Sunday, May 29, 2011

Memorial Day Tribute: Rutgers

Always underrated, Rutgers forward Jonathan Mitchell finally gets people to take notice of him after his four-point play in final seconds to beat Villanova. (Photo courtesy of Newark Star-Ledger)

In the first piece of our three-part series honoring the recently departed seniors of the three local Big East programs, we reminisced about those who had left Seton Hall and their contributions to the Pirates. Our second installment also focuses on New Jersey; but makes a trip down the Garden State Parkway to honor a team I still believe is the Rocky Balboa of the Big East, the Rutgers Scarlet Knights.

No. 10, James Beatty (Photo courtesy of New York Daily News)
Plucked out of junior college by Fred Hill two years ago, this crafty shooting guard made a name for himself by becoming a combo backcourt player with his ability to be effective both at the point and off the ball for both Hill and current Rutgers coach Mike Rice. A true silent killer, Beatty was as much a threat giving the ball up for a teammate as he was taking a shot for himself; and was among Rutgers' best three-point shooters during his two years in Piscataway.

JB's Defining Moment: Here's one player whose greatest contributions went largely unnoticed since he was more of a facilitator than an aggressor, but Beatty's career night came this past January against Marquette. The deceptive senior scored a career-high 24 points in an effort fueled by six threes against the Golden Eagles.

No. 31, Mike Coburn (Photo courtesy of Newark Star-Ledger)
A high school teammate of Jonathan Mitchell (more on him later) while playing for Bob Cimmino at Mount Vernon, Coburn's flashy speed and steady hand gave Mike Rice a formidable one-two punch in the backcourt with the aforementioned James Beatty. Mike's willingness to be the man that set up most of the scoring for the Scarlet Knights enabled Beatty to become an additional scoring option that joined Mitchell and Dane Miller up front, especially from outside.

Mike's Defining Moment: A throwback here, since it came during his freshman year against archrival Seton Hall. Exactly one week after setting a career-high with 23 points against Villanova, Coburn equaled that number against the Pirates; and added nine rebounds for good measure in an effort that proved he would not soon be forgotten in Piscataway.

No. 5, Robert Lumpkins (Photo courtesy of New York Daily News)
The epitome of an unsung hero after transferring to Rutgers by way of New Mexico State. A former teammate of Seton Hall's Herb Pope at NMSU, Lumpkins was immediately eligible to play for Rutgers; and although his time with the Scarlet Knights was limited, he played each second he was on the court as if it were his last.

Rob's Defining Moment: February 2, 2011 at Carnesecca Arena. Just when it looked like St. John's would pull away from the Jersey boys, Lumpkins kicked it into another gear. The senior tallied 13 points off the bench, eleven of which came in the final two minutes and seventeen seconds of regulation. Lumpkins was the catalyst behind Rutgers' late rally with three consecutive three-pointers that tied the game at 56, but St. John's managed a layup from Justin Brownlee (pictured above) in the final seconds for the 58-56 victory.

No. 24, Jonathan Mitchell (Photo courtesy of Newark Star-Ledger)
It is really a shame to see this kid go. That was how much Mitchell endeared himself to the basketball fan in me, so much so to where I posted my opinions of him in this very space. After sitting on Billy Donovan's bench while Florida won their second of two consecutive national championships, Mitchell transferred into Piscataway looking for more playing time; and in the process became the most underrated player in the Big East, and maybe college basketball in general while simultaneously becoming one of my favorite players to cover. A warrior that gets better every day, Mitchell will hopefully get a chance to shine in the NBA.

J-Mitch's Defining Moment: February 9th of this past year against Villanova, when he completed his well-documented four-point play by hitting a three with eight tenths of a second remaining in a regulation and drawing a foul on Villanova's Corey Fisher in the process. Since the play was so dramatic; and because Mitchell was such a great player, I've uploaded this video taken by one of the lucky people in attendance at the RAC that night.

Why is @DalyDoseOfHoops yelling at me?
Head Coach Mike Rice (Photo courtesy of Quinn Rochford by way of ESPN)
In much the same way Jonathan Mitchell became my favorite player this past year, Mike Rice became the latest member of the group I like to call my favorite coaches. His intensity is misunderstood for just how driven and motivated to succeed he really is. How else can a coach get so much out of so little? From our first meeting at last October's Big East media day all the way to courtside encounters at both St. Francis (where he was in attendance to see his former Robert Morris squad face the Terriers) and St. John's, Rice has proven that he is a class act and easily likable guy both on and off the court. Rutgers athletic director Tim Pernetti didn't just hit a home run by hiring Mike Rice to replace Fred Hill, he hit a grand slam. Just take a look at the Scarlet Knights' performance last season versus what was predicted of them; then look at the recruiting class coming into Piscataway this fall, and you'll see that the best truly is yet to come on the banks of the old Raritan.

Rice's Defining Moment: This one came off the court in the wake of the Scarlet Knights' devastating Big East tournament loss to St. John's after officials Jim Burr and Tim Higgins missed a blatant step out of bounds and apparent travel committed by the aforementioned Justin Brownlee of the Red Storm. As Rice prepared to address the media in his postgame press conference, I'm sure that the majority of media in attendance expected Rice to criticize the officials in some way. What we got, however, was a remarkable display of restraint that gave even the most vocal of Rice haters more than one reason to embrace the head man. If you haven't read my opinion of Rice yet, I'll give you a chance to see why this man should be celebrated.

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