A chill in the air, crunchy leaves under my feet, and Beefsteak on my dinner table can mean only one thing; another college basketball season is nigh.
This time, the taste of wine and steak was far better than the last time I dined at Walsh Gym which largely consisted of a ladle full of UMASS's Chaz Williams crossovers topped with a heaping portion of post season heartbreak. But with every approaching winter season, energized basketball fans come to life and I, my friends, am just that. I'm really not one to get caught up in emotions, but I must tell you that last night's speech from Head Coach Kevin Willard at the annual Beefsteak Dinner jazzed me up so much I almost put a bid in for the Fred Astaire dance lessons at the auction... not really, but I was jazzed.
Year in and year out, Pirate Blue outdoes themselves with this event. Associate Athletic Director Bryan Felt and his staff do a tremendous job of engaging their local fan base by having a delicious steak dinner served in a classed-up Walsh Gym while also surrounding the fans with interesting sports memorabilia for auction. I'm not going to say I spent a small fortune on an item in this auction, but I'm definitely thinkin' it (and now the 2009 opening day Yankee Score Card is hanging handsomely on my wall). If I heard it correctly, last night's auction raised over $400,000 so kudos to everyone who opened their wallets (now, go take 3 Advil for that hangover and check your credit card online statement to see just how bad the damage was).
Athletic Director Pat Lyons made sure I had the VIP tour of the new locker room which was awfully impressive. Make no mistake, these were not minimal upgrades for the Athletic Department, these were major capital upgrades that were jaw dropping, and necessary, for recruiting (for pictures, check my Twitter feed @robertmanganaro). Lyons said that in roughly six months, they will again undertake a massive renovation for state-of-the-art training facilities.
That said, lets get to the meat and potatoes of last night, so to speak...
Seton Hall Head Coach Kevin Willard is not here to mince words. Rather, he is here to restore order, pride, and winning ways to Seton Hall Men's Basketball; period. Willard's speech was succinct and firm and that's precisely what this crowd of roughly 500 loyal supporters needed to hear. He said, "We do things the right way at Seton Hall. You better use words like 'pride' when you speak about Seton Hall. When I got here, the team GPA was 2.1, two years later, the team GPA is now 3.1." Marinate in that for a moment, as this point must not be undersold. I've said it before and I'll say it again; we are an institution of higher education and those young men are graduating with the exact same degree that we have. I'm fairly certain you'll all agree that we must take pride in our academic achievement and hold successive students to equal or greater standards. Under the old regime, academics were barely a footnote, if that, and now, they are a central focus. I briefly spoke with Coach Willard at the conclusion of the dinner and thanked him for these critical academic improvements and he said, "That is our job." So, bravo, Mr. Lyons, Coach Willard and everyone contributing to the academic success of these young men.
Quotes from Shaheen Holloway:
Shaheen Holloway reaffirmed what he told me in my interview with him a few months ago, "It's still point guard by committee. Tommy, Aaron and Freddy are looking real good. We are going to give teams so many different looks with the depth we have." I asked about the development of Sterling Gibbs and before I finished my sentence he excitedly said, "Sterling's improvement is scary. Every single practice I'm like, 'Oh my God.' This kid is really, really good." Sha then said, "Man, I know you guys are talking about next year and we have no seniors, and we'll have Gibbs next year, but I'm talking about this year. We are going to be good this year!"
Quotes from Kevin Willard:
"I have a roster that's as deep as any in the Big East, by far."
"Eugene Teague won't shoot a three, he won't shoot a jump shot, but he'll absolutely destroy people down low."
Aaron Cosby is the hardest working kid you'll ever see. I'm more excited about his development than of any other player."
"Mobley was 190 last year. He's 217 this year."
"Sterling, in the three months I've had him, has impressed me more than any other player I've ever had."
Finally, I joked with with Brandon Mobley about being thankful he didn't sign with Auburn as I originally anticipated, and he said, "Man, you can thank my mom for that. I was excited about Auburn but she said, 'Just slow down and wait. I really want you to go to the Seton Hall visit.' Once I came here, man, I knew this is where I wanted to be."
As always, HAZARD ZET FORWARD!