The best player on the Rutgers basketball team is returning to Piscataway for a third year.
Guard Corey Sanders announced he will be returning to school for his junior season for the Scarlet Knights Tuesday night, less than 24 hours before the deadline to declare for the 2017 NBA draft.
The move was expected by most, but a last-second workout with the Sacramento Kings on Monday put the Lakeland, Florida, native’s decision in the air.
Sanders told reporters he was “really leaning towards coming out” for the NBA Draft following the workout, citing the fact he’d have more time to develop his game in the NBA as opposed to at Rutgers, where he’d have to balance schoolwork with practice time.
“Since I’ve been out here (in California) working, I just feel like I’ve gotten a lot better,” he said. “I think it’ll help me develop more playing in the NBA than going back to school because you don’t get as much one-on-one time with basketball as you would want to. So I’m just all about developing and getting better.”
Later that night on Instagram Live, though, Sanders conceded that he has some unfinished business in New Jersey after a commenter had told him as much, citing his proximity to the 1,000 point mark (146) and the program’s top-10 in steals (46 away) and assists (37).
Among the things he’s looking to improve in order to reach the next level are his basketball I.Q., his shooting and his leadership qualities, he said.
“I feel like I got everything, but I can work on everything — I.Q., shooting, being vocal and just being a leader on and off the court,” he said, when asked his biggest challenges to transitioning to the NBA. “Those are all things I have to work on. … I just want to come out and show that I can play, just run a team, be a point guard and play defense, and do the little things the team needs.”
He’ll return to a team which has changed significantly from the one he left at the end of April.
The Knights are without four players from last year to transfer (Nigel Johnson to Virginia, Jonathan Laurent to UMass and Ibrahima Diallo, who is still looking for as school) and graduation (C.J. Gettys). Coming in are two two-star guards (high schooler Geo Baker and JUCO player Souf Mensah), a wing (sit-out transfer Peter Kiss from Quinnipiac) and a big (high schooler Myles Johnson).
The depth chart as it stands continues with similar issues as last season — a lack of shooting on the perimeter, of quality depth both inside and especially on the wing, of players who can score the ball. If Sanders had not returned, the Knights would have their hopes of having an offense rest on the shoulder of Baker and Mensah, heavy burdens for them to carry as they adapt to Big Ten basketball.
But Sanders is back and will lead the team through what is shaping up to be another soft non-conference schedule on paper.
The Knights reportedly have 6 non-conference matchups set for the season at the moment, with Seton Hall, Fordham, Hartford, NJIT, Stony Brook and Fairleigh Dickinson all scheduled to head to the RAC next Winter.
It was reported Wednesday that Rutgers would also participate in a round-robin non-conference gauntlet against East Carolina, Cleveland State, Coppin State and Central Connecticut, bumping that number to 10.
Rutgers will be the team from its conference to not participate in this season’s Gavitt Games, a crossover between the Big Ten and Big East which pits teams from each conference against each other. The Knights played away from the RAC in each of their first two appearances in the competition, dropping a dramatic game in Queens in 2015 before defeating DePaul in Chicago last season.
With such a young team entering head coach Steve Pikiell’s second year on the Banks, the ease of the non-conference schedule should help the team build confidence heading into another season of Big Ten basketball.
The current roster — Sanders (junior), Mike Williams (senior), Geo Baker (freshman) and Souf Mensah (junior) in the backcourt, Issa Thiam, Eugene Omoruyi and Matt Bullock (sophomores) on the wings and Deshawn Freeman (fifth-year senior), Shaq Doorson (junior), Candido Sa (senior) and Myles Johnson (freshman) on the inside — isn’t built to perform much better than the one which went 15-18 overall and 3-15 in the Big Ten last year.
With the return of Sanders, however, the team went from likely having to scrape by the non-conference schedule and having numerous difficulties in Big Ten play to actually having a chance to compete in games.
With 2017-18 being seen by many as a down year before a potential break-out season in 2018-19 — given that Pikiell and his staff continue the momentum on the recruiting trail they’ve accumulated in their first season and Sanders returns for his senior year — being able to stay in games is about as good as can be expected from the Knights.