PISCATAWAY – Kadeem Jack didn’t think it would take him this long to get back in the swing of things.
Coming back from foot surgery to repair a fracture he suffered in October, Jack made his return at the end of December. After enrolling in Rutgers for the 2011 spring semester, Jack spent the last three months of that season practicing as a redshirt.
So even though he was two months behind in game experience than the other true freshmen, the highly touted recruit from Rice High School thought he’d make a seamless transition. He didn’t.
“He’s still figuring things out. It’s more glaring because everybody’s been through three months of the season,” head coach Mike Rice said after practice on Tuesday. “Just take Cancun for instance. I still can’t sleep from Cancun where guys had no idea what they were doing and so they had 20 or 19 games to kind of get the rust off and figure out what’s going on so he’s progressing very nicely.”
Jack’s beanpole legs are getting stronger and he’s adjusted to the physicality of the Big East. He's also catching up mentally.
Despite having been with the team for a year, Jack struggled with Rice’s system.
“He was here last year and he should have gotten that stuff,” Rice said. “But sometimes you don’t retain as much as you should, and he’s certainly one of those guys.”
As Jack sat on the sidelines during practice and games, cobwebs grew over the knowledge he had gained the previous season. Jack didn’t need to just watch. He needed to play.
“It’s different when you’re sitting on the sideline watching and then when you actually get on the court it’s moving so fast it’s just different, like picking up your different assignments,” Jack said.
Without a firm grasp of the system on both ends of the court, the 6-foot-9, 218 pounder had a deer in the headlights look to him much of the time of he was in the game. He was thinking too much, which was masking his freakish athletic ability.
Recently however, things changed. The light seemed to go on and he seemed to understand his assignments.
In turn, he had his most effective game against Seton Hall, playing a career-high 15 minutes. Jack would shoot two of three from the field, pull down three rebounds and two steals.
And with a week off after the game before Rutgers traveled to South Bend to play No. 23 Notre Dame, the Queens native had a week to hone his skills.
“We did a lot of preparation work and a lot of simple things we did the first couple of weeks just to get back to fundamentals and that’ll help Kadeem,” Rice said of the week of practice.
And between the game vs. the Pirates and the practices since, Jack has impressed his coach. Rice said he’s “considering” starting Jack at center over Austin Johnson and Derrick Randall.
But it’s not the beginning of the games that Jack is concerned about playing in. It’s the end.
“Starting is not really that major to me because at this point I’m just looking for his [Rice] trust where he wants me in at the end of the game,” Jack said. “Starting would be a great thing, but I just want to play at the end of the game — the last five minutes of the game and help my team win.”