or made the steps that I made to get to the Big East,” Rice said. “So, I’m not going out lightly. I will be swinging every single day and there A.J. JANKOWSKI will be some setbacks … but this program is going to be successful or evidence that things and we are going to be relevant in have changed for the the Big East sooner than later.” Rutgers men’s basketball And herein lies my opinion: I team, look no further than the am buying what Rice is selling. team’s trio of senior captains. This team will surprise some Big All three played under former East schools. head coach Fred Hill Jr. and now The majority believes that it is embark on their final season going to take a few years before under the guise of Mike Rice in Rutgers turns it around with his first year with the program. some major recruiting classes, “The intensity, the dedication and that is true. But under Rice, and the hard work has picked up the 2010-11 squad will also make tremendously,” said guard James a name for itself. Beatty, one of the three captains. The steadfast reasoning “I think everybody has turned it behind this thesis is one date: up a level. Since the coaching Feb. 14, 2010. change, we’ve been competing It was on this date that a like crazy during Hill-led squad practice. Ever y upset then-No. 7 practice, ever y Georgetown, 71“The underdog drill is a competi68, for the mentality fits tion.” Knights’ highestAnd for the ranked upset perfectly when Scarlet Knights to since a 1982 win become competiover No. 6 West talking about tive in one of the Virginia. It was Rutgers.” nation’s toughest one of only 13 conferences — conference wins something they in Hill’s time never were in Hill’s four-year in Piscataway. tenure — they are going to have If a Rutgers team coached to pick off some top-tier teams. by one of the worst coaches in Taking down a Big East school histor y — statistically school is nothing new to Rice, as — can take down a top-10 his Robert Morris squad went team, then who’s to say that toe-to-toe last year with No. 2Rice cannot circle the wagons seed Villanova in the first round and put together a six-win conof the NCAA Tournament. ference season? The Colonials eventually fell, Yes, the team’s leading scorer 73-70, in overtime, but it was this is gone. Yes, the team’s emotionpenchant for upsets that precedal leader is gone. ed Rice’s arrival to the Banks. But the Knights landed a “I didn’t really know too much high-profile recruit in perhaps about him at first,” said senior capthe most important position: tain Jonathan Mitchell. “But when head coach. I found out that he was the Robert And that is a position Morris coach and they almost beat where change will have an ‘Nova, then I was definitely excitimmediate impact. ed. He brings a lot of intensity and passion to the game.” — A.J. Jankowski is an Being the underdog is nothassociate sports editor for ing new to Rice, whose coaching The Daily Targum and career started out at Chicago accepts comments, criticisms State. The underdog mentality and witticisms at fits perfectly when talking about

Buffalo Soldier



Senior captain James Beatty took over point guard responsibilities in the offseason after splitting time with classmate Mike Coburn at the position last season but will need to take on more of a scoring role.

New mentality emerges from outset BY TYLER BARTO ASSOCIATE SPORTS EDITOR

The Rutgers men’s basketball team has been preparing for the 2010-11 season since its March 9, 69-68 loss to Cincinnati in the opening round of the Big East Tournament. But it is safe to say that the Scarlet Knights did not expect to do so with the team’s current makeup — and cer tainly not in the style in which they have prepared. “It’s tough — it’s like hockey, in and out,” said sophomore Dane Miller, the conference’s 2009-10 Rookie of the Year runner-up. “If you mess up once, you’re coming out of the game. But then again [head coach Mike Rice] talks to you and throws you back in.” Such is the culture under Rice, the former Robert Morris head man who inked a five-year contract on May 6 with Rutgers. With Rice comes an entirely new coaching staff, a fifth-year transfer, three freshman recruits and an entirely new attitude. “They’re getting used to me,” Rice said. “And they’re getting used to the type of formula that I want to put in, the type of mentality and culture that I think a winning basketball team should have. I love that I have three seniors who have a chip on their shoulders that they want to prove a lot of people wrong. We were dealt an interesting hand.” Senior guards James Beatty and Mike Coburn, as well as forward Jonathan Mitchell, come into their final campaign on the heels of an offseason that was anything but modest. Three players transferred from the program since the

