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Rothstein: Mike Rice Deserves 4th Season At Rutgers

Rutgers coach Mike Rice (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)

Rutgers coach Mike Rice (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)

By Jon Rothstein

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I’ll be the first person to admit that I’m not very patient.

I can’t stand waiting in line for groceries. I’m also the worst person to sit with in traffic.

And most of all, I detest waiting for customer service at a Verizon store.

But I know that building a college basketball program in a high-major conference requires time. It requires patience — especially if the school hasn’t been to the NCAA Tournament since 1991.

And that’s why it was imperative that Rutgers AD Tim Pernetti brought Mike Rice back for a fourth season. Pernetti reiterated on Monday what those close to the situation had known for weeks — that Rice would return as head coach of the Scarlet Knights in 2013-14.

Was there really another choice? Even though Rice was suspended for three games in late December, you can’t rebuild a program that doesn’t have a winning tradition by attempting a quick fix.

It doesn’t work.

People want things to instantly turn around, but those same people obviously aren’t paying attention to history.

When Villanova hired Jay Wright in 2001, the Wildcats didn’t reach the NCAA Tournament until his fourth season. When Cincinnati hired Mick Cronin in 2006, the Bearcats didn’t reach the field of 68 until year five.

Those two schools are now perennial NCAA contenders, and have the chance to recruit high level players on an annual basis.

How do you regularly recruit high level players? You have to win.

How do you win in big-time college basketball? You need time.

I’m not trying to imply that Rutgers is going to challenge for a berth in the Final Four next season, but it’s clear if you follow college basketball that there is a distinct jump in production when a group of sophomores become juniors.

That’s what this team will primarily be next season.

Myles Mack and Kadeem Jack have shown tangible progress over the past few weeks, and should be significantly better next year than they are now.

The Scarlet Knights will also have a legitimate backup point guard next season in Shane Rector who can spell Jerome Seagears.

Rutgers still needs more out of Wally Judge inside (6.8 PPG, 5.4 RPG), and eventually needs to identify a wing scorer that can carry the load for this team in late game situations.

Rice has been close a few times but just missed out. He went after Moe Harkless but lost him to the hometown allure of St. John’s. He went hard after Jerami Grant and Rondae Jefferson, but came in second to brand name schools like Syracuse and Arizona.

The only way to land players of that caliber is to win — and that’s something that should be slightly easier for the Scarlet Knights to achieve next season before they jump to the Big Ten in 2014-15.

Rice won’t have to coach in the Big East next year because he’ll be coaching in the so-called America 12.

There will be no more trips to Pitt, Syracuse, Marquette, and Villanova. Instead they’ll be replaced with SMU, Central Florida, Houston, and Memphis.

Rutgers is 14-15 heading into tonight’s Big East Tournament game against DePaul, and have lost seven games in league play this year by single digits.

With another year of experience and a more manageable conference to play in, the Scarlet Knights should be able to win four of those seven games next season. If they do that, they’ll be playing their way onto the bubble — something people in Piscataway haven’t talked about in a very long time.

Mike Rice deserves the opportunity to lead this team into that situation.

He just needed the one thing his boss assured him of yesterday — time.

Is bringing Rice back the right move? Sound off in the comments…

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