Family Business: Seton Hall’s senior class has a special bond that was not likely three years ago

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NEWARK — It wasn’t about basketball.

Not entirely, anyway.

Seton Hall is not all that deep, but if there is a spot that the Pirates can afford to go down a man, it’s at the four spot. Ishmael Sanogo may be the team’s best defender and the man that head coach Kevin Willard prefers, but Michael Nzei proved on Thursday night, as the No. 23 Pirates came from 11 points down to beat No. 25 Creighton at the Prudential Center, that he can more than fill that role. In 26 minutes, he finished with seven points, 14 boards, two assists, two steals and a block.

Seton Hall is better with Ish, but they can still accomplish what they’ve spent the last three and a half years building towards without him.

That’s not why they did this. That’s not why the other three seniors on this roster – Khadeen Carrington, Desi Rodriguez and Angel Delgado – sat down with Willard to talk him into letting Sanogo finish the season as a member of the team.

“You don’t want to see your brother throw his life down the drain,” Carrington told NBC Sports.

Sanogo was suspended by Willard prior to last Friday’s game against Manhattan. It was the second time that he’s been suspended this season, missing out on an exhibition game in November. The program never officially set a timeline for the suspension or detailed specifically what Sanogo did – the New York Post reported that it was the result of a series of “really bad judgements” – but Carrington believed there was a real chance this could be it, that Sanogo’s time as a Pirate had come to an end.

So after the win over Manhattan, the seniors talked. They decided to sit down with Willard, who then called a meeting with the entire team. They were on board, so Willard and his locker room’s three leaders sat down with Sanogo and his parents.

“We had a conversation with Ish,” Carrington said, “and we told him that all the extra stuff needs to stop.”

On the 26th, Willard allowed the team to make a “family decision.”

Sanogo was back.


Angel Delgado (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Back in 2010, the NCAA made a rule change that forever changed the trajectory of package deals.

For years, college programs had been able to hire someone close to a prospect into an administrative role within their program in an effort to land a recruit. It dates all the way back to Danny Manning, whose father was hired by Larry Brown at Kansas before Danny and the Miracles led the Jayhawks to a national title. John Calipari hired DaJuan Wagner’s father, Milt, at Memphis. He also hired Tyreke Evans’ trainer, Lamont Peterson, as an administrative assistant. Baylor hired John Wall’s AAU coach Dwon Clifton during their recruitment of the star point guard.

Everyone did it.

The change, however, was significant: In order to hire a person associated with a prospect, that new hire must be one of the three officially titled assistant coaches on the staff. Otherwise, no recruits associated with that coach would be allowed to enroll at the school for two years. Head coaches could no longer scrounge up $50,000 in salary and invent a new title and no-show job to funnel money to someone close to a prospect unless they were willing to burn one of their three assistant coaching positions – the three men they rely on to recruit, to scout, to game-plan, to keep the young men on their roster in line – to get that player.

And rest assured, it still happened.

It was and is not, however, always a successful strategy.

Where should I start?

Josh Pastner hired Keelon Lawson in order to get all four Lawson brothers to Memphis, but after one season with Dedric and K.J. on his roster, Pastner was fired. Tubby Smith was hired in his place, and within a year the relationship between the coach and the family was so frayed that the Lawsons left town in explicit fashion.

Johnny Jones hired Ben Simmons’ godfather, David Patrick, and Simmons spent six months barely feigning interest in being a college basketball player. Billy Kennedy hired John Reese to get J-Mychal Reese, a top 50 prospect, but the duo both bounced midway through their second season with the program. Rick Stansbury hired Mitchell Robinson’s godfather, Shammond Williams, to land a commitment from the top 10 prospect and that ended up in disaster; Robinson is sitting out this season and training for the NBA Draft instead of playing college ball. DePaul hired La Lumiere head coach Shane Heirman to get five-star point guard Tyger Campbell and that commitment lasted all of three months.

Then there are the Porters. Both Lorenzo Romar and Cuonzo Martin have hired Michael Porter Sr., the father of Michael Jr. and Jontay, to land the duo. Romar was fired by Washington before the brothers made it to campus, and while Martin may have had success with Michael Jr. at Missouri, we probably will never know; Porter had surgery on his back after playing just two minutes this season.

Which brings me to Kevin Willard.

