During the recruitment of guard Isaiah Whitehead much was made about the impact that his coach at Lincoln HS, Dwayne “Tiny” Morton, would have on the process. With Morton, who led Lincoln to eight PSAL titles and three New York state titles during his time at the Coney Island school, looking to make the move to the Division I level himself the general feeling was that the two would come as a tandem.
And once Whitehead committed to Seton Hall, it came as no surprise that Morton eventually wound up on Kevin Willard’s coaching staff. What does come as a surprise in all of this is that Morton has stepped down from his assistant coaching position after just one season, with Zach Braziller of the New York Post reporting the news Saturday night.
Sources said Morton expressed the desire to return to his old life a month ago in discussions with Willard, and the two spoke about it several times since. Morton worked well under Willard, sources said, but the grind of travel and constant drain of recruiting wore on him.
“It was definitely his choice,” a source said, referring to Morton.
Morton’s decision was one he made on his own according to the report, and it isn’t expected to have an impact on Whitehead’s status as he prepares for his sophomore campaign.
The 2014-15 season, which got off to a great start, turned out to be a tumultuous one for Seton Hall. Internal strife played a major role in the Pirates going from a team that was ranked in the Top 25 to not even playing in a postseason tournament. Willard also lost guard Jaren Sina midyear, as Sina decided to leave the program and ultimately transfer to George Washington, and fellow guard Sterling Gibbs joined the UConn program this summer as a grad student for his final season of eligibility.
With those struggles, and the fact that Willard has yet to lead the Pirates to the NCAA tournament since taking over in 2010, the 2015-16 season is a big one for Seton Hall. The next question is who fills Morton’s spot on the staff, with multiple outlets reporting that former Seton Hall center (and current Fairleigh Dickinson assistant) Grant Billmeier is the favorite to do so.
Looking Forward: Seven coaches who’ll enter 2015-16 on the ‘hot seat’
With the early entry process over and with just about every elite recruit having picked a school, we now have a pretty good idea of what college basketball will look like in 2015-16. Over the next three weeks, we’ll be taking an early look at next season.
Today, we’re Looking Forward at some coaches who are on the proverbial hot seat:
Tom Crean, Indiana: Without much in the way of front court depth the Hoosiers won 20 games and reached the NCAA tournament in 2014-15, but even that isn’t enough for a fan base accustomed to seeing high-level basketball. That’s what makes the 2015-16 season such an important one for Crean, $7.5 million buyout (come July 1) or not. Guards Yogi Ferrell and James Blackmon Jr. both decided to return to school, and five-star big man Thomas Bryant will be joining the program as well. The pieces are there for Indiana to make some noise nationally, and Crean needs to take advantage.
Brian Gregory, Georgia Tech: With one above-.500 season in four years in Atlanta (16-15 in 2012-13), the 2015-16 season is an important one for Gregory. The Yellow Jackets went 12-19 last season, and their interior depth took a hit with Demarco Cox and Robert Sampson running out of eligibility. But Charles Mitchell returns and Alabama transfer Nick Jacobs will be eligible, and on the perimeter players such as Marcus Georges-Hunt and Tadric Jackson are back as well. In short, Georgia Tech needs to make some serious progress in the win column and that won’t be easy to do in the ACC.
John Groce, Illinois: The Fighting Illini have missed the NCAA tournament in each of the last two seasons, the first time that’s happened since 1991 and 1992. Rayvonte Rice and Nnanna Egwu may be gone, but junior guards Malcolm Hill, Kendrick Nunn and Jaylon Tate all return to Champaign as will Tracy Abrams (torn ACL in 2014-15). Illinois also adds four freshmen, led by guard Jalen Coleman-Lands, and even with questions to be answered in the front court getting back to the tournament is something that needs to happen.
Barry Hinson, Southern Illinois: At the end of last season SIU lost five players to transfer, with three of those players deciding to leave after their freshman year. Add in two 14-win seasons followed by a 9-22 campaign in 2014-15, and the 2015-16 season becomes a very important one for Hinson. Leading scorer Anthony Beane returns for his senior season, but outside of him there are a lot of personnel questions to be answered in Carbondale. That could make it tough for the Salukis to take a step forward in the Missouri Valley.
Dave Rice, UNLV: Rice and his staff have made significant strides on the recruiting trail during his tenure, but that hasn’t led to great results both within the Mountain West and nationally. Since Rice took over his alma mater UNLV’s finished no higher than third in the Mountain West, and after reaching the NCAA tournament in each of his first two seasons (losing their opener in both) the Runnin’ Rebels missed out on the Big Dance in 2014 and 2015. With one of the nation’s top recruiting classes led by Stephen Zimmerman arriving on campus, UNLV will once again be expected to be a player within the conference and nationally.
Lorenzo Romar, Washington: Romar and his staff have managed to put together a seven-member recruiting class ranked tenth nationally by Rivals.com. And it’s a good thing they did, as the Huskies lost a number of players either to graduation or transfer, with point guard Nigel Williams-Goss ultimately landing at Gonzaga. That leaves rising senior guard Andrew Andrews as the most experienced player for a program that hasn’t reached the NCAA tournament since 2011. Young roster or not, especially in a Pac-12 that will be improved, that drought can’t get to the fifth straight season.
Kevin Willard, Seton Hall: Last season got off to such a positive start for the Pirates, spending three straight weeks in the national polls in the middle of the season. Then, the roof caved in. Injuries and chemistry issues led to the Pirates losing nine of eleven games, going from a team that appeared to be headed to the NCAA tournament to one that didn’t play in any postseason tournament. Add in the midseason departure of Jaren Sina and Sterling Gibbs’ decision to transfer, and Willard’s Pirates have some holes to fill on the perimeter. Willard will need his sophomore class led by Isaiah Whitehead and Angel Delgado to produce in a big way in 2015-16.
Seton Hall guard Isaiah Whithead could return by the end of January
On Thursday afternoon, the Big East held a conference call with the 10 head coaches. During Kevin Willard’s turn, he updated the status of Seton Hall guard Isaiah Whitehead.
The 6-foot-4 Whitehead has been out since Dec. 24, missing the last six games for the Pirates. Willard said his heralded freshmen guard could be available for Seton Hall’s game against Marquette Jan. 28.
“We probably won’t take another picture [MRI] until after the DePaul game [on Jan. 22],” Willard said.
“We are glad that we caught this injury early,” Willard said at the time of the injury. “We have outstanding doctors who will monitor Isaiah’s progress, and we look forward to having a healthy Isaiah back on the court as soon as possible.”
Despite missing their second-leading scorer over the last six games, the Pirates are 4-2 — 3-2 to start Big East play — racking up back-to-back wins against then-No. 15 St. John’s and No. 6 Villanova to begin league play.
If Jan. 28 at Marquette is indeed Whitehead’s return, the Pirates will play two more contests without the Brooklyn native against DePaul and on the road against Butler.