Adam Zagoria transcript (Interview on Pirate Primetime, 11/9/08)
Regarding the team’s performance against Molloy College:
Well, they looked good. They were playing a Division II opponent with no one taller than 6’7. So, it’s not like they’re playing Louisville or Pitt in the middle of Big East season. But I think they had to come out of there feeling good about themselves. Obviously, Jordan Theodore and Brandon Walters…I feel they were the bright spots of the night. Brandon, I feel, was probably motivated by some of the comments Coach Gonzalez made at media day. And I think Jordan Theodore, a kid I got to follow at Paterson Catholic, played very well in pushing the tempo.
Is Mike Davis overrated?
Well, I think it’s too early to tell just after one preseason game. I think we need to revisit that five, eight, or ten games into the season. I will say he definitely looks physically a lot better than he did last year. His body looks better. But this team needs a power forward. They desperately tried to get Herb Pope eligible and they’re going to need a lot of contributions from John Garcia and Mike Davis down low, rebounding and blocking shots – doing the dirty work that every team needs. And I think Coach is hopeful that Brandon Walters can contribute and play that role a little bit. And they’re going to need (Robert) “Stix” Mitchell to do some of those things too. He can’t just hang by the perimeter and shoot three’s all day.
On Davis fouling out versus the Lions:
Again, it’s one game. It’s not a big sample. But, sure, it’s not good. He didn’t play like John Garcia. And Coach did mention Mike fouling out after the game, so I’m sure he is probably a bit concerned.
On the play of Jordan Theodore:
There’s no question that having Jordan Theodore on the team will help them. He’s a tremendously competitive kid. He wants to win. He won a county championship with Patterson Catholic last year. He spent last summer (summer of ’07) at the Steve Nash Academy and the LeBron James academy. And I watched him go up to those guys (Nash and James) and ask them questions, (such as) how to become a better leader. This is a kid who wants to develop himself and become the best player he can be. And he’s very excited to be at Seton Hall. Combine that with the performance on Friday night, it’s nothing but a plus for Seton Hall. And he had a few turnovers, but was the first to go to the media and say “I can’t have two turnovers.” Obviously, with him there, Eugene doesn’t have to play the whole game at the point. He can breathe for a few minutes or play the two.
Recruiting news about Dominic Cheek, and where the local schools stand:
With Cheek, it was a rough week for Seton Hall, with St. Anthony’s announcing he is no longer considering Seton Hall plus he’s taking a visit to Rutgers. I know there’s a lot of rivalry and intensity between the two schools, especially on the message boards. I know also that Coach Gonzalez felt he had a pretty good chance at Cheek. You got to give him credit for going after players like that. But for all three of these teams (Rutgers, Seton Hall, and St. John’s), you have to be able to recruit well in this area. There are a ton of talented high school teams in New York and New Jersey, and you have to get players out of these schools. Seton Hall has been able to do that to some extent, with Theodore from Patterson Catholic and “Nu-Nu” (Eugene Harvey) from St. Benedict’s. So I think they need to continue to do that. Rutgers has shown an ability to do that with Mike Rosario and Greg Echenique. If you’re these three schools, you just can’t sit here and let Louisville, UConn, and West Virginia continue to come in here and raid these players.
Out of the three local schools, who is currently ahead?
I think, to be frank, you have to give Rutgers the edge. Seton Hall doesn’t have any players committed for ’09. That’s a concern. I believe they’re the only team in the Big East with no commits for ’09. Rutgers has two more coming in for ’09. St. John’s has two coming in for ’09. And I think St. John’s has a shot for Lance Stephenson. Coach Gonzalez has said he has a different strategy for recruiting. He wants to go after transfers, JUCO’s, foreign players – because that’s who he believes can immediately turn around the team. And he’s gotten some good transfers, (in) Herb Pope and Keon Lawrence. But you have to have a relationship with the local high school coaches and players.
