LAWRENCEVILLE — It didn’t take Rider men’s basketball coach Kevin Baggett long to make it clear he wanted Zachryon Blue in the program.
The minute Blue became available as a graduate student on the transfer portal, Baggett was on the phone with the former Princeton High School All-CVC standout.
“He’s selfless,” Baggett said. “He’s the CIAA player of the year and we ask him to give a little bit of himself and he’s a great teammate. He never complains about anything. You can appreciate that as a coach and a team.”
Blue averaged 18.9 points and 7.4 rebounds for Division II Lincoln University last season, but took advantage of the NCAA granting an extra year of Covid eligibility to move up and test himself at the Division I level.
“That’s the difference,” Blue said. “I’m still adjusting. I’ve come a long way, but I still have a long way to go.”
The biggest adjustment is not having the ball in my hands as often. In Lincoln, where he was the league’s player of the year, the offense ran through him. Here, where the Broncs have proven players like Dwight Murray Jr., Allen Powell and Mervyn James, he is being asked to provide a complimentary role.
That means trying to make an impact with fewer minutes and fewer shots.
“The correction is that I don’t have to do too much,” Blue said. “We have players where I shouldn’t be on the ball. I don’t need to force anything at all. I just have to take this role and make the best of it.”
His best performance to date came in Thursday night’s win over Marist, where he had seven points and four rebounds in 13 minutes off the bench.
“Coach is telling us to come down,” Blue said. “He’s on us every day.”
Blue’s continued presence off the bench is important as Baggett looks for more consistency from the three position. Allen Betran, the starter in that role, scored 19 points on Thursday. They combined for 26 points and six rebounds.
“I really like to fight back in attack. I like to fight back, period,” Blue said. “You just track the ball and when it goes up, go get it. My dad always told me “just look at that ball and go get it”. That’s what I try to do when the ball goes up.”
Blue said he attended a few games at Alumni Gymnasium as a high school senior and actually wanted to go to Rider. One of his older sisters graduated, but it didn’t work out after a 1,000-plus career at Princeton High, so he took a year to prepare and then had a great career at Lincoln.
“When I said I was transferring, Baggs and I were talking,” Blue said, “and I came here.”
Baggett is grateful that he is.
“He brings a lot of family and friends with him,” the coach said. “That’s what’s good about it. We need more local guys. We tried to recruit local guys from the area and it’s good to have him. The moment I heard he was available, we made it clear we would love to have him in our program.”
The players returned to campus Sunday night and will practice twice Monday in preparation for the non-conference finale at Georgia on the 28th and then a trip to upstate New York against Canisius on the 30th and Niagara on Jan. 1.
Baggett said the team flies to Georgia on the 27th — a homecoming for Murray and James — and then flies to Buffalo right after the game.
The game against Georgia was originally scheduled for the 30th, but the MAAC is scheduled for a later date, so Baggett had to negotiate with Georgia to move the game up two days.
“Now we’re playing three games in five days,” Baggett said. “Two of them are league games, which are more important. Is it perfect? No. We have to figure it out and find a way.”