In 2013, Willard hired Oliver Antigua, who had coached Delgado on the Dominican National Team and helped orchestrate his arrival in the United States, before Delgado committed. Antigua would eventually leave to join his brother’s staff at South Florida before Delgado arrived on campus, which opened up another spot on Willard’s staff. That went to Dwayne ‘Tiny’ Morton, then the head coach of the famed Lincoln HS in Brooklyn, a hire that solidified the commitment of McDonald’s All-American Isaiah Whitehead. Eventually, Whitehead’s teammate, Rodriguez, would follow suit.

Willard also hired then-Northwestern assistant Fred Hill, and that same day former Northwestern-commit Jaren Sina pledged to the Pirates.

That completed a class that also included Brooklyn native Carrington, Newark native and Nzei.

In the years since, that group has turned into Seton Hall’s version of the Fab Five, a group of local kids rebuilding a once-proud local program.

But it didn’t start out that way.

Seton Hall won their first 12 games, but the season quickly devolved. Sina transferred out midseason. Seniors spoke on the record about how “everyone’s not focused on winning.”

“We took an ass kicking our freshmen year,” Carrington said. The Pirates would lose 15 of their final 19 games and Willard was forced to negotiate a deal to keep his job: He gets one more year, and if that promising crop of freshmen didn’t pan out, he would resign. “I definitely remember those hot seat talks, saying coach might get fired. Our freshman year was so bad my family asked me if I wanted to transfer. I said no. I felt like we had enough players. We had enough confidence in ourselves to do something special.”

Seton Hall won the Big East tournament the following season, earning the program’s first trip to the NCAA tournament in a decade.

They returned the following year.

And in the final year with that core together, the Pirates have their best team to date.

“I’m ready for those guys to graduate,” Creighton head coach Greg McDermott said with a laugh on Thursday night. “I might come to their graduation and congratulate them.”


Myles Powell (Abbie Parr/Getty Images)

The most difficult thing – and arguably the most important thing – for a college basketball program that is not a one-and-done factory to do is to get old while keeping talent on the roster. Kids don’t want to wait to get playing time. They don’t want to sacrifice their shots and their stats for an extra year when a star opts to return to school. Hell, they don’t want to be in school when they could be making six or seven figures playing professionally.

The fantasy of college basketball as anything other than a billion-dollar business has passed, but the beauty of what has grown in Seton Hall’s basketball program is a throwback to a bygone era. This roster, this senior class, is essentially made up of local kids, guys that have known each other for years, guys that have developed a bond that goes far beyond basketball.

Delgado had a chance to go to the NBA after last season. He returned to school. “The decision was easy,” he told NBC Sports in October, “and I’m excited to be back with these guys.”

“We brothers,” he added on Thursday. “Not only when we’re in school, but we’re going to be brothers when we leave here,” and that sounds like lip service, the kind of thing that a program coaches its players to say. But with Seton Hall, the proof is in the pudding.

Take Carrington, for example. He’s playing a new position this season and the transition has not been smooth. His scoring is way down. His efficiency is way down. He’s not shooting the ball well. And he doesn’t care, not when his team is still winning games. Delgado is the same way. He’s been doubled every time he’s touched the ball. He’s not posting the same stat lines he did when he was the best big man in the Big East a season ago, but his smile has been as big and as infectious as ever.

No one has batted an eye as sophomore Myles Powell has become the team’s second-leading scorer, or as Desi Rodriguez has usurped the title of Seton Hall’s All-American Candidate.

Which brings me to Thursday night.

All the writing was all the wall. All the narratives were lined up. It was the perfect storm. Seton Hall was just two weeks removed from a loss to in-state rival Rutgers. One player, Jordan Walker, had reportedly quit the team over a play time beef before returning a few days later while a second player, Sanogo, was suspended. Then there was the game against Manhattan, where Powell was ejected as the two teams had a pre-halftime scuffle. At halftime of their Big East home opener, a game they had to win if the pipe dream of a Big East regular season title had any chance of becoming a reality, Seton Hall had foregone playing any defense in the first half, trailing No. 25 Creighton 53-42 at the break.

They rallied and won despite having to play the final three minutes without Delgado, who had fouled out of the game.

In the locker room, after the win, when Nzei spotted Delgado, he said, “I got you! I got 14 rebounds!”

Delgado’s response?

“I freaking love you, man. You don’t even know how much.”


