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Luke Nathan Seeks to Make NCAA History with #19 Nationally Ranked Rutgers Basketball
Under the leadership of Head Coach Steve Pikiell, Rutgers Basketball is in the middle of a resurgence ranking 19th in the nation for the first time in decades. Randolph Alumnus Luke Nathan never envisioned himself making the varsity team in high school, let alone playing in one of the best conferences in college basketball. However, his determination to be the best that he can be with the support of his coaches and family helped him to conquer the initial adversity he once faced. When Rutgers recruited him, he knew that he could not pass up the opportunity. As a Redshirt Junior, Luke is looking to make history with his team as they continue their historic comeback as a major contender in NCAA Basketball. We caught up with Luke to learn more about his experiences in Randolph that led him to Rutgers and what he has been up to since graduating from RHS.
“Going into high school, I never thought I would ever play college basketball. I was never that good of a player in middle school and I barely made the travel teams,” Luke said. “However, coaches Tighe, Dunnigan, Hemmer, Lavender and Poppy just really pushed me to get to new levels. I never stopping working even though I was always the last guy picked on the team. Freshman year of high school, I was on the freshman team and played a little bit. That freshman year going into my sophomore year, I just decided that I could really step up my game. I worked out all summer and came back the following year and started varsity in my sophomore year which I thought was a very big accomplishment. I honestly never thought that I would get to the point where I would be a varsity starter, and then from there I just didn’t stop. I realized if I could get there, what else could I do? I just kept working and I started to get calls from colleges. When the opportunity for Rutgers came up, I couldn’t turn down the state school of New Jersey because Rutgers academically and athletically was the best combination for me personally. In addition to having a really good business school, being in the Big Ten Conference you’re competing against some of the other best athletic teams every single year. Having the best of both worlds was really a no brainer.”
As a new student competing as a Division I athlete, there was a lot for Luke to consider. Not only did he have to adjust to a different culture, he also had to determine what he would like to consider pursuing academically. “Going into Rutgers, I wasn’t completely sure what I wanted to study. I decided to pursue opportunities at the Business School and really liked the classes. I chose Marketing as my major because I like Psychology. Both disciplines are intertwined and pair well together, so I decided to study both by also minoring in Psychology," Luke said. “Being in the Business School, freshman year was kind of a culture shock. The workload combined with the increase in time devoted to athletics compared to high school took a while to get used to. After the first year, I got the hang of it and I learned the importance of having a daily schedule which I now go through every day. In my opinion, Rutgers is an underrated school and the academic and athletic opportunities I have had have been both fun and rewarding.”
Regardless of division, competing as a student athlete is rigorous. When you’re playing in a conference like the Big Ten against some of the best teams in the country, the stakes are much higher. Luke allowed us to take a step into what a typical day in the life of a college athlete is like. “Competing is a lot of work, but definitely rewarding work. On a typical day, we have a practice block where we don’t have any classes. Our practice block is usually from about 1:00 PM to 5:00 PM. In that window, we will usually start off with treatment to help address aches and pains before getting ready for practice. After practice, we go to lift every day and also have a film session. Before practice, that’s usually when I attend my classes. I always try to get my work done beforehand because after practice I like to relax and study so I don’t have to worry about homework too much. For tougher classes, every once and a while we have tutoring. Rutgers does a great job helping to provide academic support which is really helpful when balancing practice schedules as well as travel schedules. Being in the Big Ten, most of our games are far away. However, most are in the Midwest. We fly to every opponent except for Penn State and Maryland which we bus to. But the traveling is so easy. I never really realized how easy it was to travel until I got here. We literally just take a bus to Newark Airport and they drive us up right to the plane. It really blew my mind the first time we did it that we didn’t have to go to through the airport. We just get on a private commercial jet and it takes us to the other school’s airport. That saves us a lot of time especially when we have classes to stay on top of. They try to make the experience for us as easy as possible which is a really great thing that also allows us to make time for ourselves.”
