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Thursday, April 15, 2010
What Mike Rosario's departure means

By Jon Rothstein

It was two years ago that Mike Rosario said he wanted to be a pioneer. On National Signing Day in 2008, Rosario, a McDonald's All-American, went against the grain.

He opted to stay home. He opted to try and attempt the difficult task.

He chose Rutgers. Or, in his words, he chose to be "the prince of New Jersey."

Now, just two years later, after two seasons of losing in the rugged Big East, Rosario has had enough. The 6-foot-3 product from St. Anthony's in Jersey City got has received his release from the Scarlet Knights, giving him a chance to go on and star somewhere else.

He'll probably wind up in Chapel Hill playing for Roy Williams, or maybe hooking up with his former high school teammate Jio Fontan at USC. Two years of top-notch college basketball should follow, making Rosario forget the last two years in Piscataway.

But the lesson we should all learn from Rosario's experience at Rutgers and other blue-chip prospects trying to be Pied Pipers at other places in the Big East is simple.

No one can do it alone. You need help. You need a supporting cast.

Fred Hill knew that and brought in Corey Chandler from East Side High School in Newark. He turned out to be more agony than ectasy and was dismissed from the team at the beginning of last season.

Hill also beat out Villanova and Duke for Gregory Echenique, a lumbering 6-foot-9 big man from St. Benedict's. Echenique transferred to Creighton in December.

Without these players around Rosario, the kid from Jersey City was on an island by himself, making a tough situation more and more difficult by the day.

It was a tantalizing situation for Rutgers, and proof that if one of the local Big East schools was ever going to be able to climb the Big East ladder, almost everything would have to fall into place.

"The problem that St. John's, Seton Hall, and Rutgers all have is that if they put together two or three good recruiting classes, they'll just be getting ready to be competitive while everyone else in the conference is just adding to the foundation they've already built," Louisville coach Rick Pitino told me in Sept. 2008. "That's what makes these jobs so difficult."

Now, 19 months later, all three of those schools have new coaches. All three have made incremental progress, but none have gotten to the upper echelon of the conference.

"If someone in the lower third of the conference were to ever move up in the standings, someone else would have to take a step back," UConn head coach Jim Calhoun told me in early 2009. "Look at our league, who is taking a step back?"

That's what makes the task in front of Steve Lavin (St. John's), Kevin Willard (Seton Hall), and whoever Rutgers chooses to succeed Hill that much more difficult.

Lavin has national ties and a quality roster back next year that should compete for a berth in the NCAA tournament. But Lavin will have to replace a plethora of players after next season that will be lost to graduation.

Willard has an NBA player in Jeremy Hazell, a lightning-quick floor general in Jordan Theodore, and most of the components back from a team that won 19 games last season. However, he might not have Herb Pope, who was the best rebounder in the Big East last year, averaging 10.7 boards per contest. No Pope could mean no postseason next year for the Pirates.

And as far as Rutgers goes, whoever the next coach is knows it's going to take a slew of players to get the Scarlet Knights back into college basketball relevance.

Hill knew that and lost a bunch of players from the program. He led a team that competed every night but came up short.

Now they've lost their best player and have to start over.

There will be a day when Rutgers lands another McDonald's All-American, but it might not come for a long time.

When it does, it's important that whoever the next coach is assures him that he's going to have help. No help means no jump in the Big East standings.

Just ask Mike Rosario.