Desi Rodriguez (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Just how long Sanogo remains a member of the Seton Hall program is up to him at the end of the day.

His brothers want him there, even with all the extras. Willard wants to win, and Sanogo gives him the best chance to do that. This group is good enough to do things Seton Hall hasn’t done since the days of P.J. Carlesimo, and the players he entered with did not want to experience that without him.

But the reason he’s still wearing that Seton Hall jersey on gamedays goes beyond basketball.

“If we win the Big East or the national championship, seeing him there will make me a really happy person,” Delgado said. “But I want Ish to graduate. I want Ish to walk across that stage with us.”

“I would want somebody to do it for me,” Carrington added. “That’s what family does.”

Colorado State sorry for ‘Russia’ chant at Ukrainian player

Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports
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FORT COLLINS, Colo. – Colorado State has apologized for a group of fans who chanted “Russia” at a player on an opposing team who is from Ukraine during Saturday’s game.

Utah State’s Max Shulga is from Kyiv and was shooting free throws when TV cameras picked up the chant from the student section during the game in Fort Collins, Colorado.

Russia invaded Ukraine nearly a year ago.

“On behalf of Colorado State, we apologize to the student-athlete and Utah State. This is a violation of our steadfast belief in the Mountain West Sportsmanship Policy and University Principles of Community,” Colorado State said in a statement.

“Every participant, student, and fan should feel welcomed in our venues, and for something like this to have occurred is unacceptable at Colorado State.”

Utah State beat CSU 88-79.

Duke edges North Carolina 63-57 behind Roach, Lively

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DURHAM, N.C. — Jeremy Roach scored 20 points, Dereck Lively II had career highs of eight blocks and 14 rebounds and Duke defeated North Carolina 63-57.

Kyle Filipowski added 14 points and Tyrese Proctor 11 for the Blue Devils (17-6, 8-4 ACC), who won their third straight and beat the Tar Heels (15-8, 7-5) for the first time in three meetings, including in last year’s Final Four in the NCAA Tournament.

North Carolina’s Armando Bacot had 14 points and 10 rebounds for his 63rd career double-double, extending his own program record, Leaky Black had 13 points and 10 rebounds, Caleb Love added 12 points and RJ Davis 11.

Roach scored eight of Duke’s final 10 points, including the last four after Lively’s tiebreaking dunk with 1:35 to go. North Carolina missed its last five shots, including a trio of 3-point tries in the final minute.

The Blue Devils’ six-point winning margin matched their largest lead.

Neither team reached 40% shooting but Duke outscored North Carolina 20-2 off fast breaks and was 11 of 15 at the free-throw line to only 2 of 3 for the Tar Heels.

The stat sheet was fairly even at halftime when Duke led 33-32 except for one telling stat, a 16-0 advantage for the Blue Devils on fast-break points as they scored repeatedly off transition.

A 14-5 run erased a seven-point North Carolina lead — the Tar Heels’ largest — and put Duke in front 26-24 with just under four minutes left in the half. A Proctor 3-pointer broke the fourth tie before Bacot cut it to the one-point margin at the break. Bacot had 12 points in the first half. Roach had 10.

The game matched two men who played in this rivalry and are now leading the programs they played for: first-year Duke coach Jon Scheyer and Hubert Davis, in his second year for North Carolina.

The teams will meet again in their regular-season finale at Chapel Hill on March 4. Duke plays at No. 23 Miami on Monday. North Carolina is at Wake Forest on Tuesday.

No. 13 Iowa State rolls past eighth-ranked Kansas 68-53

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AMES, Iowa – Jaren Holmes scored all 15 of his points in the second half as No. 13 Iowa State rolled past No. 8 Kansas 68-53 on Saturday.

Osun Osunniyi added 13 for the Cyclones (16-6, 7-3 Big 12), who stayed within at least a game of front-running Texas in the conference standings. Tamin Lipsey added eight rebounds and 10 assists.

“Today, we came out and played desperate,” Holmes said.

Jalen Wilson led the Jayhawks (18-5, 6-4) with 26 points for his sixth straight game with at least 20. No other Kansas player had more than 8 points.

“It’s not a formula for success for us,” Jayhawks coach Bill Self said. “We need balance from our starting five. If one guy feels like he’s got to go do it all on his own, it crashes the offense.”

