Steve Pikiell, who is joining the ranks of Big Ten coaches, already has earned their respect.
The man who built Stony Brook from a four-win squad in 2005-06 (his first season) to a perennial 20-game winner to an NCAA Tournament team this season was described by one future rival as “a grand slam — not just a home run” for Rutgers.
“He’ll do phenomenal work at Rutgers,” Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said Saturday at Barclays Center, where his team was preparing for an NCAA Tournament game against Villanova on Sunday. “I can’t imagine a better person to lead that institution. I coached against Steve in the NIT [in 2013]. I have watched his teams play and I’ve watched him build that program and the way he’s done it. He is fabulous.”
Often the biggest challenge for a coach in stepping up from a mid-major to high major is recruiting. McCaffery knows because he went from Siena to the Hawkeyes. He doesn’t envision Pikiell struggling at all with that.
“He knows what a Big Ten player is. I’d say he’s had a couple Big Ten-level players on his team,” McCaffery said. “Go get another [Jameel] Warney, because he can play in our league. He would have been all-league in the Big Ten.”
Rutgers was 7-25 this season and has been dragging the bottom of the Big East and Big Ten for a decade. But the work Pikiell did with the Seawolves gives him a track record.
“Stony Brook has gone from the bottom to the top of their league with Steve as the coach,” McCaffery said. “He knows how to build a culture. He can develop talent. He can coach. I have no doubt he’s going to be able to do those same things at Rutgers.”