by Josh Adams
STORRS, CT- The author Malcom Gladwell in his book “The Outliers” disects the 10,000 hour rule in which his hypothesis for success in any genre is that a person would have to practice for 10,000 hours in order to achieve his or her mastery of their field. Gladwell’s formula for success is summed up by his theory of, “Achievement is talent plus preperation”. That theory rang true for Seton Hall as Kevin Willard leaned on his seniors after a three game losing streak that put their postseason hopes in jeopardy. The seniors responded by stepping up their effort in practice that led to them sweeping a two game roadtrip in defeating both Providence and UConn and placing the Pirates right back into the NCAA Tournament discussion.
There was no uncertainty in practice this week on who was responsible for getting the Pirates back into the win column. Willard challenged his seniors Shavar Reynolds, Myles Cale and Sandro Mamukelashvili after the loss to Villanova last Saturday. He wanted them to play with an edge and to get angry on the upcoming two game road swing against the Friars and the Huskies. It was a kick in the butt that they needed. The practices got more intense. The seniors lived in the film room this week. They studied the opposition scouting report from Pirates assistant coach Grant Billmeier. They were dialed in when they took to the floor on Wednesday against Providence and allowed the fewest single game point total (43) in Seton Hall’s Big East history. The Friars potent offense was absolutely smothered by the Pirates. Today against UConn, it was Cale who established himself early in the offense by hitting two consecutive three pointers early in the first half. Mamukelashvili was a presence on both ends on the floor the entire game and Reynolds hit the game’s biggest bucket with a jumper with 41 seconds left to give the Pirates a six point lead.
There’s no question that the talent on Seton Hall’s roster is good enough to keep them in games against the toughest teams in the nation. What has set the Pirates apart in the past few years is the ability in the past few years to dial in down the stretch and finish the season strong. A January swoon is nothing new to a Willard lead team. When you play in a conference like the Big East there’s no real night off as each team brings a unique type of talent to the floor nightly. There are matchup nightmares that have a DePaul capable of knocking off Villanova on a random Wednesday in January. What Seton Hall has been able to do in the last couple of years is brush aside a losing streak and focus in when February hits.
This is by no means an aberraition. What the Pirates program has built is a model of consistency that starts at the top with Willard. As he has passed his “10,000 hours” of coaching, he has found his confidence in his ability to inspire and discipline his players. In the past seven years that I have covered his program, Willard’s style has changed. It used to be that players would enter his doghouse and never leave. There would be one game suspensions doled out for various infractions that would lead to fractured relationships between the team and the coach. Like a first time parent with a teenager, it was a process to figure out the right mix of discipline and encouragement. As Willard grew, he gave his players more trust and less discipline while looking for players he knew would buy into his development system. His staff led by Grant Billmeier could take raw talent and groom them into a professional basketball talent. A culture was established where the seniors would lead by example. There’s very little chest-thumping. When you would ask their All-American Myles Powell how he played in a game where he dominated he would give you a few modest quotes. When you would ask him about a teammate’s good game, he would give you multiple paragraphs on how happy he was for them. It’s this type of attitude that is contagious and gets passed down from seniors to freshmen.
In this era of “one and done” five star recruits playing for a year with a blue blood program and matriculating into the NBA, the Seton Hall program has become the type of throwback program that continues to succeed by player development. There’s a culture to in South Orange now. Ask any player after the past four years if they would play for any other program and the answer is almost always a no. The selling point for any recruit is growth as a player and as a person. It’s how Cale and Mamukelashvili are best friends even though Cale is from Delaware and Mamukelashvili is from the Republic of Georgia. It’s how Reynolds, a former walk-on player is now in the starting five. It revolves around Willard trusting himself, his staff and his players to make the right decisions and hold themselves accountable when things turn south. For Willard it was developing a consistant rapport that his players would respect. “I think I kind of understand where we are, I don’t lose it as much as I used to and I have a much better understanding of what we need to do.” Willard said Saturday about his teams responding in February. “I think that helps me try to get the team focused on what we need, so it’s one of those things that as I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized that you can’t lose sight of what we’ve worked on, where we’ve been and where we need to go.”
As Gladwell says in his book, the people that have natural talent aren’t predisposed to succeed. “The closer psychologists look at the careers of the gifted, the smaller the role innate talent seems to play and the bigger the role preparation seems to play.” Gladwell surmised. The 10,000 hours Willard, Cale, Mamukelashvili and Reynolds have spent in the practice gym and the film room gave them the four hours of superior play this week in it’s two road wins. It’s the kind of practice that was expected from Whitehead, Delgado, Carrington and Powell and continues on today. The talent, culture and discipline from the players and the coaching staff have homogenized into one of the better programs in the nation.