- Associated Press - Monday, February 24, 2014

PISCATAWAY, N.J. (AP) - When Eddie Jordan took over as Rutgers‘ basketball coach in April, he faced an unenviable task - rebuilding a program in shambles following Mike Rice’s ignominious departure.

Six players decided to leave the perennial also-ran in the Big East Conference, and the recruiting picture looked bleak in the wake of revelations that Rice threw basketballs at his players and used homophobic slurs to express his displeasure with them.

Picked to finish last in the American Athletic Conference preseason poll, the Scarlet Knights (10-17, 4-10 ACC) enter the last two weeks of the regular season with an outside shot at finishing sixth in the 10-team league.

“That’s a little bit of a carrot that we’d like to have,” Jordan said. “And that allows us to not play the first night of the tournament and allow us to be lumped with all the great teams in our conference.”

Scoring leader Eli Carter, as well as Derrick Randall, Mike Poole and Vincent Garrett, all elected to leave the program after last season.

Jordan was able to round out the roster with freshman Junior Etou, transfers Kerwin Okor and J.J. Moore and junior college transfers D’Vonn Campbell and Craig Brown.

“Yeah, there’s some changes, but it’s pretty much basically the same,” Jordan said. “It’s the same fundamental concepts. It’s the same sort of offensive flow. Defensive principles are the same. You just have to keep a little more pace with a team that’s new and we’re basically new.”

And it wasn’t just installing a new system and building a team. Jordan had to heal the wounds of the Rice scandal.

“I think Eddie has done a tremendous job of installing a family atmosphere,” Judge said. “We’ve had ups and downs as we’ve seen from previous coaches and I think he brought the camaraderie back. It was hard bringing in all these new guys with not a lot of returners, but he made everyone feel at home and we bought into that and the record doesn’t show how close we are as brothers.”

Jordan returned to his alma mater as a most welcome choice. He led Rutgers to an undefeated regular season in 1976 and the Scarlet Knights’ only trip to the Final Four. He came in with instant respect after two decades in the NBA.

Jordan has begun to lay the foundation for the future of the program as it prepares to join the Big Ten next season.

The Scarlet Knights are two games behind sixth-place Houston (5-9). So they’d need help with four games remaining. But catching the Cougars has become the main goal.

“I would say no one expected that from us except for us, but once again, since there’s a lot of basketball left,” Jack said. “The season could go one or two ways and I think we’re trying to get it to go in a positive instead of a negative.”

Copyright © 2016 The Washington Times, LLC.

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