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Kadeem Jack, DI’s most underappreciated junior?

Feb 21, 2014, 5:59 PM EST

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It hasn’t been a successful first season for Rutgers coach Eddie Jordan. Wins against Canisius and Temple have been off-set by a 4-10 conference record (10-17 overall), and the Scarlet Knights haven’t been able to post consecutive victories since the New Year. However, the team’s struggles shouldn’t detract from the play of Kadeem Jack, the team’s sole bright spot and arguably the nation’s most underappreciated junior.

To recap how the forward ended up in Piscataway: Jack wasn’t highly-regarded on the recruiting trail until the summer before his senior year at Rice High School, when high-majors like Arizona and North Carolina began to recruit the 6-foot-9 Jack. Rather than venture far from his NYC-based home, Jack committed to Rutgers. A redshirt his first season, Jack was a solid role player the next two years, and while he remained a Scarlet Knight following the firing of Mike Rice (and Jordan’s subsequent hiring), his outbursts this season was very much unexpected.

What’s accounted for Jack’s surprising play? Being more efficient at the rim. Athleticism has never plagued Jack — the forward can play above the rim — but Jack often couldn’t finish around the bucket. As a sophomore, 53 percent of Jack’s shots were in the paint, but he only converted 52 percent of those attempts. His percentage of takes has decreased (to 40 percent), but Jack is now connecting on a whopping 69 percent of those shots (per Hoop-Math.com). The result of this aggressiveness is more free throw attempts: a trip to the line for Jack used to incite heart palpitations for the Rutgers’ faithful, but Jack — whose taken 125 free throws in 2014, as compared 54 a season ago — is nearly converting 70 percent of his free throws. Jack is the Scarlet Knights’ most efficient offensive player, one whom Jordan has noted will have to carry the team if RU is going to make a push in the AAC tournament. As well as Jack has already played this year, a recent shift in Rutgers’ lineup could enable Jack to score more frequently — Jordan has said he would like to play Jack at center, noting the advantages (specifically, speed) he has versus opposing 5s. During the recent loss to Memphis, Jack started the second half at center and scored 18 points in the final twenty minutes.