NJ Discover “On the Road: Rutgers Men’s Basketball Media Day: Team/Season Perspectives.” by Calvin Schwartz November 1, 2017
Last week, my friend Bert Baron, Program Director at WCTC, New Brunswick and Morning Drive Show host and recent inductee in NJ Broadcasters Hall of Fame reminded me about Basketball Media Day at Rutgers. I’ve never been but I am media to the extent that NJ Discover LIVE TV recently had Pat Hobbs, Rutgers Athletic Director on our show. I RSVP’d and here I am writing about the day which finished a few hours ago.
Funny thing, I’ve never applied for a Rutgers press pass for sports. Reason being, I’ve been a season ticket holder for decades and I’m there anyway. My NJ Discover journalism has taken me into homelessness, hunger, environment, autism, art, movies, animals and music. No time for sports? But times are changing as Bob Dylan eloquently sang. My view of the world for this story was to tip toe down a different path with my interviewing some of the players; A brief departure and a standard question.
I went to a closed practice a few weeks ago and walked away saying there is something so positive going on with the team. I haven’t seen this emotion, energy and excitement in the Men’s Basketball program in a long time. Credit to the second year, most amazing, talented, devoted coach, Steve Pikiell. I love to say and it’s completely true, I’ve been watching basketball diligently for a solid six decades (and played a lot, organized and playground in Newark) and I see such a world of difference in this Rutgers team. That’s why I became media for the day. That’s why I can’t wait for the college basketball season.
There are few places like the RAC to watch a game. There’s nothing like college basketball. And when the RAC rocks (and it happened so much more last season) it’s just a great night out. The RAC is a fascinating design; the noise has nowhere to go but back on the court so when this team improved so much last year, we all basked in the noise levels. I expect way more noise this year; that’s the prognostication in me.
First up on Media Day, Coach Pikiell spoke and answered reporter questions. Here is my summary/notetaking.
“A big difference in this team, is the competition going on in practices…. Last year we went from 7 to 15 victories…. The new practice facility being built is the commitment by Rutgers…. A 24-hour facility.”
Question on returning team captains? “There are three seniors (Candido, Mike & Deshawn) now…. We’re excited about their leadership.”
Q: What will make this a successful season? “The guys are in the gym more…. we want people NOT to want to play Rutgers…. We are playing better together…. things to concentrate on, free throws, turnovers.”
Q: Have you locked in a starting five? “Not always the best players…. we need to add a spark…. Starting line-up never been important to me…. It’ll change…. There are seven or eight guys capable of starting…. we can go small or big,”
Q: Goal? “Always the NCAA tournament.”
When Coach Pikiell answered the goal is the NCAA tournament, I knew my first question to the individual players, their goals for themselves and the team. Then I wanted to have fun, go cerebral and asked, “With respect to role models in your life, living or dead which role model would you like to have dinner with.” They all smiled when I asked that. So, did I. A very special group! And so many players with the same introspective goal.
QUESTIONS FOR RUTGERS PLAYERS: (1) Goals AND (2) Role Models living or dead that you’d like to have dinner with.
MIKE WILLIAMS (Sr, Guard) “Would love the team to be recognized by the BigTen. It’s always about my teammates…. Role Model living or dead to have dinner with…. My Mom and Dad and my Grandmother.”
PETER KISS (So, Guard) “To be supportive, to do the most in every practice to help team reach the tourney, to keep getting better and to push the other guys in practice to get better. Role Model is Jason Kidd. I like how he always bounces back.”
COREY SANDERS (Jr. Guard) “To be an improved player, get my personal stats up, to help lead the team and fight hard to rebuild program and get to post season. Role Model is Drake the musician and Denzel Washington.”
Of note Corey and I talked about Denzel Washington’s performance in ‘Remember the Titans.’ I quoted a movie line, “Mobile, Agile, and Hostile.” Corey and I laughed, subliminally thinking it could be a Rutgers line now.
MYLES JOHNSON (Fr. Forward/Center) “I’m here to help the team to win, get to the tournament, to keep winning and play hard and show the world. Role Model is a young Malcolm X. I liked the way he handled things in life. Barack Obama, his views on life and even basketball because he played.”
JAKE DADIKA (Sr. Guard) “To be out there and help the team in anyway get to tournament. Role Model is Steve Nash, my favorite player growing up. Jayson Williams at dinner to see what he is about. And Shaq O’Neill because I am a Lakers fan.”
SOUF MENSAH (Jr. Guard) “To win the maximum amount of games. I’m here to win and keep getting better. Role Model is Billy Beane from ‘Moneyball’ Brad Pitt played him in the movie.”
CANDIDO SA (Sr. Forward) I asked Candido about being a senior this year. “Being a senior is good and bad. Soon it’s a different world for me. My personal goals are the team goals. To get as far as we can. Role models are Tupac Shakur and Lebron James.”
DESHAWN FREEMAN (Sr. Forward) “Everything is team. To win at least 8 BigTen games or even more and to make it to the NCAA tourney and to be a better captain and leader on and off the court. Role models are James Harden, Hakeem Olajuwon and Michael Jordan.” I thought Deshawn reminded me a lot of James Harden and his style of play.
GEO BAKER (Fr. Guard) “It’s to get to the tournament and win and always play as hard as possible. Role Models are Kobe Bryant and Rajon Rondo.”
EUGENE OMORUYI (So. Forward) “Personal goals would be to further my career and to get a Nursing Degree and for the team to get to the tournament. My role models are my parents and family for bringing us to America from Africa.”
What a hugely special day with a very special team and coach and staff. I feel like putting my positive prognostications in a time vault not to be opened until next March. And so it goes. Oh, first game Friday November 10th.
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