The Cyclones led for all but 1:14 of the game, building a 34-16 scoring edge in the paint. Kansas struggled early, making just two of their first 10 shots and committing 11 turnovers in the first 20 minutes.

Iowa State shot 46% for the game.

“From the beginning, we gave them some easy buckets,” Wilson said. “That’s something we’ve struggled with (defensively) … the easiest way to get comfortable is easy buckets, layups, stuff like that.”

Iowa State was up 33-21 at the break.

Holmes missed all four shots in the first half, but after getting sick at halftime, he helped the Cyclones stretched the lead to 42-31 early in the second half with a 3-pointer and layup.

“I felt a little nauseous the whole day,” he said. “I’ve been dealing with some sickness over the past week and a half.”

BIG PICTURE

Kansas: The Jayhawks dropped to 3-4 during a stretch in which six of its seven opponents were ranked. The lone unranked foe was Kentucky. … Kansas committed a season-high 20 turnovers Saturday. … The loss to Iowa State was Self’s first in five meetings with second-year Iowa State coach T.J. Otzelberger.

Iowa State: Improved to 12-0 at home this season and 5-0 in the Big 12. It was also the Cyclones’ fifth win over a top-10 opponent in the past two seasons.

UP NEXT

Kansas: Hosts No. 10 Texas on Monday.

Iowa State: Travels to West Virginia on Wednesday.

Bishop helps No. 10 Texas rally past No. 7 Kansas State, 69-66

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MANHATTAN, Kan. – Christian Bishop was as frustrated as anyone in a Texas jersey in the first half Saturday. He’d been held without a point by Kansas State and, not surprisingly, the No. 10 Longhorns were facing a double-digit deficit on the road.

Maybe that’s why he punctuated every bucket in the second half with a fist pump.

Bishop poured in 14 points after the break to lead the Longhorns’ comeback, including the go-ahead lay-in with 37 seconds to go, and the new Big 12 leaders held on for a 69-66 victory over the No. 7 Wildcats on Saturday.

“Christian’s been working really hard over the last couple of games to get him back to the level he was playing four or five games ago,” interim Texas coach Rodney Terry said. “He really came out and rebounded and gave our team an incredible lift the way he played the second half.”

Red-hot guard Sir’Jabari Rice also had 14 points and 10 rebounds for the Longhorns, and it was his two free throws with nine seconds left that forced the Wildcats into needing a 3-pointer to send the game to overtime.

After a quick timeout, the Wildcats’ Ismael Massoud got an open look from the wing but came up well short of the basket, allowing the Longhorns to hold on for their fifth win over a Top 25 team this season.

Tyrese Hunter and Marcus Carr added 10 points apiece for Texas (19-4, 8-2), which took over sole possession of first place in the rough-and-tumble Big 12 by avenging its overtime loss to the Wildcats (18-5, 6-4) early last month.

“Our league, we don’t have any bad teams,” Terry said. “To come in on a home court against a top-10 team and have this kind of performance, I’ll stack it up with one of the best wins I’ve been part of in 30 years of coaching.”

Keyontae Johnson struggled through foul trouble but still had 16 points to lead the Wildcats, who have lost back-to-back games for the first time this season. Desi Sills scored 11 points and Markquis Nowell had 10, but he also had six turnovers, including one with less than a minute to go and Kansas State down by one.

“I don’t want to wash this one. I want to live with this one for 36 hours,” Wildcats coach Jerome Tang said. “Everybody in our arena did our job except the coaches and players on the floor.”

Kansas State and Texas played one of the most entertaining games of the season in Austin, when they went bucket-for-bucket through regulation and into overtime. The Wildcats eventually escaped with a 116-103 victory.

Early on Saturday, Texas looked as if it would struggle to score half as much.

With the Wildcats clamping down on the perimeter, the Longhorns kept throwing the ball away, and at one point had seven turnovers against just five made shots. They also went a stretch of more than 7 minutes with just one field goal.

Kansas State took advantage of their offensive malaise.

Despite the sure-handed Nowell’s turnover trouble, and leading scorer Johnson picking up his third foul with 5 1/2 minutes left in the half, the Wildcats steadily built a lead. It reached as many as 14 before Texas made three free throws in the final second to get within 36-25 heading to the locker room.