beginning of the 2009-10 season, including two-time leading scorer Mike Rosario, who now makes his residency in Gainesville, Fla. Former head coach Fred Hill Jr. resigned on April 19 amid allegations surrounding his involvement in a dispute at a PittsburghRutgers baseball game. All the controversy aside, the Knights finally get a chance to get back on the court, amidst a newfound optimism for the program. “It’s refreshing because there was a span of consistent thing after thing of negativity,” said sophomore for ward Austin Johnson. “I got sick and tired of hearing it. It was refreshing when we finally got the coach … that has so much pride in winning, a guy who works as hard as [Rice] does to instill that pride in us. The end result will be something Rutgers can be proud of game after game after game.” Rice not only brings his patented “comfortable in chaos” mentality but also a new philosophy on scheduling. Rutgers takes the cour t in 2010-11 against two teams from “Big Six” conferences in Miami at the Louis Brown Athletic Center and Auburn as a par t of the DIRECTV SEC/Big East Challenge. The Knights also match wits with Atlantic 10 foe St. Joseph’s before taking on North Carolina at Madison Square Garden to end their nonconference schedule. “You play North Carolina and then you go play [Villanova], you won’t be as nervous as you would be against other teams before Villanova,” Miller said. “We just played North Carolina, what’s the point of being nervous? We don’t need to be nerv-

ous. There’s no excuse — it’s just another game.” The 2009-10 Knights also played the Tar Heels before embarking on a Big East schedule that saw the team win five games and finish 14th in the conference. But Rutgers also played the role of spoiler, upsetting Notre Dame and then-No. 7 Georgetown in the process. None of those considerations mattered to the Big East coaches, who tabbed the Knights to finish 15th in the league — ahead of lowly DePaul. “You have to expect that, with the consideration of what the program’s been through over the last few years,” Beatty said of the preseason rankings. “At the same time we’re not just going to lay down and let guys just come in and not fight, scratch and claw to get wins. “We understand the odds against us, with everyone counting us out. When we step on the court, we lace [our shoes] up just like they do.” Rice knows a thing or two about playing the spoiler as well. But Rutgers is not in the Northeast Conference, and the Knights do not play hockey. None of that concerns Rice, who knows the difference between success in 2010 and success in the future is only a substitution away. “We just have to play with more of a purpose and improve ever y single day,” Rice said. “Again, they’re trying. They’re giving everything they’ve got as far as their effort. We have to improve. But the beauty of Mike Rice is that I’m thinking about the next two hours.”


JAMES BEATTY Point guard

MIKE COBURN Shooting guard

DANE MILLER Small forward



Senior 6’-2”, 190 lbs.

Senior 6’-0”, 185 lbs.

Sophomore 6’-7”, 215 lbs.

Senior 6’-7”, 225 lbs.

Junior 6’-8”, 230 lbs.


Head coach Mike Rice took Robert Morris to the NCAA Tournament each of the past two seasons, when it won the Northeast Conference.



NOVEMBER 10, 2010



First-year head men’s basketball coach Mike Rice and the coaching staff he assembled, which includes (left to right) Jimmy Martelli, David Cox and Van Macon, recruited the nation’s sixth-ranked class for 2011 before even coaching a game as part of their rebuilding project on the Scarlet Knights’ sideline.



Rice, new coaching staff make immediate impact on recruiting trail, pulling in group of seven prospects to contribute to rebuilding effort BY STEVEN MILLER SPORTS EDITOR

Before Mike Rice ran a single practice with the Rutgers men’s basketball team, he spoke of the intensity and urgency with which his program would operate. Before he took over that program, the newly unveiled head coach sat at a podium and spoke of the relationships that would allow him to build it. Before Athletic Director Tim Pernetti unveiled him, the pair met at a hotel and Rice spoke in more detail about those relationships — about AAU and high school coaches he knew in the area, about assistants he would like to bring with him to Rutgers. The 41-year-old used those relationships to sell himself to Rutgers, and then he sold his new Rutgers to the coaches and players with which he had those relationships. With his patented intensity and urgency, Rice spoke to basketball figureheads throughout the metropolitan area to let them know exactly what he was about to do: “Recruit, recruit and do some more recruiting,” Rice said. “The downfall of some of the metropolitan teams or Rutgers has been they haven’t pulled in enough of the talent that is so prevalent in the metropolitan area or within a five-hour drive from [Washington] D.C. to Boston. That’s the first lifeline of a good program: to recruit good players.” But it began with a coaching staff — one which Rice believes is among the best in the Big East.

