When Mike Rosario committed to Rutgers and its then head coach Fred Hill in 2008, it was supposed to be the rebirth (or I suppose, more accurately, birth) of the Scarlet Knight basketball program. Rosario, a McDonald’s All-American and standout at St. Anthony’s in Jersey City for legendary head coach Bob Hurley, chose Rutgers over several other Division I suitors because he wanted to put Rutgers basketball on the map, and because he wanted to be the “prince of New Jersey.” With that four-man recruiting class joining freshman Corey Chandler in Piscataway, the future looked bright for Rutgers. Two years later, all four of those players from the 2008 class have transferred elsewhere, including Rosario who announced in April his decision to transfer to Florida, and Chandler is gone as well. Of course, not surprisingly, the coach who did such a great job putting together that recruiting class, but then failed to get any of them to live up to their potential, is gone. Hill resigned after the season (albeit after a long drawn out affair during which athletic director Tim Pernetti seemingly could not pull the trigger). In his stead, Pernetti hired Mike Rice, a hot name after Rice’s Robert Morris squad gave Villanova everything it could handle in the NCAA Tournament. That’s the good news for Rice. The bad news? Just six scholarship players remain. However, Rice was able to keep Hill-committed recruits Gilvydas Biruta and Austin Carroll, and has garnered commitments from Mike Poole and JuCo transfer Tyree Graham. The talent on the roster is still underwhelming, but at least they’ll be able to scrimmage once practice rolls around, provided there are no injuries or further defections, of course.

So, what does remain for the Scarlet Knights? Not a lot, but they do have one returning full-time starter and three other guys that got their share of starts over the season as well. Jonathan Mitchell, who once transferred from Florida to Rutgers, is the guy who started all 32 games last season. He is a big wing with three-point range and can be deadly when he gets an open look. Beyond that, he is a good fundamental player, doesn’t turn the ball over, doesn’t commit dumb fouls, rebounds pretty well for his position, but is not a game-changer by any means. The three others that got some starts in last season are senior point guard James Beatty, senior combo guard Mike Coburn and sophomore forward Dane Miller. Miller, a great athlete and a major finisher, has quite a bit of potential. He averaged almost ten points a game last season, even more impressive considering very little offense was ever run for him, and he rebounds particularly well for his size, especially on the offensive glass. He is not a good shooter, whether from the field or from the line, but has the mechanics to improve with work. Coburn and Beatty are both decent at the point, nothing special, but between them they can hold down the one spot. Beatty is the better shooter and better defender, but Coburn is capable of the drive-and-dish for open shooters. Then there’s sophomore Austin Johnson, a power forward with the skills to score inside or step out and knock down an 18-foot jumper. While he has yet to make much out of those skills, he’s still got plenty of upside and he will get playing time this season. Frankly, he’ll have to.

As for the recruiting class, Biruta is the prize. He is an athletic aggressive finisher who can shoot from the perimeter and also bowl people over down low. He has a good chance to step in and start immediately for the Knights, and he has plenty of upside. The rest of the class is a mixed bag, but given Rice’s need for bodies, they’ll do fine. Carroll is a good secondary player, not a creator by any means, but a good passer and capable of stretching defenses with his range. Poole, a 6-6 small forward and Graham, a 6-1 shooting guard and junior college transfer, round out the recruiting class; both were added late in the recruiting process after Rice had already taken the reigns. Poole is an athletic defender with the capability of knocking down some shots, but like Carroll, he is more of a role player than a primary guy. Graham started his career at Texas Tech before heading the JuCo route, and he is an undersized scoring guard with the ability to run some point. All of these guys will have plenty of chances to earn playing time, if only by default.

Things are not good in the Rutgers basketball program right now, but Rice has at least gotten off to a good start with keeping the already committed recruits and adding some bodies to round out the roster, but 2010-11 figures to be a particularly tough season, with the Knights likely ready to battle it out for the basement slot. The good news is there’s absolutely no pressure on Rice or this team this season; expectations are low, the situation is bad, and resources are limited. The good news is, there’s nowhere to go but up from here.

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