Way back on March 15th, I wrote a recap of Rutgers’ season and how they looked headed into 2017-18. Now, I’m not sure if I jinxed them, or if I was just too optimistic, but the outlook for next year looks a whole lot different today than it did then.
The first thing to happen was something that was expected — leading scorer Corey Sanders would be declaring for the NBA Draft (again). However, Sanders opted to forgo the hiring of an agent, making him eligible to return for Rutgers’ upcoming season.
On a more surprising note, second-leading scorer Nigel Johnson shocked the
world Big Ten and transferred out of Rutgers. Rather than sticking around the defensive-centric Scarlet Knights, Johnson opted to play closer to home at defense-centric Virginia.
Then on April 15th, some news surfaced about a player featured in my recap as one of Rutgers’ best defenders. According to Verbal Commits, sophomore Jonathan Laurent would also be leaving the program, future destination unknown.
Rutgers F Jonathan Laurent (SO) is leaving the program. https://t.co/NlNsSnBPcI— Verbal Commits (@VerbalCommits) April 15, 2017
With Laurent moving on, Rutgers now has an extra scholarship to offer an incoming recruit or transfer.
It should be noted that Laurent hasn’t publicly commented on the matter. His Twitter account has been silent since the news and is still adorned with Rutgers’ branding.
Tough Loss? Or Blessing In Disguise?
It’s obvious why the loss of Johnson and potential loss of Sanders would hurt the program, but the Laurent-news has had mixed reactions.
Is it a loss that is tough to fill? Or is it a blessing that the team how has another open scholarship to offer?
On one hand, you can look at Jonathan Laurent’s numbers this year and dismiss them fairly easily. In 13.1 minutes per game, the 6-foot-6 forward averaged a mere 3 points per game on 42.5 percent shooting. All numbers that declined sharply from a freshman season where he played 24.1 minutes per game and scored 8.1 points on 46.5 percent shooting.
While some folks see the numbers dip as Laurent having a ‘down’ year, I argue that it is something entirely different. Saying he underperformed is purely circumstantial. He was a solid role player, vital to the team’s improved defensive effort.
For starters, the team he played on as a freshman and the team he played on as a sophomore were literally worlds apart. He played big minutes as a freshman out of necessity, not because he technically earned them. So of course he had better numbers as a freshman, he was on the court nearly twice as much.
Jonathan Laurent isn’t an offensive force and Steve Pikiell saw that.
Pikiell used him exactly how he should have been used. Laurent is a player who can utilize his long frame on defense, locking down ball-dominant players with his above-average wingspan. Anything he can add on offense is a bonus.
The statistical decline is a non-issue. He was effective in his role under Pikiell and was definitely more valuable in less minutes. The term ‘role player’ isn’t used that much in college, but that is exactly what Jonathan Laurent was.
Replacing a defensive player like Laurent will not be easy, but Rutgers’ biggest problem isn’t defense at this point. If Steve Pikiell can bring in a solid shooter than I think that’s a trade all Scarlet Knights’ fans can live with.
One More Thought..
Having made than argument, it does illustrate exactly why ‘role player’ isn’t used too often in the college game. The fact of the matter is that young players normally see themselves as much more than that. This explains why transferring is such common practice. A guy playing a small role at a big program probably wants a bigger role; whether it be at a smaller school or a program that fits his style.
I don’t know exactly why Jonathan Laurent chose to transfer, and we may never know. But if he decided that he wanted to try and be more than just a specialist on the Big Ten’s worst team, we all may have done the same thing.