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One to watch: Rutgers forward Kadeem Jack

Oct 20, 2012, 6:09 PM EDT

Rutgers Scarlet Knights Kadeem Jack and Villanova Wildcats Mouphtaou Yarou battle for a rebound during their NCAA men's championship basketball game at the 2012 Big East Tournament in New York Reuters

Kadeem Jack was one of Mike Rice’s first big recruiting triumphs at Rutgers. The top-rated forward out of Queens was coveted by the likes of Arizona, Kentucky and UNC, but chose to play close to home for a coach who was a relative unknown. Quite aside from his obvious talent, Jack’s commitment signaled that the Scarlet Knights could become a force to be reckoned with on the local recruiting scene — dipping into the thriving talent pool in the five boroughs.

Jack, a relatively slender 6’8″ specimen, took a redshirt season and appeared to be ready to start his career last year. Then the injury bug bit, putting him on the shelf for several months while recovering from foot surgery. When Jack got back on the floor, just in time for Big East play, he was rusty and ineffective, averaging just eight minutes per game, and barely registering in terms of points and rebounds.

According to an interview with the New Jersey Hoops Haven blog, head coach Mike Rice expects this season’s results to be markedly different.

“Kadeem (Jack) and Derrick (Randall) have improved,” he told the blog. “They had a longer way to go, but if you ask me who has improved the most since last year, I would say Kadeem and Derrick. Their bodies have completely changed. Their understanding, their decision-making have gotten better). Really they all improved. This group had a tremendous offseason in the gym.”

So, Jack is bigger and better, which is a plus. More importantly, the addition of former K-Stater Wally Judge will allow Jack to exploit matchups more suitable to his abilities. Rice again:

“When I watched the film of last year’s games, a lot of nights we were getting manhandled. We would work hard, scratch and claw, but sometimes we were just overmatched. With Wally there, Kadeem will not have to defend the biggest guy (on the other team) and that should help him.”

What helps Jack should help the team. We’ll watch the Scarlet Knights with interest this season.