Assistant coach Jimmy in that regard. And yes, it’s going Mar telli, who followed Rice to take all of those young men from Robert Morris where he who choose to come in to play recruited along the East Coast, important roles in order for this was the first piece. Assistant team to be successful.” coach Van Macon joined the Those seven commitments are fold with strong ties to New headlined by a group of five York City basketball. And David ranked in Rivals’ Top 150 Cox became associate head prospects. There are two centers, coach with a Big East coaching two shooting guards and two résumé and links to the point guards. Washington D.C. area. And there is Kadeem Jack. The staff filled out the Scarlet The nation’s No. 33-ranked Knights’ depleted roster for this prospect headlines the group, season, then turned its attention but he also fits perfectly into to the Class of 2011, which had Rice’s mentality that returning seven scholarRutgers to releships to offer. vancy will take Rutgers has “This is truly going to more than one. had a coach con“I don’t think take a village in every sidered a star it would be right aspect. ... We all recruiter before for me to just — Fred Hill Jr. that type develop relationships assume And it has had of leadership star recruits role,” said the 6with recruits and before — Mike foot-8 for ward it takes a village.” Rosario and who will redshirt G r e g o r y at Rutgers in the DAVID COX Echenique. spring. “I’ll go in Associate Head Coach But it has not and work hard had an NCAA and try to set an Tournament appearance since example for everyone else, so if it 1991 or a winning season since happens, it happens. You don’t 2006. It has not had a sold out just speak and be a leader — you Louis Brown Athletic Center. It lead by example. I’m sure all of has not had excitement. It has not the other guys coming in will be had success. doing the same things, also. It did have an implosion in the There isn’t just one leader.” spring, when Pernetti turned to Jack can speak to his fellow Rice and his staff to rebuild. commitments’ attitudes because “This is truly going to take a he knows them personally. Rice is village in every aspect,” Cox said. building Rutgers on relationships, “Recruiting-wise, it takes all of us. and it extends to everyone. A lot of times in the paper, we are Jack spent part of August in identified specifically as being Turkey with a New York all-star responsible for this young man team. His teammates were guard choosing the school, and that has Mike Taylor and 16th-ranked cennot been the case in any situation. ter Derrick Randall. “We all develop relationships After Paterson Catholic with recruits and it takes a village closed, Randall transferred to

South Kent (Conn.), but first he played with best friend and the nation’s No. 23-ranked point guard, Myles Mack. Mack knows fellow point guard Jerome Seagears, the nation’s No. 99 prospect who marks the jump to the Washington D.C. area, where he knows and plays against the nation’s No. 14-ranked center, Greg Lewis, and guard Malick Kone. They are all Rutgers commitments. “I believe that our recruiting class is going to do things that are way better than any Rutgers basketball team ever did,” the 6-foot-9 Randall said. “We have Myles Mack, Kadeem Jack, me, Mike Taylor, Jerome Seagears, Greg Lewis, Malick Kone — we’re all great players. If we work hard and play together, then it’s going to be special.” The commitments and coaching staff speak of doing this rebuilding project together because they understand the burden is too much for one man to bear. There was an attempt at that before, and then Rice took the helm with nothing but the remaining rubble, his past relationships and a willingness to use them. “My job is to create that buzz, create that energy about our program and get the individual student-athlete thinking about what he can do to turn this program around, being on the ground floor,” Rice said. Before he even coached a game for Rutgers, Rice succeeded at his job, if only because the ground floor is awfully crowded.








NOVEMBER 10, 2010



Sophomore Dane Miller finished second in the Big East Rookie of the Year voting behind former Cincinnati Bearcat Lance Stephenson — the two unanimous selections to the conference’s All-Rookie team. The guard/forward hybrid averaged 11.9 points per game and 6.3 rebounds last season in the Scarlet Knights’ league play.

