Geo Baker saw the blueprints for a new practice facility, bought into a vision and committed to Rutgers for the potential.
Entering his junior season, he can’t escape a different “P” word.
Fellow students say it to Baker on the campus bus. Friends drop it in casual conversation. Teammate Ron Harper Jr. sees it repeated in his social media comments.
“Postseason” is not thrown around lightly at Rutgers, which hasn’t made the NCAA Tournament since 1992 or the NIT since last finishing with a winning record in 2006. Even qualifying for the old-look Big East Tournament used to be a struggle before joining the Big Ten.
“I think this is the year,” Harper told The Post. “I think we have the right guys with the right mindset and the right work ethic, and I think we’re ready to take that next step.”
Fourth-year coach Steve Pikiell kept his staff mostly intact and has his first roster entirely made of his recruits, including at least six former four-stars. A soft non-conference schedule should generate a fast start and balance what is one of the most difficult league schedules in the nation.
“What I like about the last few years is we’ve always gotten better in a league that’s hard to get better in,” Pikiell said. “One thing we’ve done as well as anybody in the country is the guys we’ve gotten have improved. I hope this year we take another jump.”
Pikiell is on the couch in his office inside the new four-story, $115 million RWJBarnabas Health Athletic Performance Center. Rutgers moved into its practice facility off a 14-17 season that included seven Big Ten wins, after totaling nine over the previous four seasons.
“I think this group has got a chance, if they all come together, to do some neat things,” Pikiell said.
A fan base tired of football’s blowout losses is clinging to hope of a basketball revival. Seton Hall at Rutgers tickets (Dec. 14) sold out in less than one day.
“You try to block out the outside noise,” Baker said. “The most important thing is to listen to the people who are at practice every day, in the locker room. We also embrace that we have some expectations, and we want to have fun with that. People think that we are good, and we think that we are good.”
The Scarlet Knights are uncommonly athletic and versatile, giving Pikiell the ability to go big or small with his lineup. Baker, sought-after New Jersey recruit Paul Mulcahy and Texas transfer Jacob Young provide another change from the past — depth at point guard.
“Geo has taken a lot of big shots for us and doesn’t back down,” Pikiell said. “He has logged a zillion minutes, and he knows every position on the floor.”
Harper wears size-19 sneakers and offers All-Big Ten potential on the wing. Stony Brook graduate transfer Akwasi Yeboah — a Pikiell signee at two schools now — is one of only two seniors, after co-captain Eugene Omoruyi’s surprising transfer to redshirt at Oregon.
“We’re going to get up and down the floor, probably press a little bit. They’re going to be exciting games to watch,” Baker said. “In the Big Ten, you really have to outthink your opponent.”
Pikiell wants his team thinking about Thursday night’s opener against Bryant, then Niagara, and so on. Nothing beyond. But he isn’t ignoring the postseason elephant in the arena.
“The elephant is everywhere. You can’t pretend it isn’t,” Pikiell said “Everyone else talks to them about it more than I do. I just say let’s worry about what’s really in front of us. That’s fantasy and this is reality: You have to climb the ladder and you can’t skip steps.”
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