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Welcome back to the Trentonian's Full-Court Press blog. Yes, we're still alive, and with the 2015-16 season rapidly approaching, it's time to fire up the old blog for another season. Check back here throughout the year for updates on all things Rider and Princeton, including coverage of both the MAAC and Ivy League. Feel free to drop me a line on twitter @kj_franko ( or email

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Mike Rice will have to build -- not re-build -- the Rutgers program

When you're overseeing a coaching transition, the plan never involves anything remotely akin to what transpired over the last month at Rutgers -- an almost too-weird-to-be-true scenario that began to unfold with a tirade at a baseball game and finally concluded yesterday.

But when practice begins next October -- and especially when the regular season starts in November -- the process will be all but forgotten. All that will matter is that Mike Rice -- not Fred Hill -- is the head coach, and though he'll never take any public digs at Hill, athletic director Tim Pernetti made it clear Thursday how much more pleased he is with the program now than he has been at any other point since taking the AD's job last year.

"We needed to find a head coach with the skills, with the relationships, with the passion, with the excitement about what we have here at Rutgers," Pernetti said. "And quite frankly, with energy that didn’t have a gauge that read empty."

The last month -- probably even the entire season, for that matter -- has been rough on Pernetti, who inherited a grossly irresponsible contract given to Hill by Bob Mulcahy. Pernetti, a former tight end and radio color analyst, has a reputation as a football guy. But helping build the basketball program -- along with potentially joining the Big 10 -- could define his legacy more than anything.

Mulcahy foolishly gave Hill a contract extension prior to the 2008-09 season, based solely upon one good recruiting class -- of which exactly zero of the four signees remain. It wasn't after Hill lost his cool during a Rutgers-Pitt baseball game that Pernetti was able to get out of the contract.

But Thursday -- to the pleasure of Pernetti and everyone else who follows the Knights' program -- that became a thing of the past.

Many will call what the 41-year-old Rice has in front of him a rebuilding job. Really, though, a building job -- akin to the one Greg Schiano performed with the school's football program -- is a more accurate way to describe it.

Rice paid respect to the program's history, reeling off a list of names from the 1976 Final Four team -- along with that of Quincy Douby, who Rice's son has taken to emulating when shooting jumpers. But 1976 was lightyears away in college basketball terms -- three years before the inception of the Big East and nine before the introduction of the shot clock.

Recreating 1976 at Rutgers is an only slightly more realistic concept than restoring the Chicago Cubs to their 1908 prowess, so Rice, especially given the immense depths to which Hill drove the program (his four-year conference record was the worst in Big East history), is building from scratch.

Asked to name his first goal, he set the bar justifiably low.

"Having enough scholarship players to go 5-on-5," he said, "is my first initiative."

Rice, who led Robert Morris to two NCAA tournament berths in three years, needs to build the program in every facet. During Hill's tenure virtually everything went south, from the Knights' record to attendance at the RAC and overall interest in the program.

Rice lit up the room at his press conference, sounding more like Schiano than Hill. He'll have to do that countless more times in front of alumni and fans to build interest before the season begins.

He'll also have to win some games -- and on that front, he set the bar high.

"There are no white flags in my cabinet or in anything I've ever worked in," he said. ".. I would never set a goal of .500. You may realistically think that and some of the prognosticators may think that, but .500 is never good enough."


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