PISCATAWAY, N.J. (AP) Taking a program from worst to first has been Steve Pikiell's trademark in basketball.
He did it as a player at Connecticut under Jim Calhoun. He did it as an assistant coach at Central Connecticut State and George Washington, then again as a head coach in transforming little Stony Brook from an also ran to a perennial power in the American East Conference.
Now comes the biggest challenge for the 48-year-old: changing Rutgers from the worst school in the Big Ten to one that can dance with the best of them after a 25-year absence from the NCAA Tournament.
The Scarlet Knights posted a 7-25 record this past season, which led to the firing of Eddie Jordan after just three years. They won one Big Ten game this year and three in their first two years in the league.
''I've never let an athletic director down, I've never let a president down and I've never let a student body down,'' Pikiell said after being introduced as Rutgers sixth head coach since 1997. ''I'm not going to do it here at Rutgers. I embrace challenges.''
During his tenure at Stony Brook, the Seawolves won four America East regular season championships, achieved 22 or more victories on six occasions and captured five conference player of the year awards. A four-time America East coach of the year, Pikiell compiled a 119-48 (71.3 percent) record over the past five seasons.
Rutgers has not had a winning season since 2005-06 and only five since going to the NCAA Tournament in 1991.
''I don't think we could have hired as basketball coach who did not see the challenge and the opportunity here,'' Rutgers President Robert L. Barchi said. ''If anybody walked in here and thought they were going to the NCAA (Tournament) next year, we didn't want them. If anybody came here and we couldn't do it in the next 10 years, I didn't want him either.''
Barchi said the university wanted a coach who saw the potential of the program, and that's what they found in Pikiell.
Athletic director Pat Hobbs understands that Pikiell is going to struggle starting recruiting this late, noting he won only four games in his first season at Stony Brook.
''He has been at programs that were challenged, programs that people felt could not come up off the carpet,'' Hobbs said. ''He is not going to be intimidated by anything he experiences here.''
Pikiell will earn $1.4 million next season, with his annual salary increasing $100,000 in each of the next four years. He was given a total of $800,000 for his assistant coaches, about $220,000 more than Jordan. He hopes to have a staff in place shortly.
Pikiell also has a package of bonus incentives that include $100,000 for making the Final Four, $50,000 for a Big Ten Tournament title and $25,000 for each NCAA Tournament game. There are also incentive bonuses for student-athlete GPAs above 2.7 and 3.0 and APR of 950 and higher.
Pikiell said he thinks his experience is unique and will carry over well to Rutgers.
''I am at the age where I am confident. I took a program that never had a winning season to postseasons in seven years,'' he said.