Miller embraces scoring role after impressive freshman year BY TYLER BARTO ASSOCIATE SPORTS EDITOR

Dane Miller doesn’t mind the spotlight. So when the Rutgers men’s basketball team and its star sophomore take on a much tougher nonconference schedule in 2010-11, ner ves should not be a problem. “For us to come out and automatically get Miami and Auburn — and then go to UNC and then after UNC go to ‘Nova — I love that,” Miller said. “That right there gets all the jitters out. You can’t be ner vous in those games. If you’re ner vous in those first five minutes, you might be down 20 [points].” Miller will undoubtedly be the opposing teams’ No. 1 priority after a freshman campaign that saw him finish second in Big East Rookie of the Year voting behind now-pro Lance Stephenson. But the Rochester, N.Y., native also has a target on his back in practice, where firstyear head coach Mike Rice demands the most out of the player who ranked second in the conference in both scoring (11.9) and rebounding (6.3) among rookies last season. “Dane Miller didn’t get a sub [two weeks ago] during practice,” Rice said. “He was completely exhausted and the moment he rested was the moment I jumped down his throat. Dane had a problem

with that. After speaking with him, he understands it.” Miller finds himself in a precarious situation prior to his sophomore campaign. He expected to have fellow wing players Mike Rosario — the team’s leading scorer the past two seasons — and Patrick Jackson back to ease his progression. Both Rosario a n d Jackson t r a n s fer r ed after the 2009-10 season, leaving the spotlight on Miller’s rangy, 6-foot-7 frame as the Scarlet Knights’ go-to scorer. But that doesn’t mean Miller minds the pressure. The sophomore guard/for ward hybrid spent his AAU days watching future NBA pros O.J.

Mayo and Bill Walker wear a whole team’s responsibility on their backs. And Miller insists his new coach is ready for the spotlight, too. “If you’re a basketball player, that’s what you want,” Miller said. “The other schools in New Jersey are good, but it’s nothing like playing an ACC team the third game of the year or then play Nor th Carolina … on the biggest stage in the world [at Madison Square Garden]. O u r coach can’t wait for it. I know Coach Rice definitely can’t. Him across from [UNC head coach] Roy Williams and get the ‘W’? That’s big.” Miller tallied 11 points in 27 minutes last year against the Tar Heels at Dean E. Smith Center, but his coming out par ty came three weeks earlier, when Miller dropped 15 points in a Dec. 6 win over Colgate. From there, Miller’s tantalizing dunks became as commonplace at the Louis Brown Athletic Center as his patented grin.

But Miller is out to prove No other player draws more that he’s more than just a stat- criticism from Rice than Miller, stuffer on offense — that Rice’s who was able to rest behind constant attention to detail in Rosario and since-graduated practice is warranted. Big East Defensive Player of “I think it will improve,” said the Year Hamady N’Diaye. Miller of his defense. “A lot of But Miller is not looking to people do talk about me dunk- hide from the added spotlight, ing the ball, but truthfully I especially with Rutgers now don’t really jump that high. The playing on a bigger stage under stuff I do on defense should the upstart Rice. help even more So far, Rice and it has to help likes what he “A lot of people for us to be sucsees out of the cessful and me sophomore who do talk about me becoming a betplayed the role of dunking the ball, ter player.” understudy last Miller showed year — although but truthfully a taste of his abilhe wouldn’t admit ity in an 80-68 it in practice. I don’t really scrimmage victo“If we continjump that high.” r y over McGill on ue to move and Nov. 1, when he share the ball, I DANE MILLER scored 19 points think Dane will Sophomore Guard and nabbed 12 have a great rebounds in year,” Rice said. 27 minutes. “Dane is a handful once he gets But Miller and the rest of momentum going to the basthe Knights insist there is still a ket. And so the system — how long way to go under a new we do things, the constant coaching staff and a retooled motion and constant screening roster. — I think will help Dane and “Some fouls early in the the rest of the guys open the game [against McGill] kind of floor for him. Dane cer tainly took us out of the rhythm,” said takes advantage of that. senior for ward Jonathan “He’s learning the consisMitchell, the team’s leading tency you need to be one of the returning scorer. “We’re still best players in the Big East. working the kinks out, we still It’s not just the spectacular have a long way to go. Coach things. It’s the smaller things Rice is pleased with some of that will help us win games this the things. Obviously we’ll year. Dane has to buy into come in, watch some film and doing the small things. I’m see what we did wrong.” hard on my best players.”


