What a week it was for Steve Pikiell, the Bristol, Conn., native who went on star for Jim Calhoun’s UConn basketball team and later served as Calhoun’s assistant coach.
One week after winning his first America East tournament championship in 11 seasons at Stony Brook, Pikiell was selected to become the new head coach at Rutgers. Several news outlets reported Saturday that Pikiell had been hired and would officially be named by Rutgers – probably on Monday.
In between those two events, the Long Island school became a media darling in New York City. The attention grew when the Seawolves discovered they would travel to Des Moines, Iowa to play No. 4 seed Kentucky in their first-ever NCAA tournament game. Pikiell and his team received strong support from UConn as the Huskies also began play in Des Moines as the No. 9 seed in the South, but Stony Brook couldn’t keep with the powerful Kentucky Wildcats and lost 85-57 on Thursday.
Pikiell had a successful run at Stony Brook, reaching the America East championship game four times before beating Vermont last Saturday. There had been speculation about Pikiell’s future in recent years as his reputation as a head coach grew. But this was a rare time when Pikiell was actually on a short list of candidates at a big-time school such as Rutgers, a former Big East school that now plays in the Big Ten.
During a phone interview earlier this week, Pikiell addressed his future. I did not ask specifically about Rutgers. It was a few hours after our conversation that I learned he was being considered for the job with the Scarlet Knights. He was not the school’s first choice. It had been reported that Rhode Island’s Danny Hurley was at the top of the list.
Here’s what Pikiell said when I asked about the possibility of leaving Stony Brook in the future:
“These people here have been great to me. My first year we were 4-27, we were on probation, we had two scholarship losses. I’m ready to jump off the Brooklyn Bridge and they come in and give me a new contract. There are good people here. It reminds me a lot of UConn back before UConn became UConn – when people used to ask me if it was in Alaska.
“I’ve always learned one thing: always do a great job in the job you’re at. I’m not one of those self-promoters. In some ways, I’m sure that hurts me. But that’s OK. I like my job.”
The last week certainly was the highlight of his coaching career so far. Now he has a big challenge ahead at school that has not done well in the Big Ten and has had numerous problems off the court in recent years.
Here is some reaction to Pikiell’s hiring. Calhoun, who was at Stony Brook last Saturday to see Pikiell win his first conference title, told NJ.com that he thingks Pikiell can turn around the Rutgers program.
One thing we know is that Pikiell always gives 100 percent. It had to be hard for him to leave Stony Brook, but it will be a shock if he doesn’t win eventualy at Rutgers. Scarlet Knight fans must be patient, but it will pay off eventually.