Four years ago Fred Hill was hired as Rutgers’ 16th men’s basketball coach and the sky seemed the limit. He had a resume that was second to none and most importantly he knew how to recruit the type of New York/Jersey products that Rutgers so desperately wanted and needed. Four years later, by most accounts the talent has improved, but for Rutgers basketball, now 12-12 and 2-9 in the Big East leading up to its Sunday game against Georgetown, things have stayed pretty much the same.
When Hill, a former assistant and recruiting guru for Jay Wright at Villanova, was promoted by the Scarlet Knights they were a bottom of the barrel Big East team. Things were so bad that their previous coach had missed a game to be inducted into Kent State’s athletics’ Hall of Fame. Now, despite the recruitment of Mike Rosario, the first McDonald’s All-American in program history, Rutgers finds itself in second-to-last place in the Big East.
Things were a lot happier in 2006.
Hill has long has a reputation as a “Jersey guy.” He had grown up there, played basketball at Montclair State and his dad had built the Rutgers baseball program into a perennially competitive Big East baseball program. He only furthered his reputation from 1998 on as an assistant at Seton Hall in Jersey, where he brought in top notch recruiting classes that helped the Pirates to a Sweet 16. Then in 2001 he took a job with Wright at Villanova where he made a living recruiting Jersey talent to the Main Line of Philadelphia. Allen Ray, Randy Foye and Kyle Lowry were all Hill recruits.
When Rutgers hired Hill, who had served a season as an assistant coach, they saw a Jersey guy who knew the state and the school, but most importantly he had relationships with most of the prep and AAU coaches in the state and the New York metro area.
In March of 2006 Christopher Lee of Scout.com summed up the feelings of most Scarlet Knight fans:
“Because Hill has the recruiting ability and Jersey background to succeed at Rutgers, there is great hope that he is right guy for RU. Many hope Hill’s experience, dedication and connections will lead to success.”
Since then some progress has been made. He was unable to keep Quincy Douby on campus for his senior season and yet slowly but surely the talent level at Rutgers has risen. His second full recruiting class proved to be his best as he snagged Rosario from local prep powerhouse St. Anthony’s, where he was coached by the legendary Bob Hurley.
It hasn’t been enough, however.
His first three seasons saw just 32 wins and even this year, with a core group back the Scarlet Knights have floundered, winning just two conference games and heading into Sunday’s matchup with Georgetown in danger of falling back below .500. Rutgers was 9-2 at one point, but the majority of those wins came against NEC teams and other members of the lower echelon of Division I college basketball.
The moment they played North Carolina before opening Big East play, things unraveled. The Scarlet Knights lost to UNC, got dropped by Cincinnati and before long they were in the midst of a nine-game losing streak.
In the middle of that skid, promising sophomore center Greg Echenique, whose season ended after seven games when he received surgery for a detached retina, transferred to Creighton. Echenique averaged 12.6 points and 7.7 rebounds per game before his injury.
Then, former player J.R. Inman attacked Hill on Facebook. His lengthy diatribe included accusations of defamation of character and a belief that Hill blackballed him out of the NBA.
While these may have been the words of one disgruntled player, topping it off with the transfer of Echenique and a woeful start to Big East play, it was not what Hill had expected when he arrived in Piscataway. It seemed like light years since Villanova star Randy Foye said he would play “wherever [Hill] was, even Rutgers.”
It begs the question of whether anyone can actually win at Rutgers.
Louisville Head Coach Rick Pitino doesn’t think so, at least not until some things change in the Rutgers program off the court.
“Rutgers needs to make progress off the court,” Pitino said at Big East media day in October. “Their facilities have to get upgraded to the rest of us. When you build a program you not only build it by winning, build it on the court and getting better players; you have to build the infrastructure.”
Rutgers’ arena – Louis Brown Athletic Center, or the RAC as it is commonly known – is an aging building that hardly compares with the facilities of other Big East opponents. Space is tight, with only 8,000 seats, and it lacks any of the bows and ribbons of modern facilities.
Even Georgetown, which practices in ancient and tiny McDonough Gymnasium at least gets to play in front of 20,000 fans at a state-of-the-art, professional arena.
Luckily for Hill it has been reported that Rutgers Athletic Director Tim Pernetti plans to expand the RAC, adding practice space, more spectator seating and increased concourse space. Recruiting has become as much a battle of facilities as it is personality, and while Rutgers football has sought to catch up to the curve, its basketball team is only now trying to remedy this.
Unfortunately for Hill he may never reap the benefits of this expansion because there is ever increasing pressure for Rutgers to move in a different direction. Despite bringing in the best prep player in Rutgers history, the turmoil on and off the court this season has become too much for some.
That being said, Hill needs to be given a fair chance to turn that program around. Rutgers lacks the natural recruiting attraction of other Big East schools and it will take some time to bring in the type of talent that the Scarlet Knights need to survive in the Big East. Hill doesn’t have the luxury of inheriting a program on the mend or playing in a mid-major conference. He inherited a program whose trajectory has been pointed down for some time.
If given the time to bring in more talent and reap the recruiting benefits, if not the tangible benefits, of facilities upgrades then there is nothing to say that he can’t make Rutgers basketball competitive in the Big East. An upset of Notre Dame this season was a step in the right direction, another signature win or two might just convince those in New Jersey that there is hope yet for the program.
Even Jim Harrick, with all of his sleazy tactics, couldn’t turn around Rutgers basketball in three recruiting years. Sadly for Hill, the Garden Staters don’t really care about his own personal timetable – which he claims to still have. They want results fast. If Hill isn’t on the bench next season it’s time for Rutgers and its fans to wonder who exactly can get the job down in Piscataway.
*Ryan Travers is a senior in the College and a former Sports Editor at THE HOYA. Follow him on [Twitter](https://twitter.com/illprocedure). He can be reached at [traversthehoya.com](traversthehoya.com). Illegal Procedure appears in every Friday issue of HOYA SPORTS.*”