On Melvyn Oliver and the attempt to get him cleared:
I honestly couldn’t tell you about Melvyn Oliver. I know they’re hopeful, and that by all indications he’s done well (academically) in school (at Seton Hall). I honestly don’t have a feeling one way or the other. It would be a big help if they could get him, because to go through a full season with eight guys is going to be tough. In a best case scenario, everyone stays healthy and one of the walk-ons is able to contribute a little bit, and the team bonds together with eight guys – maybe that’s a positive. But, worse case scenario, one or two guys gets hurt, like what happened with Paul Gause last year… guys are going to get hurt. And you can’t play a Big East season with six or seven guys. I think they really need Melvyn Oliver and no one to get hurt.
Regarding the walk-ons:
The only thing I know is what Coach Gonzalez told us after the game Friday is that they’re going to take four guys, one of whom is Matt Cajuste. He’s 6’7, went to Jericho High School in Long Island, has experience playing. I’m not sure if he chose not to play in college or just didn’t get the offer he wanted, but it should be an interesting story going forward. But, I know Coach Gonzalez is high on him. Again, in a best case scenario, he comes out and is able to practice, work out Garcia and the big guys in practice, and may become a “Rudy” type situation, as someone mentioned on the message boards. Maybe he goes in and hits a big shot. I don’t know who the other three guys are, and Coach said he’s going to rotate how many of them travel for various games.
On why Seton Hall was placed 15th in the Zagsblog Big East Preseason Poll:
The main element of putting them (15th in the Big East) is that they have eight guys. Again, I think for all three local schools – they’re in an absolutely loaded conference with perhaps nine or ten teams going to the (NCAA) Tournament. I don’t see any of the local teams cracking the upper eight-nine-ten, which leaves them to fill out the 11-16 spots. And if you talk to the coaches, they will tell you that the first goal over the next two years is to get to the 8-10 spot, where Providence is and West Virginia is. And once you get there, you can think about potentially getting in the top eight. Look, I hope Seton Hall does well. I wish them the best. But I think it’s going to be tough with eight guys. They need a lot of things to go right. They need no one to get hurt, to rebound the basketball, and it would help to get Melvyn Oliver eligible and possibly even Keon in the second half.
Is the Big East the best conference in the nation?
I don’t think there’s any doubt. I wrote several preview stories and talked to many coaches and analysts, and it’s the best league in the country. I think you have eight automatic NCAA teams and possibly 10. There’s no real night off. Maybe South Florida is a night off, but who knows. Even the 12-15 teams are going to be tough. It’s just a brutal league. The key that everyone talks about is that there are a lot of returning players with experience. UConn is loaded. Pitt is loaded. Louisville is loaded. It’s going to be very tough for the local teams.
Who is the best in the Big East?
I think that Connecticut on paper has the potential to be the best team. As Coach Gonzalez mentioned at media day, they essentially have an NBA front line with Hasheem Thabeet, who is 7’3…he alters the game and prevents you from driving into the lane because he’s going to block shots…and they have Jeff Adrien, who’s 6’7. And they’re going to get back Stanley Robinson. They have four big guys. Plus they have experienced guards in A.J. Price and Jerome Dyson. And by all accounts, Kemba Walker is a star on the rise from Rice High School in Manhattan. So, I think if they stay healthy, they have a shot to go as far as possible. Then I think Pitt and Louisville have brought back a lot, and added some good pieces…they are going to be tough to beat. I’d guess I would say UConn is my favorite to win the league and the tournament, but it wouldn’t shock me if Pitt, Louisville, or even Notre Dame went on a run at Madison Square Garden.
On whether or not Robert Mitchell can be “the scorer” for Seton Hall:
I think that’s a terrific question. And, to some extent, Seton Hall’s season will be determined five months from now by how much he can score. He and Hazell will be asked to do a bulk of the scoring, supported by Nu-Nu and a few other guys. And Coach is on record as saying Stix Mitchell is going to come in and get Brian Laing’s points back plus a few more. So, that’s asking a lot for a kid who has never played a Big East game…coming in from Duquesne and play the four, which isn’t his natural position, and score 16-18-20 points a night. Does he have the potential to do it? It looks like he does. But he’s playing in the toughest league in the country. He can’t just sit on the perimeter and look for jump shots. He’s going to have to bang and rebound… unless they’re going to get outrebounded by the front lines of Connecticut, Pitt, and Louisville. It will be interesting to see.
Will Mitchell take away shot attempts and maybe points from Jeremy Hazell?
