Bristol native Steve Pikiell is headed to the big-time Division I men's basketball competition that is the Big Ten.
Pikiell was introduced as the 19th head coach in Rutgers men's basketball program history today. Pikiell takes over for former NBA head coach Eddie Jordan, who was recently dismissed by the Scarlet Knights.
Prior to Rutgers, Pikiell had been the head coach of Stony Brook for the last 11 seasons. The Seawolves lost their final game of the 2015-16 season, but that loss came to perennial power Kentucky in the NCAA Tournament. It was the first-ever NCAA Tournament appearance for Stony Brook. Stony Brook had been a Division III program until its transition to Division I in 1999.
"Everywhere Steve Pikiell has been, he has won," Rutgers Director of Intercollegiate Athletics Patrick Hobbs said in a story on the team's website today. "But most impressive, is that everywhere he's been, they started at the bottom and rose to the top. He will bring that same dedication and energy to build a successful program at Rutgers. That work has already begun."
There's a ton of work to do at Rutgers, which finished last in the Big Ten in the 2015-16 season. It will be a big-time challenge for the 48-year-old Pikiell, but one that he's looking forward to what he called "a dream job."
"There is so much potential here," Pikiell said in the Rutgers story. "Rutgers has all the ingredients -- great location, great University, great people and a great conference. When evaluating the position, it checked all the boxes for me. I look forward to building a program that the Rutgers community will be proud of."
Pikiell was a standout player for St. Paul in Bristol and earned three all-state selections. He was MVP of the Class L state tournament, which the Falcons finished as a runner-up to Warren Harding of Bridgeport. Pikiell is a member of the Bristol Sports Hall of Fame, which he was inducted into in 2006.
Pikiell played for Jim Calhoun at UConn from 1987-1991, then gained valuable coaching knowledge while on the staffs of Calhoun at UConn, Howie Dickenmann at CCSU and Karl Hobbs at George Washington.
Pikiell took on his first full-time head coaching job at Stony Brook in time for the 2005-06 season. It was rough at first, but Pikiell reached 20 wins for the first time in 2009-10. Six years later, the Seawolves were in the NCAA Tournament. Pikiell compiled six 20-win seasons at Stony Brook, including the last five in a row.
The Rutgers story had quotes from Calhoun, Iowa's Fran McCaffrey, Villanova's Jay Wright, Indiana's Tom Crean, Temple's Fran Dunphy and DePaul's Dave Leitao. That's a pretty good list of coaches, especially with the Naismith Hall of Famer Calhoun.
Calhoun had high praise for his former player and assistant.
"I have watched his teams play and I've watched him build that program and the way he's done it," Calhoun said. "He is fabulous. He knows how to build a culture. He can develop talent. He can coach. I have no doubt he's going to be able to do those same things at Rutgers."
High praise from a Hall of Fame coach and three-time national champion.
Closer to home, current St. Paul associate head coach Brendan Phelps lauded Pikiell on Twitter.
"Really happy for Coach Pike," Phelps wrote. "He's been a mentor of mine since I was a kid. Not many better people in the biz."
Pikiell has plenty of support and a winning pedigree behind him. Rutgers will be a challenge, but Pikiell is up for it.
Here's the link for the full story on the Rutgers men's basketball website. The story contains a link to video of Pikiell's introduction at Rutgers. Pikiell got a standing ovation when he was introduced to a crowd in the Rutgers Athletic Center, commonly known as "The RAC."