NOVEMBER 10, 2010




Junior guard Khadijah Rushdan averaged nine points per game last season in a complementary scoring role alongside Brittany Ray, who since graduated. Without Ray, head coach C. Vivian Stringer turns to Rushdan not only to score, but to be the elder statesman on a team that lacks a senior presence.

Rushdan marks latest Knight to take over leadership BY SAM HELLMAN

Rushdan is the only academic senior on the roster, but because of an ACL tear Ever y year the Rutgers during a game against Temple women’s basketball team loses her freshman season, she a major leader, but ever y year has two years of another leader is ready to eligibility remaining. take over. But Rushdan has three years Head coach C. Vivian under Stringer in the Rutgers Stringer commonly referred to program and is poised to take Brittany Ray’s over Ray’s leadrole on the team ership void. last year as car“I’ve been “I feel completely r ying the weight with April comfortable when of the world on [Sykes] and that her shoulders, group for a long the ball is in but now time, going on Khadijah Rushdan’s three she’s gone. years And now it is now,” Rushdan hands. She makes K h a d i j a h said. “We’re all Rushdan’s turn to more than comsmart decisions.” take over. for table with CHELSEY LEE “Khadijah’s one another. To Junior Forward position was not have a senalways one of ior doesn’t realleadership,” said ly play that Stringer of the redshirt junior much of a role in our minds from Wilmington, Del. “She was because we do have able to, at times, take off in experience, and we do terms of being the responsible have leadership.” leader that she must be. That Can Rushdan do it? Ray also comes with maturity, but says yes. she was always, position-wise, “I see [Rushdan] being the leader because she played more vocal on the cour t and point [guard]. being a floor general,” said “She dictated and deterRay, who now plays in Belgium mined a lot of things, but this for Dexia Namur Capitale. time, she will do the same. Her “Watching her grow during my role doesn’t change. She can’t time spent with her at Rutgers take any time of f because not ever y year, [Rushdan] seems only is she the point, but she’s to step more out of her basically the senior resident comfor t zone. because of the redshir t year “She was ver y shy when we for her.” first met, but now she is the CORRESPONDENT

complete opposite, and that’s a huge deal. Asking someone to take on another identity that’s unnatural to their character is a lot, but it’s something that also signals growth, the same growth I continue to see in [Rushdan] ever y year.” R a y ’ s value on the team from last s e a s o n g o e s beyond her leadership. Ray started ever y game for Rutgers last season and was the only player on the team to average double figures in scoring. Rushdan is Delaware’s second all-time leading scorer behind Elena DelleDonne, who plays for the Delaware Blue Hens, and her scoring will need to increase this year for the Knights to compete of f the bat against Stanford and California. The challenge for Rushdan without Ray is balancing the desperate need for scoring with the need for leadership that Ray did so well last season — all with the weight of the

world on her shoulders, Stringer said. “Sometimes I felt that way because of the doubts made by critics that we

would fold and not be successful, but then again, it also ser ved as a motivational tool to prove e v e r y o n e wrong,” Ray said. “I felt t h a t [Stringer] needed me to step up, and I was willing to accept t h a t

challenge. I wanted to be a leader for my team being that I had the most experience out of ever yone.” Rushdan averaged nine points per game last year for second-best on the squad — starting 31 games — and led in assists with 3.6 per game as the star ting point guard. With Nikki Speed now a junior, the two will each likely handle some point guard duties for the Scarlet Knights, with Rushdan becoming a leading scoring option. “I feel completely comfortable when the ball is in Khadijah Rushdan’s hands,” said junior forward Chelsey Lee. “She makes smart decisions. She’s not the player like last year. Last year, she’d get all the way in the paint and make a two-foot pass. This year, if Khadijah gets in, she’s scoring. And she’s taking her shot a lot more this year. I definitely see Khadijah stepping up.” Rushdan was fifth on the team from the floor with a 40 percent shooting clip, but struggled from long range, connecting on just 23 percent of her shots. “My main focus is being able to knock down a consistent shot,” Rushdan said. “Ever ybody is always playing me to drive, so it’s just a way to keep teams on their toes and be able to score.”



