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October 11, 2018

Steve Pikiell

Madison Square Garden - New York, New York

THE MODERATOR: We are now joined at the podium by Rutgers head coach Steve Pikiell. He enters his third season as the Scarlet Knights head coach. He has guided his team to four post-season appearances throughout his coaching career.

Coach start with an opening statement, then we'll open the floor for questions.

STEVE PIKIELL: Good morning. Glad to be back. Very excited always to come to Chicago. It's a great city. Good things are happening at Rutgers. Excited about my team. Excited about our new practice facility being built. Excited about our new court. Season tickets are up. Our grade point average is up. Our recruiting is up. I'm excited about tackling the obstacles this season brings. Looking forward to a great year. Best league in the country. I say that often. When the fifth place team plays in a national championship game, shows you what kind of league this is run by great people. Very excited to be a part of it.

THE MODERATOR: We'll open the floor for questions.

Q. Talk about Geo Baker, just his play that translated in the tournament last year, what you're looking forward from him this year with probably increased responsibility on the offensive end.
STEVE PIKIELL: What I'm most excited about, has been the pattern since I took over the program, is the improvement of our guys from year to year. I think you saw a little bit of that with Eugene that last year, Issa Thiam. You'll see an improvement with Geo Baker, his body. Now he's going to be an exclusive point guard. With the ball in his hands, he really knows how to play. He's got a little swagger about him. He's showing great signs of being a good leader. I really like our leadership moving forward here.

I really believe with the newcomers, we signed a really good class, we had two guys sitting out that I think are going to surprise some people with the effect they can have on the program. Geo is a leader. On the dean's list. He's in the gym all the time. When I took over the program two years ago, I wanted to build a culture of those kind of guys, maybe under-the-radar guys, that could really play, want to be at Rutgers, want to be part of building a program.

He's jumped onboard, had a great summer. I think we as a program had a great, great summer. Guys got better. We have great chemistry right now in the locker room. He's a big part of that moving forward.

Q. You mentioned in your opening statement about this being the best league in the country. It's been a long time since the Big Ten won a national championship. How much is that discussed informally when you're with the other coaches in the league about what it's going to take to get over the hump in this league?
STEVE PIKIELL: Yeah, I mean, I've been in this league and I've been coaching now 23, 24 years. Night in and night out when I play games in this league, the Matt Painters, Purdues, John Beileins, Tom Izzos, Fran McCaffery, Hall of Famers, this league is unbelievable. To win a road game is even harder.

Last year I guess the sentiment was down. The fifth place team in our league made it to the national championship game. It's an unbelievable league. I'm not in a lot of those discussions about national championships. Where we are as a program, continue to grow, have a great game plan, I have a great staff that has stayed with me. We're trying to just get better as a basketball program in the best league night in, night out in the country, and terrific coaches, whether it be Maryland. These guys can flat out coach. There's good players every year. They have good players in every class. Seniors leave, and freshmen come in and take the place of those guys. This league just continues to push itself at a great level.

I really think we're going to be in those conversations again. We'll get back to Final Fours. It takes a little luck. It takes a good whistle. It takes no injuries. Last year I thought Purdue had a chance to win the national championship. The best big guy, I thought in the league, goes down in the NCAA tournament time. Awful timing. Terrific coached team, terrific experience with the Player of the Year in the league. Now you lose your inside guy who was your inside threat.

I mean, timing plays a role in that, and luck. But we keep knocking on that door. I know coaches in this league are more than ready for that challenge.

THE MODERATOR: Coach Pikiell, thank you very much for your time.

STEVE PIKIELL: Thank you very much.

FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports

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