Kleinbaum likes Jordan’s chances at Rutgers

By Mark Kitchin


When Whippany Park basketball coach Jeff Kleinbaum took a ride to Rutgers University on Tuesday, he wasn’t just as alumnus checking out the school’s new basketball coach – he was supporting an old teammate.

Rutgers hired Eddie Jordan to take over the Scarlet Knights men’s basketball program which had undergone scandal and defections in recent weeks after the release of a video showing former coach Mike Rice physically and verbally abusing his players.

Jordan has extensive NBA experience as a player and coach. He has also been an assistant on the college ranks numerous times including a few years at Rutgers. He left his job as a Los Angeles Lakers assistant coach to take the new position.

“I am really honored and blessed to be named the caretaker of our team, of our program, of our university’s basketball program,” Jordan said during the press conference. “I say `our’ because we’ve all come to a point that we have to regain our pride and our dignity and our integrity to our university. That’s why I’m honored and proud to be part of that. There’s a responsibility for all of us to represent our university in the highest class and the utmost respect. ”

There is no doubt in Kleinbaum’s mind that hiring Jordan is the best move the school could make and that Jordan can build the foundation to take Rutgers to the next level if he is provided the resources to do it.

“I think it is exactly what was needed for Rutgers at this exact time in history,’’ Kleinbaum said. “I think that each coach (in past years) did their very best. It just seemed like everybody had a different approach. One coach wouldn’t have enough time to get it to work and then he would be replaced by another coach that had a different approach.’’

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Whippany Park coach Jeff Kleinbaum is pleased that Rutgers teammate Eddie Jordan was hired to take over the Rutgers men’s basketball program. (Photo by Mark Kitchin)

Kleinbaum has known Jordan for quite some time, beginning with the days when they were both members of the basketball team that made it to the NCAA Final Four in 1976.

“I had the joy of guarding him every day in practice,’’ Kleinbaum said. “That was a tough, tough, tough, tough, tough day at the beach. He was the smallest guy. I was the next smallest guy.

“He was a huge catalyst for us to get to the Final Four. He was the Eastern Regional MVP. When he went on to the NBA he always, always, always had a lot of class. Everywhere he went, he was respected. Jason Kidd said in public, when he got to the New Jersey Nets and they went to the final, he credited Eddie with the type of offense that helped to make the Nets work. He has pedigree. He is respected everywhere. I think he is Rutgers’ most loyal son.’’

The members of that 1976 team are a very close bunch and there were enough of them lending Jordan their support on Tuesday to make it qualify for an unofficial reunion. Kleinbaum has kept in touch with Jordan over the years and he is excited for his old teammate.

“I talked to Eddie a couple of times,’’ Kleinbaum said. “He is thrilled to do it. This time he wanted it and this time they approached him like they wanted him. It was ‘Eddie, you are our guy’ and not like, ‘Eddie, you are going to be one of the candidates’. This is a guy who was an NBA Coach of the Year. He was the head coach at Sacramento. He was the head coach of the Philadelphia 76ers. What do you have to do to be the Rutgers coach? He’s got great pedigree.’’

Kleinbaum feels that the biggest quality that Jordan brings is an element that probably proved heavily in gaining the job – respect.

“He gets instant, instant respect,’’ Kleinbaum said. “Eddie is the hardest worker I know. Eddie spoke to the players. He spoke to each player and they thought he had only seen them work out for an hour. Yet when he met with each guy, he knew everything about them. One of them said, “He knew that I was the talker.’’ That is very Eddie. He is a homework guy. He studies film better than anyone I know.’’

Kleinbaum knows it won’t be easy for Jordan. It’s been more than 20 years since the Scarlet Knights have qualified for the NCAA Tournament. There will also be tremendous pressure to bring the program up to the level of the Big 10 which Rutgers will join in 2014. Kleinbaum believes he can get it done but the days of quick fixes and outrageous recruiting classes are over. The Scarlet Knights will have to be patient in order to succeed.

“You can’t start from ground zero and go to the Big 10,’’ Kleinbaum said. “He’s going to have to just build and build and build. Eddie is a plodder. Eddie won’t try to hit a home run. Eddie will take the top quality guys and if it is two or three a year, that’s it. He stays the course and he knows what he’s looking to do. I’m confident that he will do it but this will take time.’’


About mcvbb

Mark Kitchin is a boys varsity basketball writer for the Morris County New Jersey area

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