It was the spark the Longhorns needed: They made their first six shots of the second half, and their run spanning the break eventually reached 17-4 while getting them within 40-39 with 15 minutes left in the game.

“There were points in the second half we did get rushed,” Nowell said, “and it led to turnovers and fast-break points.”

Rice’s 3-pointer a few minutes later gave Texas its first lead since the opening minutes. And when the Wildcats went on a nearly 5-minute scoring drought, Bishop began to assert control, the Creighton transfer scoring 11 points over a 6-minute stretch and punctuating each of them with a roar and a fist pump.

Just like their first meeting Jan. 3, though, the rematch Saturday was destined to go down to the wire.

“There’s no blowouts in our league,” Tang said.

BIG PICTURE

Texas could do nothing right in the first half and nothing wrong in the second, shooting 57% from the floor over the final 20 minutes. Most of the success came in the paint; the Longhorns were just 4 of 16 from the 3-point arc.

Kansas State couldn’t overcome 19 turnovers, including six by Nowell, who had 36 points, nine assists and eight rebounds when the teams met in Austin. He had just six rebounds and three assists on Saturday.

UP NEXT

Texas heads down Interstate 70 to face eighth-ranked Kansas on Monday night.

Kansas State wraps its homestand against No. 15 TCU on Tuesday night.

James leads No. 2 Tennessee over No. 25 Auburn, 46-43

Caitie McMekin/News Sentinel / USA TODAY NETWORK
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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – Josiah-Jordan James scored 15 points and 14 rebounds to lead No. 2 Tennessee to a 46-43 victory over No. 25 Auburn on Saturday in a game in which every point was difficult and nothing flowed.

“Both teams played as hard as they could,” said Tennessee coach Rick Barnes. “Every possession was a grind.”

The Volunteers (19-4, 8-2 Southeastern Conference) shot just 27% from the field and 9.5% from the 3-point line. They were recovering from a Wednesday loss to Florida in which they shot 28%.

Tennessee had a 47-42 edge on the boards and 15-8 on the offensive glass.

“A game like this shows a lot of character,” said James. “I knew coming in (rebounding) was what I’d be called to do. I had to use the body God’s given me.”

“Both teams did a fantastic job,” said Auburn coach Bruce Pearl. “To hold Tennessee to 27% … It doesn’t get any better than that.”

“I don’t think there’s a more physical league in the country,” said Barnes.

The Tigers (17-6, 7-3) were led by Johni Broome with 11 points and nine rebounds and K.D. Johnson off the bench with 10 points. Auburn managed only 24% from the field and 11% from the 3-point line.

Jaylin Williams made two free throws with 2:47 to play cut Tennessee’s lead to 40-38. Santiago Vescovi hit his first 3-pointer of the game and got a four-point play out of it for a 44-38 lead. A 3-pointer by Wendell Green Jr. cut the advantage to 44-41 with 30 seconds left.

A turnover on the inbounds play gave Auburn the ball with 23 seconds to play. Broome got a tip-in to make it a one-point game, and Zakai Zeigler made two free throws.

Green’s last-second 3-point to tie clanked out.

“At the end, Wendell Green got the shot off and got fouled,” said Pearl. “Nothing got called.”

Auburn scored eight straight points to start the game. Tennessee followed with a six-point run and an eight-point spurt early in the second half. Those were the longest runs of the game.

POLL IMPLICATIONS

Tennessee was in the No. 2 spot in the poll for two days before falling at Florida. Under Barnes, the Vols now have 25 wins over teams ranked in the Top 25. . Auburn had been clinging to the elite at No. 25 this week. The Tigers have been ranked as high as No. 11, coming in the fifth week of the season.

STAT SNACKS

Since statistics started being kept in 1999-2000, Tennessee is on pace to be the all-time leader in field-goal percentage defense (.348; Stanford, 1999-2000, is second .352) and 3-point defense (.225; Norfolk State, 2004-05, is second .253). . Through 22 games, the similarities between last year’s Vols point guard Kennedy Chandler (now with the Memphis Grizzlies) and this year’s Ziegler are striking (points per game: Chandler 13.5, Ziegler 11.4; rebounds: 3.0, 3.0; assists: 4.95, 5.05).

UP NEXT

Auburn: The Tigers will host Texas A&M on Tuesday night.

Tennessee: The Vols will tackle in-state rival Vanderbilt in Nashville on Wednesday.