For the past week or so, I've spent a fair amount of time thinking about our team and the overall direction of the program. I figured I'd write down a few of these thoughts in the hope of generating a bit of dialogue within the SOJ community since this has largely been an uneventful week on The Juice.
So, without further ado, here are 5 of my thoughts:
LEADERSHIP: First, I'd like to say that I'm a believer in Kevin Willard. Is it because we've enjoyed sustained success? No. Is it because he's brought in a top 10 recruiting class? No. Quite simply, the reason is this: Kevin Willard puts forth a disciplined brand of team basketball, and, he has the ability to encourage 18+ year old young men with egos to buy into it. It took some time to change the culture in the program (not to be confused with national perception, that will still take time), but it has indeed turned a corner. Willard holds these young men to a very high standard on and off the court with consistency and focus that breeds trust and mutual respect. As is well documented, that is in diametric opposition to the last regime's ethos.
DISCIPLINE: The discipline with which our guys now play, on both sides of the ball, couldn't be more dichotomous to that in years past. Last year, we saw guys finally take pride in playing lock-down defense; conversely, our offense was like a guy who orders a Diet Coke along with his extra-large Burger King value meal - ineffective. Honestly, can you think of the last time we had sharp perimeter passing (now seen with regularity) leading to a good look? In order for this to happen, you must have disciplined and unselfish players. This team reminds me of the 2006 Bucknell team who steam rolled through the Patriot League and went to the NCAA Tournament - but better.
: Herb Pope
leads the nation in double-double's with seven. If you've simply read the box score after a game, you know how dominant he's been, but if you've seen him on TV or in person, you REALLY understand how much innate ability this kid has. By all accounts, he's the best PF in the Big East, and in speaking with him and seeing how much he's matured, it's clear that he is focused on squeezing as much out of this season as possible.
: Welp, we saw this on full display last year when the Scarlet Knights beat us on our home court (I just threw up in my mouth a little bit). One must not underestimate the power of having senior leadership at the collegiate level. Jordan Theodore
and Herb Pope have both verbalized how important this year is to them and how they intend to play with a sense of urgency. I figured I'd believe it when I saw it... and I now believe it. Sure, the gaudy numbers support the validity of their statements, but their non verbal communication is what has impressed me the most this season. I feel like JT will run through a brick wall to chase down a loose ball - and this has certainly been observed by younger players like Fuquan Edwin
, Patrik Auda
and Haralds Karlis
, to name a few. The difference between Rutgers last year and Seton Hall this year is that the Pirates boast a ton more talent. Translation: if the chips fall just right, this can be a formidable team against anyone in the country.
FUTURE: At the risk of sounding terribly cliche, I think the Seton Hall Men's and Woman's basketball programs have very bright futures. At this level, it all starts with leadership and after speaking to Athletic Director Pat Lyons at length, I can see how Dean Hobbs et al. were so impressed with him. Also, if Willard's recruiting class this year is any indication of the type of players he will bring to our University, I think we will have a very bright future. It's important to note that I really like how Willard isn't scared to get into the ring with some of the proven recruiting masters who likely have more time doing that than he's been on the earth for a blue chip recruit, but I also like how he has been creative and effective in his approaches to think more globally to bring the best student-athlete to Seton Hall University as possible.
Finally, I had the opportunity to speak with Associate Athletic Director / Director of Pirate Blue, Bryan Felt. For those of you who don't know him, let me just tell you that he's one of the most genuine guys you'll ever meet. The guy bleeds blue - literally - (he attended SHU for his undergraduate and graduate degrees) and he is thrilled with the direction that Seton Hall is headed. Frankly, I'm surprised at how quickly the culture around the program has changed since the rather unceremonious and well documented exit of Willard's predecessor.
Of course, it's difficult for smaller school like ours to keep up with behemoth schools like Syracuse or the factory that is Rutgers, so it's essential that alumni stay actively engaged. Bryan explained that, ''Alumni support is critical for our program, not only in coming to games and buying tickets, but in giving back through donating to Pirate Blue. Every contribution makes a difference and participation from our alumni and fans truly helps grow and strengthen our program."
Take a look at this new video SHU just released. If this doesn't pump you up to be a Pirate fan, I'm not sure what will.