I don’t know about that. I think you can never have enough guys who can score the basketball. And I haven’t seen them play enough games together. That’s a tough question to ask since they haven’t played a single regular season game together. We’ll have to see them play a few regular season games together first. But I definitely think they have guys who can score. Stix, Hazell, Nu-Nu, and I think Jordan can score a little bit. John Garcia can give you 8 or 10 points a game. Their problem is going to be more so defensively like it was last year. Can they contain other teams from scoring in transition? Can they rebound and play hard under the basket? And that was a major problem most of last year, that they weren’t playing effective defense. Now, I know Coach has a number of strategies for that, such as pushing the tempo. But the best teams in the league in any sport are the ones that play tremendous defense. That’s what this team has to do to move up, I think.
On this team having chemistry:
From the little I’ve seen, they do have a lot of chemistry. They spend a lot of time together. I know Jordan and Eugene are roommates. Theoretically, Jordan can challenge Eugene for the (point guard) spot simply because they play the same position, but they seem to get along. I think that because they only have eight guys, they realize they all need to bond and contribute to have any success. I think John Garcia is always the quiet, stoic leader. But I also think Jordan and Nu-Nu have to be the leaders, because they are the point guards. Jordan can really inject some energy into this team. He’s the only true freshman and the only eligible recruit thus far. From everything I know about that kid, he wants to win. So, I think that can be a positive impact.
Regarding what it is like to be a reporter around Bobby Gonzalez:
He’s a great guy to interview if you’re a reporter, because he tells you what is on his mind. He gives you a lot of great quotes. Sometimes, they are a bit controversial. But he doesn’t back off of them. He definitely made some comments last year about landing a player they weren’t supposed to get, then being accused of cheating, and the comments about Brandon this year. As a reporter, he fills up your notebook. He’s very engaging with reporters, and has always been good to me. But he’s clearly a controversial personality. And he’s going to have to produce some results here at Seton Hall in the next couple of years. As are Norm Roberts at St. John’s and Freddy (Fred Hill at Rutgers)…well, Freddy has the extension, but all these guys need to prove that they can win.
On Seton Hall in the recruiting scene:
This is the one area where, quite frankly, I would be a bit concerned. I am not aware of them going to sign anyone. Signing day starts Wednesday, November 12th to the 19th. I not aware that they are going to get any players during that period. And again, they would be the only Big East team without an ’09 commit at that point. They had some high hopes for a couple of kids, including Arsalan Kazemi. He came for an official visit recently and I know Coach Gonzalez and (Assistant) Coach (Dermon) Player had high hopes that he would commit. He committed to Rice, and I think that was a bit of a blow for them. They’re involved with this kid Jarrid Famous, who’s a seven footer from Westchester Community College, who told me he wasn’t going to commit until the spring signing period. He’s also going to visit UConn, West Virginia, and Missouri. So Seton Hall feels they have a shot at him, but the season has to play out and the kid is visiting some high powered schools in UConn and West Virginia. Again, they’re looking at transfers. I know they’re looking at some of the Arizona kids who de-committed after Lute Olson stepped down. That’s fine, but I think you also need to recruit some of the local kids. Unfortunately, with Dominic Check saying he is not going to Seton Hall and with Kazemi declaring for Rice, I think they lost out on two guys they were hopeful for. I honestly don’t know who the next kid is that they will bring in, but they need to bring in some players.
Can Seton Hall upset anyone this season, similar to last season’s home win vs. Louisville?
Well, look, any given night – anyone can beat anyone. Seton Hall beat Louisville. Rutgers only won three or four Big East games last year, but beat Pitt and Villanova in back to back games. In the Louisville game, Jeremy Hazell was just on fire. He was shooting from the parking lot, he was just unstoppable. There will probably be some games like that this year, but I can’t say who it will be against. There are a bunch of teams in the league that Seton Hall or Coach Gonzalez hasn’t beaten – UConn, possibly Pitt – that Seton Hall gets at home this year. So I’m sure there will be a focus on those games. And in any given game, Stix Mitchell and Hazell can go off for 50 points between them and can win any game. Over the long haul, it will be a tough road to hoe in the Big East.