"It’s exciting. You watch yourself do things that wow everybody. Then you see a team getting better everyday. Then you see how that translates from practice to the game."
As the LA Lakers prepare to tip off the 2015-16 basketball season against the Minnesota Timberwolves Wednesday, there is a noticeable absence of flair surrounding their star of nearly two decades, Kobe Bryant. That’s because the Lakers have brought on significant new talent in the form of forward Julius Randle, guard Jordan Clarkson and none-other than former Ohio State standout D’Angelo Russell, who was taken with the No. 2-overall pick in the 2015 NBA Draft.
Poor play over the last two seasons, which resulted in an unprecedented two-straight missed playoff appearances, meant that the Lakers could land Randle and Russell early in their respective draft classes.
Collectively, Clarkson, Randle and Russell are "the next generation" of Lakers, or at least that is what was being advertised on billboards throughout Las Vegas during a preseason game. Their head coach, Byron Scott, said that each "could be in multiple All-Star games if they continue to develop."
None of the three players seem to be buying into the hype, knowing that the buzz is irrelevant if they don’t perform on the court. That’s why Randle and Russell could be found still on the court after a Lakers practice perfecting moves and improving their form. Clarkson, who had aggravated his shoulder, was told to go home.
Randle and Clarkson are entering the season as second-year players, though Randle was injured only 14 minutes into the season last year with a fractured leg. .
Russell has already been likened to greats like former Laker Magic Johnson and Clippers star Chris Paul. Hailed prior to this year’s draft for his passing ability, Russell has already impressed teammates with his effortless assists as well as his efforts at film study.
Still, there is some concern surrounding Russell after a less-than-impressive training camp. Scott concedes that the NBA is a change of pace from college basketball, and that Russell will have to accommodate for more aggressive, quicker and more physical competition. Russell has also stated that he is uncomfortable in the Princeton-style offense Scott runs, and is unsure of what his role will be.
"We constructed a group of universities that we felt were our peers or aspirational peers, and virtually every one of the Big Ten schools falls into one or another of those groups...not just athletics, but academics."
Rutgers’ entry into the Big Ten has not been very smooth. This football season alone, six players were kicked off the team for suspected criminal activities, and head coach Kyle Flood was suspended for three games after contacting a professor regarding one of his players.
Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany has stated that he is happy that Rutgers joined the conference, though he hopes that the situation surrounding the university and the athletic department improves.
But there are definitely some added benefits for the Big Ten, especially in terms of location in New Jersey. Urban Meyer has stated the state "as good high school football as anywhere in the country, and obviously a ridiculous amount of TV sets."
And with those extra TV sets come greatly enhanced revenue for the conference, as well as the Big Ten Network. The television network now has eight million new subscribers in the New York metropolitan area since last season, and is now available in 60 million households nationwide. Importantly, advertising revenue growth has also risen by 20 percent.
The location also provides a new venue, as it is now perfectly feasible for Big Ten teams to host events in New York City, such as the Big Ten Men’s Basketball Tournament which is scheduled for 2018 in Madison Square Garden.
While Rutgers athletics have not been highly profitable--which had a $36.3 million subsidy to its athletic department last year--it will be receiving a full-share of conference media revenue come 2022, when it will become a full member of the Big Ten.
Movement into the Big Ten further cemented the university’s dual commitment to athletics and academics--something leadership had been ambivalent about for much of the school’s past. Rutgers is now breaking ground on new athletic facilities, despite remaining criticism that athletics are taking focus away from academics.
"I was trying to do too much. I came back and we’re the No. 1 team in the country and all these great things and high expectations and I was trying to do too much. I was forcing stuff and trying to make the big throw and the big run and things like that instead of letting the game come to me. I think that was one of the reasons I didn’t start."
Following a 49-7 rout of Rutgers, in which sophomore J.T. Barrett had his first start of the season, the quarterback denied that his health had anything to do with him not winning the starting job to open the season. Instead, he stated that he didn’t allow the game to develop and come to him--something that certainly changed Saturday.
Barrett was called in for two September games after junior quarterback Cardale Jones was pulled consecutively against Hawaii and Northern Illinois. Barrett played the entire second half against Northern Illinois, throwing a touchdown pass and a pick on the way to a close win for Ohio State. Barrett saw minimal playing time against Western Michigan, and none against Indiana in week five of the season.
Things changed afterwards, however, as Jones couldn’t seem to get it done in the red zone against the Hoosiers, leading to a terrifyingly-close game for Buckeye fans. Jones would take most snaps, with Barrett coming in when Ohio State crossed into the red zone. The experiment worked well against Maryland, with Barrett earning touchdowns on each of his five red zone possessions. But things changed again against Penn State, where Barrett scored two touchdowns each on the ground and through the air, and where Jones was ineffective.
In his first start since the Michigan game last November, in which he broke his ankle, Barrett was 14-of-18 for 223 yards and three touchdowns and no interceptions against Rutgers. He also managed 101 yards rushing on 13 carries for two touchdowns.
Barrett stated that he didn’t feel pressure Saturday, since it was all about preparation both for Barrett individually and for the team collectively. He said that he wasn’t doing anything crazy--"just doing what we do on offense."