In addition to intense practice, travel, and academic schedules, there is also a lot of preparation that goes into getting ready for each game. “Preparing for games is a completely different experience than I had in high school,” Luke said. “The coaches are so detailed and every little detail is important. We watch so much film that we literally know all of the other team’s plays before we go into a game. Everyone on the bench can see the other team do a hand signal, recognize a play, and then we’ll all scream it. In practice leading up to the games, we go over how to guard each single play. It’s a really cool process that really helps us because we’ve been known to have a strong defense ever since our new head coach has been here. The amount of time the coaches put in is pretty extraordinary. In conference play we treat every opponent the same just because there really are no easy games in the Big Ten. With any opponent though we treat everyone the same because you never want to let your guard down. If you let up even a little bit, anyone can beat you. Speaking to our next game which is against Illinois on Sunday, it’s a really big game and it’s on ESPN. When they are on channels like ESPN, we get more hyped up and excited which is good. That always helps us especially now that we have no fans.”
Luke credits a lot of Rutgers’ success to the chemistry of the team. “This is my fourth year here. From my freshman year to now, I have noticed such a big difference,” Luke said. “Coach Pikiell came in the year before I got here and he has really changed the whole culture around and recruited great athletes. He really turns around every program he goes to, and I just have my best friends for life right now. Honestly, it’s been so great. We are really forced to be together all the time, so it’s really awesome when you like the people that you get to be with. Being together all year round, we will go to the Jersey Shore together and I have even taken some friends back to Randolph because it’s so close. Being close to your teammates you have to be around all the time is such a great feeling and you never get tired of it. I have never been tired of going to practice every day or going to the gym late at night working out, and it just makes the experience that much more enjoyable.”
Rutgers is currently undefeated starting the season with a 5-0 start. As the 19th ranked team in the nation, the team has set some very big goals and is determined to make a statement in the NCAA tournament this year. “Right now, we have had a great start to the season and we are just looking to make history. Rutgers has not had a good basketball program for a long time. We are currently ranked in the top 20 which hasn’t been done since the 70’s. We also haven’t made an NCAA tournament since 1991,” Luke said. “As a team, we are looking to change the culture of Rutgers Basketball and keep it at a high level from here on out. Being a part of a change like this has been such a cool experience that I am really never going to forget. I am just really grateful to be a part of it and just to see the change happening every single day. The whole Rutgers community has been behind us and they are really rooting for us. It keeps us motivated to keep improving and try to make history. Last year our goal was just to make the NCAA tournament and we would have done that if it weren’t for COVID-19. This year, we set our goal to make the Final Four. We don’t just want to make the tournament, we want to advance and get to the championship round. We know we are at that level as a team, and that’s where we want to end up.”
Being a student athlete at Rutgers has given Luke tremendous opportunities. He is not sure what his plans will be for next year, however he is grateful that the program has given him options. “I have improved so much at Rutgers just going up against great competition every day in practice that I have put myself in a position where I could play overseas and play for money if I wanted to.” Luke said. “I am not sure if I want to do that, but having more options is great to have and I am just really thankful for not stopping. I will never forget those times in middle school and high school where I was running laps around the gym thinking, do I really want to be here? Is this really for me? I barely even play. However, I just stuck with it and my parents also kept pushing me and believing in me because if I had stopped I would not have this great opportunity that I have here playing at Rutgers.”
Although Randolph is a part of his past, Luke believes and feels that Randolph is one of the reasons why he has achieved the successes he has had today and will have later in life. “I love Randolph. It’s obviously such a tight knit community. I lived there all my life and being a student athlete in the schools I had such incredible support from my coaches. They had a really big influence on me and where I ended up. I am the player I am today because of them,” Luke said. “Principal Iosso was also a big help too. She even wrote one of my letters of recommendation, so when the Principal is helping you too with stuff like that, it just shows what Randolph is all about. Everyone in Randolph just wants to help everyone out, and I am just really truly grateful to have been in a school district like that who always had my back.”
We still have your back Luke, and we are so proud of all that you have accomplished. You will always be a part of our Randolph family. Thank you for taking the time out of your busy schedule to share your story with us, and for representing Randolph with pride. We hope that you continue to achieve all of your goals, and wish Rutgers Basketball the best of luck this season.
Rutgers Basketball takes on #13 Illinois tomorrow, December 20 at 1:00 PM. You can watch the game on ESPN2. Let’s help support Luke and his team by cheering them on to victory.