Having sat out last season after transfer from Florida Atlantic, Nick Rutherford is ready to return to action at Monmouth, where he has already demonstrated necessary leadership to be Hawks' floor general. (Photo by the Asbury Park Press)
Last season's 11-20 record for Monmouth University basketball can, for all intents and purposes, be described as a rebuilding year in the wake of a Justin Robinson-led senior core graduating and a younger group taking its collective lumps while learning how to win in the process.
However, as head coach King Rice admitted when revealing he may not have done the most efficient work in developing his new crop of talent, each year is a new year. And with that new year -- plus the return of sophomores Deion Hammond, Melik Martin and Marcus McClary alongside a veteran frontcourt with postseason experience -- is a point guard who may be new to Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference competition, yet is eager to rekindle the fire that made him a highly-coveted commodity on the transfer market.
Nick Rutherford, a 6-foot-3 junior from Indianapolis by way of Florida Atlantic, is eligible again after sitting out last season upon his arrival in West Long Branch, and will be the Hawks' point guard, anchoring a stable of guards that includes redshirt sophomore Ray Salnave in addition to McClary and Hammond, the latter of whom garnered MAAC All-Rookie team honors after ranking fourth in scoring among freshmen in the conference. But while the incumbent backcourt has already shown what it brings to the table, Rutherford -- who racked up 246 assists in two years for the Owls, averaging nine points, four rebounds and four helpers per game as a sophomore -- adds a profound flavor of intrigue as something of a relative unknown, and his intangibles are what has his head coach salivating as Monmouth accelerates its growth process.
"I think the leader is going to be Nick," Rice said when asked if anyone had assumed an alpha dog status in the locker room following the graduation of Austin Tilghman and departure of Micah Seaborn for a professional career. "He was a very good leader last year in his sit-out year, which is kind of hard for guys to do because they feel like it's not the right time for them to make an impact on the team, but Nick had a major impact -- especially after the season -- on getting to our level of accountability and commitment, getting where it needed to be. He has stood out as one of the leaders."
Nick Rutherford brings clutch mentality and drive from Florida Atlantic to Monmouth, where he continues his eligibility this season. (Photo by The University Press)
"Just who he is as a young man -- he hit some game winners when he was at Florida Atlantic, he beat Ohio State -- he's a kid that can really score the ball, but he's a true definition of a pass-first point guard. He gets people where they want the ball, he gets it to them on their hands, he's a great defender, he'll be able to pick up the full court and pass some guys the whole game."
Monmouth had already made strides last season in reclaiming its defensive throne, as the back-to-back regular season MAAC championship teams were among the league's best when the ball was not in its hands. With Rutherford now in the fold, look for that figure to continue to improve, as the man responsible for serving as an extension of the coach is also comparable, in some ways, to one of the Hawks' strongest and most valuable pillars.
"I thought he was pretty solid before, but he brings a level of toughness to our program," Rice gushed. "He's very different than Je'lon Hornbeak, but that level of toughness that Je'lon had is what Nick has. Just because he's on the team, our team will be a lot tougher."