Fred Hill: "Everybody's frustrated"

Fred Hill

Rutgers' men's basketball program had a tough week with two lop-sided losses and the transfer of center Greg Echenique. Coach Fred Hill addressed those issues by saying "everybody's frustrated. I'm sure fans are frustrated. I'm frustrated. The players are frustrated." Hill also talked about the state of the program, whether he sees growth and much more.

Discussing a four- game losing streak, including back-to-back big lop-sided road losses, and the fact star center Greg Echenique was transferring from the program, embattled Rutgers coach Fred Hill hung tough while talking about the state of the program.

Following Tuesday's practice and ahead of No. 5 Syracuse visiting the Rutgers Athletic Center on Wednesday, Hill remained confident in his plan to rebuild the program, even as criticism mounted on message boards and in the media.

"We're going through a tough time,'' Hill said. "Ya' know, everybody's frustrated. I'm sure fans are frustrated. I'm frustrated. The players are frustrated. They want to win, and we're doing it in the best conference in the country, and I really think we've made great strides.''

The outcry comes after Rutgers (9-6, 0-3 Big East) had a promising non-conference run and played well in losses at North Carolina and to Cincinnati.

However, the news of Echenique's transfer, sandwiched by losses at West Virginia by 34 points and at Providence by 13 points, stirred emotion in the fan base, some of whom are pining for a coaching change to be made.

"You move forward,'' said Hill, whose dad, Fred Sr., is the long-time baseball coach. "I'm moving everything in this program forward. That's what fans do in every program in the country. Fans have a right to have opinions. We love our fans, and they're passionate.

"And you know what? They've been frustrated for 19 years. I've only been frustrated for four. I feel it. I hear it. I grew up loving this place. In a lot of ways, I was the fabric of it, whether I was an opposing coach …aspiring to be an assistant hear under Bob Wenzel. So, I have a great passion for it.''

Hill acknowledged the loss of Echenique was a setback, both when the sophomore was lost for the season after undergoing eye surgery, and when it was announced Friday he was transferring.

"If you watched us play early on, this was developing into a pretty good basketball team,'' Hill said. "Unfortunately, we had a setback. With the injury to Gregory, it was a setback, but you have to move on. That's part of building a program.

"We've got to move on this year. Now, we have another setback (with Echenique leaving), and we have to move on next year. And that's what is having a vision and a plan is all about. It's never easy, and usually good things in life are never easy, but you have to stick to your plan.''

Hill is 41-66 in his four seasons at Rutgers, but the real sticking points is an 8-47 mark in the Big East. He took over a program from Gary Waters devoid of talent, and is being asked to compete in the nation's top league.

So, the question becomes whether or not four years is a realistic amount of time to turn around the basketball program, and pull it from the bottom quarter of the Big East.

"We play in the best basketball conference in the country, so there's a challenge each and every night,'' Hill said. "Is it possible to turn a program around in four years? I'm sure at certain levels, you can get a transfer to come in and turn your program around like (a snap of the finger).

"To develop a team in the best league in the country that was in the bottom quarter, and to turn it around …that's why I never put a timetable on it.''

But Hill did say progress was made, and he used this season's blowout of St. Peter's as an example, as well as the development of freshman Dane Miller and the talent of sophomore Mike Rosario.

Two years ago the Scarlet Knights lost to the Peacocks, and last season won a turnover-fest.

"You can see the chemistry of the team,'' Hill said. "You can see the young players. You can look at all of those examples. From every statistical category, except rebounding, we're better.''

Hill added he was not concerned about whether he would be given enough time to see his plan through.

"You have a plan. You have a vision. You never worry about it,'' Hill said. "I'm very fortunate to have implemented the plan, and do something I love to do, and I come to work every day with a great passion. That's what I love doing, coaching. So we come out every day and coach. There's no doubt in my mind we'll succeed and meet that plan and that vision.

"I never set a time table from day one, and I haven't changed. But I was real excited, and I still am, about this core group of young guys as we move forward.''

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