NOVEMBER 10, 2010




Junior Chelsey Lee, left, and sophomore Monique Oliver cannot afford to get into any foul trouble this season, as they are the only Scarlet Knights that stand taller than 6foot-1. The duo is undersized compared to much of the competition it will face, including big opponents in a season-opening weekend against California and No. 3 Stanford.



Lee, Oliver make up Scarlet Knights’ only post players returning with invaluable experience after going through early growing pains BY ANTHONY HERNANDEZ CORRESPONDENT

There may be a number of questions sur rounding the Rutgers women’s basketball team, but there are two answers as to whom will occupy the post for the Scarlet Knights in 2010-11 –– sophomore Monique Oliver and junior Chelsey Lee. After establishing their roles at the four and five, respectively, the duo received a challenge from their Hall of Fame coach. “We are not tall enough to deal with 90 percent of our opponents, but should be smar t enough and work hard enough to know that we need to block out so that we have a chance,” said head coach C. Vivian Stringer. “We want to get after it, get the ball down the floor and keep our opponents of f-guard by not being predictable and so that’s what I’m hoping to do.” But with the challenge comes another question: Will the Knights be able to overcome a height disadvantage down low? To start, the numbers from last season are not much to rave over. Lee and Oliver, both even in height at 6-foot-2, scored just 7.2 and 5.8 points per game for Stringer last year, respectively.

Still, Lee returns as the lead- ing into her own toward the end ing rebounder from last season of last season and I believe she with 7.2 per game — an area of will pick up just where she left focus and welcomed improve- off this season. ment thus far for Stringer and “She is also very passionate her team. about the game and is one of Last year’s squad narrowly those people you do not have to outrebounded opponents by 0.7 tell to work extra because she boards per game, making the already understands that it must need for chemistr y in the paint and will be done.” between the four and five even Even with a lack of scoring more significant. production from a “Me and Mo year ago, Oliver definitely played see any “They’re not going doesn’t well last year,” reason why the Lee said. “We to be jumping over pair’s impact canboth showed a lot not be felt on the anybody ... they’re floor this season. of potential at the four and five duo Proving vital to going to put down that we can be. both players ... more hook shots.” should be the The feeling it gives us in pracexperience gained C. VIVIAN STRINGER tice is that we tr y on the floor last Head Coach to go through a year in a season lot of hits and that provided sometimes we get plenty of ups and yelled at.” downs — leading As a freshman, Lee barely up to the team’s opening-round saw the floor and following her NCAA Tournament loss to Iowa. rookie season made a similar For Oliver especially, the offtransition to the one Oliver is season marked an opportunity now making for the Knights. to work on her mid-range game With Lee maturing and the to help make her more of a scorduo entering their second sea- ing threat. son together down low, Stringer “Really just shooting,” Oliver is more than happy with the said of her focus. “I already leadership provided by her jun- have the post-game down, so it’s ior for ward. basically just working around “I can say that I can see the perimeter.” Chelsey [Lee] stepping into a Shooting is something that big leadership role as well,” must improve for both players, Stringer said. “[Lee] is a ver y according to Stringer, who noted vocal person and she was com- that to be effective offensively,

Lee and Oliver need to use their quickness to combat other teams’ height. “We do need to stretch it out and [Lee and Oliver] have been working more on that,” Stringer said. “Most of their moves are going to be against bigger people, so you’re going to see them face up more and try to take the post of f the bounce because both of them handle ball well in tight corners. “They’re not going to be jumping over anybody, where the shots that they’re going to put down are probably more hook shots where they can get away — you know — get that shot off on that taller player.” With the season just days away, Stringer has made it clear that height is something working against her team, setting the stage for the junior-sophomore duo to guide the Knights in the paint. As a Friday date with California rapidly approaches, there is no need to remind Lee of how important the two are to the team’s overall success. “I don’t want to say we need to carry the team by ourselves, but we definitely know we have a major role that we have to play,” Lee said. “We are the only post — I mean we can’t foul out — so we talk about it all the time, how [Oliver] has to be focused on how to play defense. Coach Stringer always says we’ll never score as much as we’ll give up.”

