Kevin Willard and Seton Hall have landed their first Class of 2014 commitment in the form of Newark East Side (N.J.) combo forward Ismael Sanogo, who celebrates his 17th birthday today. The news was announced by Ismael in a 12:30PM conference call.
"The expression 'go where you're loved, not where you're liked' ran through my mind," said Sanogo. "My verbal agreement to attend Seton Hall is an important one for me. Having the opportunity to play in the Big East, in my home state, home city... I hope to bring college basketball excitement to the area.
"Playing for Coach Willard at Seton Hall is the best decision my family and I could make. Kevin Willard and Shaheen Holloway and Fred Hill have been tremendous in expressing interest in local kids. It would be wonderful to see local kids packing the Rock in downtown Newark.
"Life after basketball is inevitable and they want to make sure my education is secure. Basketball wise, they believe that the sky is the limit [for me].
"[I decided on Seton Hall] about last week. It was a great feeling, making my family proud. Not just my family at home, but my family at East Side. It was a real good feeling."
On if playing in his hometown was planned: "It was very unreal, I didn't expect that to happen. But to have the opportunity that's right in my city... its something amazing." Ismael also hopes to play the role of a leader for other athletes in Newark. "I'm hoping that other kids in Newark follow my lead and work hard so they will get to, as not as big as Seton Hall, but other great Universities where they can play and get an education."
Ismael also expressed his desire to follow in the footsteps of high-major basketball players like Randy Foye, Hassan Whiteside, and Corey Chandler, who are all Newark natives.
Ismael was considering UPenn, George Mason, and VCU when he decided upon Seton Hall. He claims offers from all three schools.
Shortly after visiting Seton Hall three weeks ago, Ismael received his first high major offer before gearing up for the first round of three grueling July evaluation periods. Ismael's first stop on the July circuit as part of the NJ Roadrunners was Philadelphia for the Reebok Breakout Classic and subsequent The Showdown event. With Seton Hall staff in attendance, the 6-foot-7 190-pound forward caught the eye of several recruiting analysts amidst a tremendous talent pool.
Sanogo's AAU team played a role in his commitment to Seton Hall, as associate head coach Shaheen Holloway starred for the Roadrunners back in the mid-90s. "That played a big part in my recruitment," said Ismael. "I was able to feel that me and my coach [Shaheen] have a strong player-coach connection."
His commitment adds a temporary link between Seton Hall and the Roadrunners, who also have 2015 targets Chris Silva and Myles Stephens, and budding 2016 guard Asante Gist of Roselle Catholic (N.J.) on their squad. Seton Hall have offered all three.
This connection may be used in the future, as Newark East Side assistant Anthony Tavares expressed a lot of kind sentiments toward the Seton Hall staff.
"Newark public schools are sometimes at a disadvantage, I give great credit to the Seton Hall staff for coming in and recruiting Ismael where not a lot of schools have really shown interest in him or any of the Newark East Side kids.
I want to publicly thank the Seton Hall coaches for giving Ismael this opportunity, where not too many coaches feel comfortable in coming into Newark and recruiting kids."
"Lean and lanky, Sanogo does it all at the forward spot. He can face up, take his defender to the basket or knock down the open shot. His motor is terrific and Sanogo always crashes the boards. Right now, he must be labeled a combo forward because his handle and outside shot still need work. His intangibles in the post and energy are second to none, though."
Ismael is also becoming known for his athleticism and grit. Its been rumored that he played very hard and was vocal when playing against Fuquan Edwin in a pick up game during his visit in late June.
Newark East Side coaches compared Ismael to former Villanova player Curtis Sumpter and Newark native Calvin O'Neil (plus a few inches of height) who is at Middle Tennessee State. Ismael mentioned his desire to follow in the steps of Seton Hall standouts Brian Laing, Jeremy Hazell, and Fuquan Edwin.
Here is what Newark East Side coach Anthony Tavares had to say about Ismael's potential:
"His athleticism has tremendously since the end of last season.
"I think hes going to be a late bloomer. Once Ismael gets to college and puts on about 20 pounds of muscle - hes a gym rat. Hes spent a lot of time in the gym with coach [Uron] Hawkins who has done a phenomenal job of working on his game individually and Sandy [Pyonin] who has done a phenomenal job of also improving him. The sky's the limit for him. Once he gets in the weight room, puts on 20 pounds of muscle, has a solid three meals a day... sky's the limit.
"[By his junior year] I think he can be one of the better players in the country if he works had and stays humble."
Outside of the gym, Ismael is striving to be the best he can be in the classroom. With a family goal of graduating with at least a 1200 SAT score and 3.2 GPA, his offer from Penn comes as no surprise. Ismael is an honors student and takes AP courses at Newark East Side. He also scored a 1040 on the 2-part SAT during his first attempt that he is upset with and looking to approve upon during a second attempt.
Beyond Seton Hall, Ismael received offers from St. Bonaventure, Virginia Commonwealth (reportedly), and Duquesne based off of his play at the Reebok Classic. Prior to last week, Sanogo held scholarship offers from Buffalo, Delaware, George Mason, Niagara, Wagner, Saint Joseph's, and UPenn, with interest from West Virginia and Creighton.
Here is a brief clip from Ismael's sophomore year (2011-12) at Newark East Side.