Rutgers faces challenge in first Big Ten season

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PISCATAWAY, N.J. (AP) Running a program that has not been to the NCAA Tournament in 23 years and has suffered eight straight losing seasons, coach Eddie Jordan is not going to publicly set any tangible goals for Rutgers as it enters its first Big Ten campaign.

And he doesn't care how dull it sounds that the goals include emphasizing defense, sharing the ball and taking good shots.

''I like the fact that every day our staff and team concentrates on getting better, and not just going two steps back and one step forward,'' Jordan said in getting ready for his second year at Rutgers. ''I'm concerned that we get better and better every day, that we have a consistent approach to every game.''

At the same time, Jordan has some interesting ideas on how he wants the Scarlet Knights to play in the Big Ten, which is known for its tough, physical half-court play. He said he wants to counter that with speed and an up-tempo pace to be different than a normal Big Ten team.

''I think we've been physical in the paint in practice so we need that presence,'' he said. ''But let's see if we can get some speed and change the game a little bit in the league.''

Jordan said his veterans are well ahead of where they were last year thanks to a season of learning his system. Rutgers returns both its leading scorers in guard Myles Mack, who averaged 14.9 points per game, and forward Kadeem Jack (14.3 ppg).

Jack, an NBA prospect who averaged 6.8 rebounds and shot 50 percent, is questionable for the season opener against George Washington Sunday due to a sprained right thumb he suffered in practice. Jordan is being cautious with his prized big man, who will be re-evaluated over the weekend.

Both seniors like their coach's idea of an up-tempo game.

''I think that's very possible,'' Mack said. ''He wants to keep that pace and just get a lot better with our defense, which I think we have been.''

''I think we have a lot of pieces to get up and down the floor,'' Jack added.

With half the roster consisting of new players, a key to Rutgers will be how quickly the newcomers and veterans mesh. Both coach and players insisted that has not been a problem.

''It's been smooth,'' Mack said. ''These guys want to learn. They listen to the older guys and the coaches. Stuff like that is important and those guys are doing a good job at it.''

Junior College transfer Bishop Daniels and freshman Mike Williams were praised by Jordan for their ability to run the offense, while freshmen Shaquille Doorson and D.J. Foreman have both looked strong in the paint according to Jack. Jordan is also happy with the progress sophomore forward Junior Etou has made from last year

''We've gotten bigger, more athletic, more talented. We're younger, we're still a new team, but that's the improvement that we wanted to get and that's what we've done as far as personnel,'' Jordan said. ''We still have a long way to go to get consistent at the highest level, but it's a good start.''