2009-10 STATS







NOVEMBER 10, 2010


Young squad reflects Stringer’s grit BY ANTHONY HERNANDEZ CORRESPONDENT


Junior Nikki Speed is one of three remaining recruits from Rutgers’ heralded 2008 recruiting class, all of whom start for the Knights.

RU relies on remnants of ’08 Fab Five class BY SAM HELLMAN CORRESPONDENT

The days of the “Fab Five” are long gone. It has been more than a year since Brooklyn Pope or Jasmine Dixon stood within the Louis Brown Athletic Center after both transferred out of the program. And the three that do remain from one of the most heralded recruiting classes in women’s basketball histor y all admit that they haven’t come close to playing to their potential. “Things just weren’t what we expected,” said junior guard Nikki Speed, who was the No. 27 recruit in the country in 2008 and co-MVP of the McDonald’s AllAmerican game with Pope. “None of us were ready for what we had to do.” Speed, along with for wards April Sykes and Chelsey Lee, are the three remaining student-athletes from Rutgers head coach C. Vivian Stringer’s 2008 recruiting class. The three combined for just 67 total starts in the 67 games played since the trio joined the squad, while the highest point total among any of them belongs to Lee, who averaged 7.2 points per game last year. But with the stars of Rutgers past like Epiphanny Prince, Kia Vaughn and Brittany Ray gone, the triumvirate has no choice but to put things together. “We’re very different,” Speed said. “I don’t know if people can tell just by looking at us, but we’re a lot more mature from when we first got here.” Lee, who tried to take on a leadership role by arranging the team to schedule classes at the same times in order to have more practices together, said that maturity made a major difference in their offseason development. “We’ve matured,” Lee said. “We’ve grown as players. We learned to listen. Sometimes you just have to listen. As you get older, you learn a lot more things. We’re not in as much of a rush as we’ve been the last two years. I can say I’ve definitely seen a growth.” Lee was probably the leasttouted of the five All-Americans to join the squad in 2008, ranked as

the No. 38 overall recruit but returns as Rutgers’ top post player after averaging a team-high 7.2 boards per game last season. “Finishing is my top priority,” Lee said. “Finishing is the biggest focal point. I know I’m going to be shooting a lot of free throws because we all know I hated free throws last year. And I need to be able to hit that 10- to 18-foot shot. That’s something that was given to me a lot last year that I didn’t take.” Sykes, who came in as the No. 2 recruit in the countr y, struggled mightily to find her shot over her first two seasons despite a reputation as a deadly jump-shooter. Through two seasons, the Starkville, Miss., native is just a 20 percent shooter from long range. With a return trip to California on the horizon this weekend, the Scarlet Knights will see how much has truly changed in two years for the trio. While freshmen, the trio played on a Rutgers team that lost to both California and Stanford by 48 combined points early in the season. “Freshman year still haunts me,” said Speed, who grew up in Pasadena, Calif. “I can’t stop thinking about what we allowed to happen. I felt like I couldn’t do anything. It was my first time playing and the first time my family saw me play. When I say it haunts me, it haunts me in a motivational way. This is our chance for payback.” Those two losses were a big hit to the pride of the Knights, who eventually recovered to make a Sweet 16 run in Oklahoma City. But the California disappointment happened again the next season, ending in the first round of the NCAA Tournament to Iowa. “They have a lot of pride,” Stringer said. “They know what’s there. They have a beautiful locker room that they’re really proud of, but when you walk in it, it reminds you of the history. It reminds you of the great players that have come before and this team of young women that we have now are proud. They know what they represent, and they know what they need to do.”

