The great New Jersey hope
by Jon Newman
Over the years, the decades, the thing that has eluded the Rutgers football and basketball fan besides winning on anything that remotely resembles on consistent basis is the ability to keep high school talent “home.” And just not any high school talent but the high-level “savior” type of talent. The highly-rated player at the key position like quarterback or point guard who has the potential to be transformative. The player who can fill the Point or the RAC and lead the team to the promised land.
Rutgers fans were reminded about this in recent days as they said goodbye to Anthony Ashnault, the rare premier Rutgers recruit in any sport who lived up to the hype. While he still has work to do, Ashnault leaves a legacy of All-American achievement as well as a base of 3000 season ticket holders and a donor base that is funding the future growth of his sport at Rutgers. He didn’t single-handily transform Rutgers Wrestling under Scott Goodale but he was and is a transformative figure.
NJ.com columnist Steve Politi points this out nicely and it got me thinking that there aren’t many similar examples in football and hoops history. Phil Sellers was from New York, Eddie Jordan from DC. Brian Leonard and Ray Rice were from New York. And while football fans can point to Anthony Davis and Kenny Britt as highly-ranked NJ recruits from the Schiano era, they aren’t the ones who get credit for being the “transformative” players.
So as we look to the future there are two players, one in football and one in basketball who may have a shot to be remembered in the same breath as Ashnault for the lynchpin teams in the program.
On paper he fits the bill. The four-star quarterback who left New Jersey to play at a high school football factory. The QB who originally committed to Miami only to thrill Rutgers fans by deciding to stay home and don the Scarlet.
As a true freshman who impressed enough in camp to win the job over the gutty fifth-year senior, Sitkowski looked the part both on and off the field exciting fans with a Twitter-video-exhibited work ethic and pre-season soundbites way beyond his years.
But that’s where the dream ended. A season filled with rough hits and turnovers put Sitkowski on the bench. The question now is whether it was too much too soon? Will the light go on this season as he is surrounded by talent that’s a year older.? Or will Sitkowski join the ever-growing list of New Jersey born and bred football saviors who leave Rutgers not fulfilling their expected potential.
The boy from Bayonne with the headband is just a few months away from his RAC debut, The Gill St. Bernard point guard has hoops fans drooling. Not only because of what he can do with the ball in his hands with his 6-6 frame, Not only because they know his being in the mix means Geo Baker can finally move to the two guard, But because he’s a highly-rated NJ recruit who embraced his Rutgers-ness,
They didn’t have to beg, they didn’t have to give him the Jay Williams-Lance Thomas treatment only to be spurned at the last minute. Mulcahy decided relatively early to stay home, he tweets about Rutgers, comes to games and is ready to step right in.
One could argue that the hoops transformation has already begun and Mulcahy is just another piece. But Scarlet Knight basketball fans have been ready to cheer on a Jersey boy as the savior for decades and it will only take good play on Mulcahy’s part and the first headband night promotion to seal the deal.
One is there and the jury is still out, the other is on his way and has the hoops fans on the edge of their seats..
Will they be their sport’s Ashnault? One can dream and hope. We’re Rutgers fans, it’s what we do.
Images courtesy app.com, nj.com and njhooprecruit.com
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