Rebuilding is an ugly word in the sporting world.
It does not elicit joy or excitement from a fan base, so much as it does a heavy sigh. And the longer the process takes, the more it feels like trying to bail water from a boat with too many holes.
Fans of the Rutgers basketball program might even be better compared with Tom Hanks in Castaway at this point, floating endlessly through an ocean of losses on a crudely assembled raft.
It has been 24 years since Rutgers made the NCAA tournament, nine since it had a winning season and the Scarlet Knights last NCAA tournament win (1983) pre-dates the expansion to 64 teams (1985).
Under those circumstances it is easy to become blasé toward recruiting as wave after wave of disappointment threaten to make you abandon ship altogether. But for those with the mental fortitude to hang-on, there are reasons to be optimistic about what head coach Eddie Jordan is building in Piscataway.
Jordan had already secured five commitments when he found out yesterday that power forward Deshawn Freeman had picked the Scarlet Knights over the likes of Arizona State, Tennessee and Virginia Tech.
The 6-foot-7 North Carolina native is a 3-star prospect according to 247Sports and the No. 16 overall Junior College player in the country. Freeman averaged 19.2 points and 9.5 rebounds per game while shooting 55-percent from the field in his final season with Hutchinson Community College in Kansas. His team went 29-6 and made it to the NJCAA quarterfinals before being eliminated by defensive-minded Georgia Highlands. It is expected that Freeman will come in and compete for a starting spot immediately, a factor that was important in his decision making process.
"I wanted to go somewhere I could play right away," Freeman said in an interview with Jerry Carino of Asbury Park Press."I only have two years left."
Freeman's versatility will be a huge asset for him as he battles for a starting spot.
"I'm comfortable playing both forward positions," Freeman said in the same interview. "I can get after it defensively. I'm a good passer and I can finish around the basket. I have to work on my shot and on my strength."
Freeman has proven to be adept at getting to the line, shooting a team-high 274 free throws last year. If he can improve his foul shooting, where he made just 65.3-percent, he could develop into a nightmare for opposing defenses. And while the outside shot is not his bread and butter, he has shown the ability to knock down open 3-pointers, giving his game yet another wrinkle.
Adding Freeman and 4-star guard Corey Sanders should give hope to a fan base starved for a winner. What this program has lacked recently is stability. Rutgers has played in three different conferences in the last three years and is only two full seasons removed from the Mike Rice fiasco. The Scarlet Knights now have a home in the Big Ten (though not a terribly hospitable one) and a coach who has returned to his alma mater with a vision and a plan.
In an interview last year with Jon Rothstein of CBS Sports, Jordan said that while recruiting had exceeded expectations, "we still have to get that real major guy." Maybe that guy is Freeman or Sanders, or perhaps the big cargo ship that delivers Rutgers from the rebuilding process is still on the horizon. One thing seems certain, Jordan is going to keep paddling until he gets what he is after.