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Rutgers’ jump on the competition may actually pay off


Maybe there is hope for Rutgers basketball.

The school that hasn’t been to the NCAA tournament since 1991 and hasn’t won at the Big Dance since 1983 made strides in its first year under coach Mike Rice. The offense showed signs of life and the defense had its moments.

Still, the bottom-line wasn’t much different than the Fred Hill era. Rutgers was 15-17 overall and won just five Big East games.

So why might 2011-12 be any different? The heralded incoming class is getting a head start.

Six of Rutgers’ incoming recruits – Myles Mack, Jerome Seagears, Eli Carter, Greg Lewis, Derrick Randall and Malick Kone – are playing together in the Jersey Shore Basketball League. Also on the team are junior Austin Johnson, sophomore Austin Carroll and transfer Wally Judge, which means the Knights have nine guys learning each other’s strengths, weaknesses and styles months before most teams usually see the court.

(NCAA rules limit two players from the same team on the same summer team roster, but that doesn’t apply to freshmen.)

It’s all recapped here by Newark Star-Ledger reporter Brendan Prunty, who writes that despite the team’s non-winning ways (insert Rutgers joke here), the guys are loving every minute of the summer. Same with Rice.

“It was a no-brainer,” Rice told Prunty. “You don’t usually get this. To get all of them together and play against older guys and guys who have played Division 1 or overseas and know how to play. I knew they were going to take their bumps — especially in this league.”

The only downside is that incoming power forward Kadeem Jack, along with likely starters Dane Miller and Gilvydas Biruta aren’t with the group.

It’s probably too much to expect a significant bump in 2011-12. The next season seems more likely when guys like Mack, Jack and Seagears can make that sophomore leap and Miller will be the lone senior. Then we’ll see if Rutgers basketball can ever win again.

You also can follow me on Twitter @MikeMillerNBC.