When it comes to playing under C. Vivian Stringer, her players know what to expect. The hard-nosed, active and defensively stifling style of play is the ver y mentality that earned the Hall of Fame coach 843 career victories and will once again prove vital in her 16th season on the Banks. “No one can escape the responsibility that we have,” Stringer said. “Think about it, if you’ve got nine players, where do you ever see yourself sitting on the bench? Don’t you look around and say, ‘This is what I can bring to the table?’ We can’t be successful unless everyone assumes that.” On a squad that lacks senior leadership, one player’s knowledge may prove just as valuable. The team need not look any further than the play of junior Khadijah Rushdan — the team’s leading returning scorer. The Wilmington, Del., native averaged 9 points per game last season and star ted in 31 contests, but stood in the shadows of then-senior Brittany Ray, who anchored the team’s backcour t. With Ray gone, Rushdan is left to lead on and off the court, and the 5-foot-9 point guard is well prepared to assume control. “I think it gives me an opportunity to help ever ybody else out, to be a positive outlet for ever ybody,” Rushdan said of

her playing experience. “Just being able to have insight and experience and being able to give a little bit more knowledge to the rest of the team that I’ve been able to gain over the past three years.” The Knights under went a bit of a down season compared to past successes Rushdan’s last time out, as the squad went just 19-15 and got knocked out of the NCAA Tournament in the first round by Iowa. Last year’s roller coaster gave way to a mediocre seventh ranking in the preseason Big East coaches’ poll, but rankings never concer n forward Chelsey Lee. The Miami, Fla., native enters as the second most experienced on the team after having logged over 27 minutes a game last season and continues to worr y solely about the team’s expectations. “Honestly I never look at the polls or the rankings because I just don’t believe in them,” Lee said. “I honestly believe that we’ll decide where we’ll finish depending on how hard we play and how well we work together.” Much of that work came in the form of an offensively focused offseason, a focal point that Stringer noted as necessary to the maturation of the freshman. Despite having to focus a bit more on refining the offense as compared to years past, the head coach admitted to making small tweaks to help bring the younger players along faster.


Junior point guard Khadijah Rushdan’s experience will prove vital to a Rutgers squad that lacks any returning seniors.

“We’ll tr y to deal with an organized, but looser style of basketball than what we have seen in the past,” Stringer said. “You may see some shots that you’re wondering where they came from. I’m probably going to say the same thing. But hopefully I can be patient and calm and let it flow.” With large question marks looming after the team’s projected star ting five in Rushdan, sophomore Monique Oliver and juniors Chelsey Lee, Nikki Speed and April Sykes, a looser approach from Stringer may come at just the right time. Offensive production from Sykes and Speed lacked a season ago, as Sykes shot just 15.8 percent from beyond the arc and Speed averaged just 3.7 points per game. Surely, the squad is banking on improvements from the two guards, but it could also use a boost from sophomore guard Erica Wheeler. Wheeler averaged just over 14 minutes a game last season for the Knights and with a year of play under her belt, the Parkway Academy (Fla.) product will be ready for a heightened role. “The biggest thing I learned [last year] is just playing hard and never giving up,” Wheeler said. “Even if you know that you’re tired, just keep going, because that’s what coach [Stringer] loves. She loves the energetic players, and she loves hard work. That’s all we do is hard work.” The youth of the Knights does have its advantages, providing the team meshes well enough to be impactful for years to come. And while many may find ways to outweigh the positives of the Knights’ youth by noting possible drawbacks, Lee finds no difference between last year’s one-anddone NCAA tournament team and this one. “We’re the same team coming back, but I can definitely say that a lot of people don’t believe that we’ll be as great,” Lee said. “I’m sure a lot of people are wondering, ‘How will they score without Brittany Ray?’ So I think the difference is showing a lot of people who had roles –– that were role players last year –– have to be leaders this year, that’s the biggest thing.” So while a number of players return with the experience of a mediocre 2009 campaign under their belts, they do so with Stringer’s gritty, blue-collar mentality in mind –– the same mindset that ear ned Rutgers its national prominence in the realm of women’s college basketball. Now, when opposing programs step on the floor against a Stringer-team, they know what to expect.



NIKKI SPEED Shooting guard

APRIL SYKES Small forward

MONIQUE OLIVER Power forward


Junior, 5’-9” Wilmington, Del.

Junior, 5’-8” Pasadena, Calif.

Junior, 6’-0” Starkville, Miss.

Sophomore, 6’-2” Las Vegas, Nev.

Junior, 6’-2” Miami, Fla.


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