Tag:Kevin Willard
Posted on: December 22, 2011 10:55 am
Edited on: December 22, 2011 10:59 am

Seton Hall's new family atmosphere is working

By Jeff Goodman

No one was taking Seton Hall seriously. This was a team that had decent wins over VCU and St. Joe's and everyone else on its slate short of Northwestern, but it's body of work remained worthy of dispute. 

But on Wednesday night, Herb Pope & Co. went into Dayton, an extremely underrated venue in terms of difficult and hostile establishments, and came away with a victory. 

The Pirates now stand at 10-1. 

Pope, who was in a coma and nearly died less than two years ago, has returned to the form that once made him one of the most dominant big men in the country. Jordan Theodore is finally showing what many anticipated from him long ago, when he was a highly recruited player back in high school. 

And Kevin Willard finally has something to smile about. 

Seton Hall struggled last season to a 13-18 record in its first year of the post-Bobby Gonzalez Era. Pope wasn't himself as his near-death experience in April of 2010 and Willard was unable to control the cast of characters that Gonzo had assembled. But now guys like Jeremy Hazell, Jeff Robinson and Keon Lawrence are all history -- and it's a far more peaceful environment in South Orange, N.J. 

"It's a family environment now," Pope said. "That wasn't the case before. He (Gonzalez) wasn't a fatherly figure. He was all about basketball and it wasn't a learning atmosphere." 

Now, Pope said, he is actually able to talk to his head coach. Knock on the door and actually hold a conversation. 

"Every day I talk to Coach Willard," Pope said. "About life, family. He's helped me out so much. ... After what happened, he really helped me get back mentally." 

On top of last year's struggles on the court, Willard was getting crushed with his lack of recruiting prowess. As nearby Rutgers made headlines with Mike Rice's commitments, Willard was hammered for his inability to get it done off the court. 

While Willard hasn't stockpiled highly rated guys, sophomore forward and Czech native Patrik Auda and freshman guard Aaron Cosby were key in Wednesday's win at Dayton. Auda went for a career-high 18 points and Cosby finished with 13. 

"Those young guys are letting us lead," Pope said. "And feeding off us." 

Pope said that it's taken a while to adjust. He was getting used to a new coach a year ago while dealing with coming back from being in a hospital for nearly two months. 

"Last year it was just great to be alive," Pope said. "This year is my last go-around. I want to go out with a bang." 

Willard admitted that it wasn't an easy transition after he took the reigns, but that Pope has come so far in just about every area. 

"No one really understood how serious the heart ailment affected him last year. He was never physically right," Willard said. "He's playing like the best big man in the country right now -- and Jordan is playing like one of the best point guards."

It's hard to argue. Pope is averaging 21.4 points and 11.5 boards while Theodore is putting up 14.8 points and has 82 assists and just 29 turnovers. 

"It's no secret that these guys are the key to our team," Willard said.

Actually, the key may wind up being the young guys and also whether or not the Pirates can get enough off the bench. Currently, you've got the starting unit and just one player, freshman Haralds Karlis, that averages more than one point per game. 

After Friday's road contest at Longwood, we'll find out whether this Seton Hall team is legit or not. The Pirates start Big East play with Syracuse, West Virginia and UConn. 

"I know what's coming up," Willard said. "We're not getting happy just yet." 

"We haven't accomplished anything yet," added Pope. 

Maybe not, but people are actually talking about what Seton Hall is doing on the court. It's been a while since that was the case. 

Posted on: December 27, 2010 12:21 pm
Edited on: December 27, 2010 5:39 pm

Seton Hall: The New York Jets of college hoops

Jeremy Hazell Posted by Matt Norlander

No program in 2010 has had more topsy-turvy turns, felt more helter and skelter, than Seton Hall.

The Pirates are the New York Jets of college basketball. While that analogy is not flawless, hopefully you can see the general correlations between the two. (Though, does Bobby Gonzalez’s affinity for the man-purse count as a fetish?) Of course the expectation level and public devotion for the Pirates does not nearly match that of Gang Green. Still, both New Jersey-housed teams have seen their year dominated by stories that have had more to do with performance outside the playing arena.

The latest drama for SHU came over the weekend, when Pirates shooting guard Jeremy Hazell (right) was nipped in the arm by a bullet. Hazell was with his family in Harlem when they were victims of an armed robbery. He’s doing fine now (thrilled that he is OK) and is believed to be joining the team today in practice.

The Hazell incident got me to thinking about how screwy the past 361 days have been. (Still four left to squeeze in one last bizarre bit of news, you know.) So let’s take a look back at 2010, through a Pirate’s eye. No need to run the gamut on the Jets; you’re probably all too aware of those 36 subplots.

• After Robert Mitchell criticizes former coach Gonzalez to the press amid a disappointing end to the 2009-10 season, Mitchell is promptly kicked off the team.

• Less than 24 hours later, Mitchell and former SHU player Kelly Whitney grab guns and rob eight people.

• Following his team’s 15-point loss to Notre Dame in the Big East tournament, Gonzalez makes his case for his team to earn a bid … to the NIT. It works. Seton Hall earns a 4-seed.

• The Pirates are beaten at home in the first game of the NIT by No. 5 Texas Tech. The game causes a stir because Herb Pope punches an opposing player in the groin.


• Within hours of Seton Hall's season coming to an end, Gonzalez is fired.

• Twelve days later, former Iona coach Kevin Willard is hired.

• The next day, Hazell, who has been known to take 347 shots in some games, enters his name into the NBA Draft. Less than a week later, he withdraws.

• In late April, Herb Pope collapses at a team workout, technically dies, then comes back to life.

• A month goes by, and all is silent on the Seton Hall front. Then Gonzalez is caught attempting to shoplift a European carry-all. The man who was once the hottest coaching prospect on the East Coast is no longer employable.

• On a Friday in late June, Mitchell and Whitney are charged with kidnapping, aggravated assault, burglary, robbery and possession of weapons. They confess.

• Pope’s comeback story is the best thing about Seton Hall basketball in 2010.

• As the first year under Willard begins, Seton Hall fails to beat any of the legitimate teams on its schedule and stumbles out to a 6-6 start to its 2010-11 season.

• Hazell takes a bullet on Christmas. The primary scorer for the Pirates has been out 39 days since injuring his left wrist, and whether he returns or not will have a lot to do with determining how Willard's first season at the helm turns out.

You can follow Norlander on Twitter: @CHJournal

Photo: AP

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