NCAA Worst: N.J.I.T Looks To Rise From The Depths Of College Basketball
Remember when ESPN quoted New Jersey's Science & Technology University's (N.J.I.T.) Jheryl Wilson saying: "We hit rock bottom. We can only go up?" You probably don't because the Highlanders were even more irrelevant on Feb.17, 2008 than Adam Morrison has been since leaving Gonzaga.
In case you missed or forgot what happened to N.J.I.T. in 2007-08, let me fill you in: the Highlanders became the seventh team to go winless for an entire season. It also took them 19 games to finally emerge as victors the following season.
Two years removed, Wilson's words have the potential to prove true. The bulk of N.J.I.T.'s production will return and a six man recruiting class will add to Coach Jim Engles' options.
Gary Garris, who averaged 10.7 points and 5.7 rebounds per game last season, will be the Highlanders' senior leader. Wilson and Isaiah Wilkerson led N.J.I.T. in scoring and will likely be the go-to-guys once again.
According to ESPN.com's recruit rating system, the average rating of N.J.I.T.'s six incoming freshman is 78.
To provide some perspective, power programs like Duke, UNC, Kentucky, etc. generally average mid to high 90's; mid-majors average anywhere from low to high 80's, depending on the school. A recruiting class this deep and at the independent level of play is something that should not be overlooked.
Engles hopes these freshmen can compete immediately to help improve the Highlanders' statistics from their meager numbers last season. Just under 50 ppg on 34.2 percent field goal shooting, 63.1 percent from the stripe, and 24.8 percent from long range will not produce many W's.
The Highlanders will be a more competent team this year. Engles was a first year coach last year, and, although he had already played two years of college ball, Garris was a first year Highlander.
Now that the core is more comfortable with each other and with the coach, there should be more chemistry. The new players may take some time to fit in, but they should be able to contribute early on.
Engles will need to plan for a similar schedule to the ones the Highlanders have had in the past, mostly independent matches with games against Rutgers, Virginia, and Boston College scattered throughout.
N.J.I.T. is still hopeless against any power conference team, even Rutgers. However, the strength of the independent teams is subject to change each year, potentially providing the Highlanders with some easily winnable games.
With only a few contests scheduled against high level teams and more talent on board, N.J.I.T. should be able to, as Wilson stated, "go up" this season.
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