The Michigan men’s basketball team plays host Wednesday to Rutgers, a program that, in its second season in the Big Ten, is still struggling to gain traction in its new conference. The Scarlet Knights won just two Big Ten games last season and are currently 0-7 in the league. Rutgers’ roster rebuild is very much a work in progress, making the Wolverines heavy favorites in the teams’ only meeting of the year.
The Michigan Daily sat down with Scarlet Knights coach Eddie Jordan — formerly the head coach of the NBA’s Sacramento Kings, Washington Wizards and Philadelphia 76ers — at Big Ten Media Day in October to talk about the difficulties of breaking into the Big Ten and Rutgers’ recruiting philosophy within the geography of its new conference.
The Michigan Daily: How tough has it been seeing so little success in your first two years as a Big Ten team and how has it affected your recruiting outlook?
Eddie Jordan: I was taught (that) you either sell winning or you sell hope. If you aren’t winning, have a future in front of you. Develop your future. And we’ve got a great future. Our kids are great kids. They work hard. Our talent base is much better, although they’re young. In a three-hour practice, we don’t fall off so much, and we have eight guys who could possibly start. I just think that it keeps everybody excited. You’ve got to deal with their mistakes as the season goes along. As I’ve said before, in June, July and August, everybody says, ‘We’re young, let’s take some time.’ In December and January, when they’re making youthful mistakes, people are saying, ‘What the heck’s going on, Coach?’ You have to expect that. You have to have some patience.
TMD: Is it tough, cyclically, to lose so many scholarship players as you continue to try to break into the conference? Does it feel like you need to take a step back before you can take a step forward?
EJ: Well, I don’t want to take a step back. We had two wins in the conference last year, and I would love to be more successful in the conference. We’re just going to have to rely on some of our youthfulness to maybe surprise some people and stay in games and be exciting. But you know what? Our talent is good, our talent base is good. But one thing I’ve learned over the years is that talent just doesn’t win itself. You have to have experience along with talent, you’ve got to have toughness along with the talent, you’ve got to have good kids with good character. Toughness alone doesn’t win. Experience alone doesn’t win. Talent always has to be involved, along with the previous two.
TMD: Some coaches might try to take advantage of the new geographical footprint when their team switches conferences. If and when you find yourself in Iowa or Michigan, are there selling points for the Rutgers brand that might lure an athlete from a Midwestern area?
EJ: Well, we don’t go to Iowa and Michigan to recruit. What happens in recruiting is, with all the AAU tournaments, everything is in Vegas. Everything is in Florida. Everything is in Texas or New York or California, wherever. So if there’s a kid who’s on an Illinois AAU team, we’ll obviously make some contact if he has interest. But look — our hotbed is New York through northern Virginia, and we’ve recently gone to Florida and Carolina, because my assistants are really good in those areas. So our top kids are from Carolina and Florida. Although we want to recruit New Jersey as hard as any other place, it’s just that’s the way life is.
TMD: So the intent, long-term, isn’t necessarily to compete in Indiana for recruits with offers, for example, from Indiana and Purdue?
EJ: I wouldn’t say that, not necessarily. We want to go after the best kids — that’s number one. Number two is (we want to go after) the best kids that we have a chance at getting. We’re not going after the best kids when we know they’ll go to a top-10 program. Corey Sanders (a freshman from Lakeland, Fla.) has been one of our highly rated recruits, and we had a connection there, we recruited him hard, he had great interest in me being an ex-NBA coach. So again, you’ve got to connect the dots that will help you form the picture of what this kid is about, and do you have a chance?