by Josh Adams
South Orange, NJ- For the last four years at Seton Hall University, the fans and the students were a part of something special. In today’s era of players transferring and one and done phenoms who barely show up on campus, the Pirates had four players develop into top flight college basketball talents and it was a wonderful thing to witness. Players the likes of Angel Delgado, Desi Rodriguez, Khadeen Carrington and Ish Sanogo were as old school as the script lettering on a throwback Seton Hall uniform and just as refreshing to see in person or on TV. The four players over the last four years gave Seton Hall a Big East Tournament Championship and three NCAA Tournament berths. They also were exemplary young men that represented the school and the Big East well and they all went on to play pro hoops after they graduated in the spring.
Now in 2018-19 it’s time for Seton Hall and Coach Kevin Willard to rebuild the program. The bar has been set higher by fans and alumni who have gotten used to Seton Hall’s name being in the mix on Selection Sunday. Now in his ninth year at the helm of the Seton Hall program, Willard admits that he wasn’t ready to take over a major program at age 35. The first years for the program under Willard were a roller-coaster with freakish injuries to key players, unexpected transfers and hard luck recruiting had the Seton Hall program on the rocks. With the successful recruitment of five star talent Isiah Whitehead and the four seniors that became the core of his program, Willard has righted the Pirate ship and NCAA Tournament appearances are now the standard in which all future Seton Hall teams will measure up. If this year’s team wants to make it back to the postseason, the fortunes for that goal are square on the back on junior guard Myles Powell.
If you want to look at a player dedicated to his craft, check out Powell’s Instagram page. While most of us have selfies or food pictures on our IG’s, Powell’s page more often than not is him shooting around in the practice gym. His work ethic was evident from the moment he stepped on campus and lost fifty pounds in order to get into game shape. He averaged 15.5 ppg. last season and was arguably the best offensive player on the floor for Seton Hall as a sophomore. With a new lineup in 2018, Powell doesn’t have the luxury of having a rebound machine like Delgado to gobble up rebounds. He knows that he will be a marked man in the film room of every opposing team this season. “Everyone knows I can shoot, I know a lot of teams will be keyed in on me.”, said Powell at Big East Media Day, “I’m going have to get my team more involved. I’m going to have to do other things to get open.”
If teams key in on Powell, it will be up to the supporting cast to step up when needed. One luxury the Pirates have this year is height. With Syracuse transfer Taureen Thompson (6’11”), Sandro Mamukelashvili (6’10”) and Michael Nzei (6’8″) anchoring the front line, Seton Hall will have the big bodies needed to compete in the Big East. Nzei looks to fill Sanogo’s old role with stopping the other team’s best player. “We definitely have to be a defensive team”, said Powell, “On the defensive end Mike (Nzei) runs the show. We have to get stops. It’s in Mike’s blood to get stops.”
The wildcard player this season is Myles Cale. The sophomore has a 43 inch vertical leap and showed flashes last year of becoming one of the more exciting players in the Big East. When I asked Powell, Cale and Nzei who’s the best dunker on the team, they all laughed and gave Cale the nod. “You guys will see a lot of big time dunks this year from Myles (Cale)”, said Powell. Cale knows that he’ll see much more significant minutes in 2018-19 and has worked on his conditioning in the off-season. “I gained a lot of muscle this summer.” said Cale, “Coach was on me, my teammates were on me. I have to get used to playing more minutes.”
Sacred Heart transfer Quincy McKnight will see significant minutes at point guard and Willard and his new teammates see McKnight as a key piece to the Pirates success this year. McKnight averaged 18.9 ppg. for Sacred Heart as a sophomore before sitting out last season.
Picked to finish 8th in the Big East preseason poll, this year’s Seton Hall team isn’t worried about prognostications. This year will be different no doubt and it’s going to take some getting used to not seeing Delgado getting his customary double-double or Desi slashing to the hoop and dunking. They are more than just a memory though. Rodriguez returned to campus this summer and worked out with the team a few days after he was cut by the Los Angeles Clippers. “I talk to them all the time.”, said Powell about last year’s seniors, “It’s all love. They know that they’re our big brothers. We’re trying to carry on what they left us.”
As much as the former Pirates players mentored Powell, what seems to have inspired him the most was seeing Delgado and Rodriguez in Clippers uniforms playing at the Staples Center. It showed him that his path to the NBA can be achieved on the practice courts in the Seton Hall gym. “It was surreal. Just to see our guys, our brothers that went through the same struggle, same everything, just to see them living their dream.”, said Powell about watching Delgado and Rodriguez in the NBA preseason, “When you love someone you’re just happy for them. When I saw them on the court happy, that was the best part.” It also gave Powell his mantra for the 2018-19 season that he repeated aloud about himself and his teammates. It reflects Powell’s confidence in his team and the legacy of the four seniors who mentored him and gave him a reason to dream big.
“If you keep believing in yourself it can definitely get done.”