Kevin Baggett (above) is in his eighth season as Rider's head coach. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Kevin Callahan (@CP_KCallahan)
Kevin Baggett played high school ball in South Jersey and then in college he played in Philadelphia.
Now, he is connecting the two.
The former Saint Joseph’s University swingman, who starred on the New Jersey state champion Burlington Township team, has recruited eight players from the Philly area on the Rider University roster this season.
And the head coach of the Broncs with his Philadelphia Pipeline to Lawrenceville has Rider sitting on top of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference.
When asked if it helps him recruiting in Philadelphia since he played for the Hawks in the mid-1980’s, Baggett laughed and said, “You know people don’t remember Dr. J let alone Kevin Baggett.”
His players, however, know the two-time MAAC Coach of the Year now.
And Baggett knows the gravity of their contributions.
Seniors Tyere Marshall, a 6-foot-9 center (Martin Luther King High School), and Steve Jordan, a 6-foot guard (Conwell-Egan), both start for Rider, which is in a first-place tie with Saint Peter's at 8-5 in the MAAC, while Kimar Williams, a 6-foot guard (Constitution), is a part-time starter.
Also, making contributions off the bench are Ajiri Ogemuno-Johnson, a 6-8 sophomore forward (Bonner-Prendergast), Christian Ings, a 6-2 freshman guard (Neumann-Goretti), Allen Powell, a 6-2 freshman guard (La Salle), Khalil Turner, a 6-7 freshman swingman (Sankofa Freedom Academy) and Tyrel Bladen, a 6-10 redshirt freshman (Coatesville).
“We’ve had success with those guys and we want to continue that and we want to show that we are able to bring them in and have success on and off the court,” said Baggett, who is in his eighth season in charge at Rider. “So, as long as I’m here, I’m going to continue to recruit that area because obviously it’s in our backyard and we just like the talent pool that’s always in Philadelphia.
The lengthy Philly connection extends to the bench where Baggett’s former Saint Joseph’s teammate Geoff Arnold is an assistant coach.
“It has been a blessing,” Baggett said. “I was happy to even get a chance to have him join our program. He’s a great coach and a great person and a great leader.
Associate head coach Dino Presley, director of basketball operations Ben Kay and director of player development Roy Blumenthal are also from the city or its suburbs.
L to R: Rider director of player development Roy Blumenthal, director of basketball operations Ben Kay, assistant coach Marlon Guild, associate head coach Dino Presley, head coach Kevin Baggett and assistant coach Geoff Arnold on the bench during the Broncs' game against Temple in December. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Arnold, who contributed in three of Saint Joseph’s four Atlantic 10 Championships as a player in 1986 and as an assistant coach in 2014 and 2016, was an assistant on Hawk Hill for the past 11 seasons under Phil Martelli.
“I go back to our playing days and I just remember him being very instrumental in him be a leader to me,” Baggett said. “I was glad to get him to come here and help out because he had some business ventures in the NBA that he was considering as well.”
The Philly guys took care of business over the weekend with home wins against Canisius (61-60) on Friday and Niagara (73-58) on Sunday.
Marshall scored 16 points at Alumni Gymnasium to help the Broncs improve to 14-9 overall.
“It’s great playing for him, he has helped me progress since my freshman year until now on and off the court,” Marshall said about Baggett. “He has helped me become a good student and being a man off the court and on the court and becoming a player and his assistants have done a great job too.”
Rider has won five of its last six games after dropping two games in a Western New York weekend.
"Nobody likes the feeling of being a loser,” Jordan said about this welcomed late-season surge. “So, in the locker room, everybody came together. We had common goals and the most common goal was to win. So, I think we just pulled it together and we're going to win games now."
Tyere Marshall (above) has become one of the best big men in the MAAC and a 1000-point scorer. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Both Marshall and Jordan have topped 1,000 points in their career.
“It’s just good to see the growth from when they came in to see them now,” Baggett said. “Hopefully these guys will help us get a decent seed in our conference and then make a run in the MAAC tournament and we can get over the hump and get to the NCAA tournament.”
Marshall is averaging 25 minutes, 12.7 points and 7.5 rebounds after averaging 10.8 points and a team-leading 6.6 rebounds last year.
“I know they believed in me, but to be honest, I just wanted to put in all the work that I needed to become that player,” Marshall said. “I didn’t score 1,000 points in high school, I only played two seasons in high school, my junior and senior years, so I didn’t know it would happen but it feels good that it happen.
“If you would have asked me six years ago, before I played my first high school season, that I would graduate and score 1,000 points and compete for a championship and play on a good Division I team, I didn’t think it would happen.
Lawrenceville is a 45-minute drive from Philly, so the proximity allows family and friends to see the local guys play often.
“They showed a lot of interest in me and I wanted to be close to home,” Marshall said. “None of the schools from my hometown offered me a scholarship and Rider showed a lot of interest me and I trusted them and it has been good ever since.”
Stevie Jordan (above) is nearing the end of a career that will see him go down as one of Rider's all-time greats. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Against Niagara, Marshall made his first seven attempts and finished 8-of-9 from the field with his only missed shot was blocked back to him and converted.
Jordan, who averages 11.3 points, led the Broncs with six assists against Niagara, padding his career total to 571 for second on the all-time list. He also recorded his 179th career steal and is just nine away from the all-time leader Ryan Thompson.
For the season, Williams, who transferred from Florida International, is averaging 12.2 minutes, 3.4 points.
“I actually played against Kimar (Williams) and Khalil Turner played against my little brother in high school, so I talked to him about it,” Marshall said about the Philly Pipeline. “So we talk about it all the time, just playing against each other and seeing each other play.”
Ogemuno-Johnson has played all 23 games, averaging 10.6 minutes, 2.8 points and 2.6 rebounds after playing n 25 games, including three-straight December starts, last year.
“He has come along as well he is taking the next step from being a freshman and we need it more from him,” Baggett said about Ogemuno-Johnson. “He is playing behind a lot of veterans so at times I think he takes a backseat to them, but we’re like, ‘hey we need you, be more aggressive.’
“He’s going to be a good piece for us. He is a great person and we’re excited about the next two years with him.”
Baggett’s shares similar enthusiasm for the freshman class.
Ings has started 18 games, averaging 21 minutes, 5.8 points. Powell has played in 19 games, averaging 9.9 minutes. Turner has played 11 games, averaging 4.4 minutes. Bladen has played 16 game , averaging 4.9 minutes.
“Anymore these guys come ready and wanting to play,” Baggett said. “We are constantly trying to keep these guys on their toes and making sure they are ready to go when their number is called. So they have to show up every day and practice and show that they are ready to go.
“Throughout the year each and everyone of those guys have contributed significantly for us as I always say at some point of the year each and every person on this team is going to contribute in some way and so they just have to be ready to do that and those guys have done a good job of being ready.”
Not surprisingly, Baggett isn’t done feeding the Philly Pipeline.
“The underclassmen over in Philadelphia, particularly the junior senior sophomore class, is going to be really good and we got our eyes out,” Baggett said.
Baggett, though, isn’t looking to next year.
Rider, which is 8-1 at home this season, including a 6-1 in the MAAC, now hit the road Friday at Siena in a nationally-televised ESPNU game.
“This year, we want to leave on top, all the seniors, we all have put in so much work,” Marshall said. “We are hungry for a championship and are determined to put in all the work that it takes.”
And bring the MAAC tourney trophy back to Philly.