Rutgers basketball saw the end of an era conclude last season as Geo Baker and Ron Harper Jr. have both played their final game as Scarlet Knights. Harper is trying to make a home in the NBA with the Toronto Raptors as an undrafted rookie free agent while Baker has moved on to other ventures outside of basketball.
“You are going to miss some things with Geo and Ron obviously, but I think we will be a little bit different,” head coach Steve Pikiell said last week. “Defensively, we will be different and offensively in some ways too. So I am excited about that. I was thankful Ron came back last year because he had good feedback from the NBA.”
With Harper and Baker gone, more minutes will be available, especially for the core of younger players.
“The newcomers have been really good picking up stuff,” Pikiell said. “They have been picking up our defensive vitamins; different things we do defensively. It’s been a great group to work with.”
Baker’s replacement could come in the form of freshman guard Derek Simpson, who is even wearing Baker’s old zero jersey number.
“He is one of the most athletic guards we’ve had since Core Sanders,” Pikiell said of Simpson. “He’s above the rim. He shoots the ball effortlessly. He has a good feeling for the game. Right now, he is just learning our defenses and things that we want him to do. But his ceiling is tremendous and he’s been very coachable.”
One returning player who will be picking up the slack will be senior point guard Paul Mulcahy.
“I had a leadership role internally since I was a sophomore, so it’s nothing new,” Mulcahy said. “We have a lot of guys that are coachable and really love basketball so it’s easy. …A lot of dudes have been working hard for a long time. We have a lot of hungry dudes who are ready to play.”
This coming season should also feature more of the Cliff Omoruyi show. Last season, the center made a huge jump as he went from averaging 3.8 points per game to11.9 points per game. And that could climb even higher this season.
“This year he will take on a new dimension because I am going to let him shoot the ball,” Pikiell said. “He can really shoot the ball. Even last year, I was encouraging him to shoot the ball. He is going to be a tough guy to match up with in this league.”
Caleb McConnell will also be handed more shots without Harper and Baker in the fold. And as the returning Big Ten defensive player of the year, he will be a major part of this Rutgers team once again. Nevertheless, there is little disputing that Harper also leaves a huge vacancy as he averaged 15.8 points per game. His replacement could be a team effort that comes in the form of Cam Spencer, Aundre Hyatt and Mawot Mag.
“It is definitely a bigger role for me,” Hyatt told Scarlet Nation. “I am just trying to take it one day at a time and get better. I am paying attention to detail and just locking in every day.”