PISCATAWAY, N.J. – Combo guard Mike Coburn was among a quartet of recruits of what was supposed to be a turning-point 2007 class, and he will leave as the only member of the class to last more than two years.
Power forward Jonathan Mitchell left Florida a year removed from a national title and endured tumult during three seasons at Rutgers, and point guard James Beatty came to the Scarlet Knights from the JUCO ranks with visions of the NCAA Tournament but will leave having to settle for being a building block.
Senior Day is always a bit awkward, but considering the paths of those to be honored before today’s noon tip-off against West Virginia, is goes far beyond that.
And the aforementioned trio of players participating in their final game at the Rutgers Athletic Center doesn’t even include fifth-year senior and graduate student Robert Lumpkins, who transferred in after playing at New Mexico State last season. He will not be honored in the pregame ceremony since he already went through the process last year with the Wolfpack.
“There was no continuity, consistency with this program,” Rutgers first-year coach Mike Rice said. “In the Big East, unless they’re going to be lottery picks ...you’re either not keeping the talent, or not finding talented enough players to keep them here. So, disjointed is a good word.”
Beatty, Mitchell and Coburn each said the best parts of their Rutgers careers was the upset of then-No. 9 Villanova earlier this month, with the downside ranging from the Fred Hill resignation/termination fiasco (Beatty’s worst memory) to the loss to Louisville on Tuesday (Mitchell’s worst memory) to not being able to win more (Coburn’s lament).
While Rutgers (13-14, 4-11 Big East) tries to cling to NIT life with a win against the Mountaineers, the solace each of the departing seniors takes with them is the foundation they believe they left.
“We had to take a big part of buying in and helping the younger guys buy in to (Rice’s) system and his philosophy," Mitchell said. " I definitely think in the future, when you look back on it, when he changes this program around, guys will bring up us three and say, ‘These guys were the foundation. They helped bring the program where it is.’ ”
Rice brought his demanding, intense style of coaching to Rutgers in May, and the seniors never questioned his methods, and didn’t argue with some of his madness.
“They definitely put their fingerprints on this program," Rice said. "I think of three guys just working incredibly hard to make something of what was a difficult situation for them. And no one thought a lot about them, or this team, and every single day they came and tried to change the notion, and change the reality of it.
“These guys, every single day, did what they could.”
Coburn entered Rutgers with Corey Chandler, Earl Pettis and Justin Sofman, but watched each one transfer for a variety of reasons.
“To stick it out and continue to go forward with it was something I needed to do, and I wanted to do,” Coburn said. “I love this place. I'm happy I'm a Scarlet Knight.”