Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
NEW YORK — Rick Pitino and Ralph Willard say former Seton Hall coach Bobby Gonzalez is “bitter, silly and adolescent” because of his recent comments about Seton Hall coach Kevin Willard.
“He’s a bitter man right now, and he’s not learning his lessons,” Pitino told SNY.tv exclusively after Louisville advanced to the Big East championship game against UConn with an 83-77 overtime victory against Notre Dame at Madison Square Garden.
“I want him to turn around his life,” added Pitino, who helped both Gonzalez and Kevin Willard get their jobs at Seton Hall. “I want him to have success and when he stops making comments like that, he’ll turn the corner. It’s silly. It’s adolescent behavior.
“But that being said, I want him to turn around his life and I want him to start to say the positive things.”
Pitino was responding to comments Gonzalez made this week to ESPNNewYork.com in which he called out Kevin Willard for Seton Hall’s sub-.500 season that ended in a first-round Big East tournament loss to Rutgers.
“If I was back this year we would have won over 20 games and we would’ve went back to the NCAA [tournament],” Gonzalez said, apparently counting a Seton Hall tournament berth among his accomplishments during his four-year tenure that ended with his firing last spring after he cursed out the Dean of the Law School. “To have a record like that with the talent that I left them is unacceptable.”
Pitino defended Willard, whom he initially advised not to take the Seton Hall job because of what he would be facing in terms of changing the school’s perception and rebuilding the program.
“Kevin Willard had a young man lose his life and got brought back [Herb Pope],” Pitino said. “He had a young man break his wrist [Jeremy Hazell]. He has tremendous turmoil to turn it around, and nobody blames Bobby Gonzalez for that. It’s not his fault.
“But that being said there’s no reason to kick dirt on Bobby Gonzalez and there’s no reason to say anything about Kevin Willard. You’ve made your mistakes. Now change and get better from your mistakes.
“But it doesn’t seem like he’s learning, and that’s the disappointing thing because I like him. I want him to get back in the game in a successful way. But he’s going to have to stop doing that. He doesn’t have to defend his coaching. His coaching was fine. And that’s what he’s forgetting. It’s the other stuff he’s going to have to learn.”
Ralph Willard, Kevin’s father and Pitino’s Director of Basketball Operations, echoed those sentiments.
“I found it [the comments] offensive but it’s something you kind of expect,” he said. “Kevin is fine. I’m proud of the effort he did. I’m proud of the job he did through all the adversity this year and everything.”
Ralph said his son believes he will straighten things out at Seton Hall within a couple of years.
Two players were kicked off the team this season for disciplinary reasons, one transferred and the Pirates will lose several of their top players, Hazell, Jeff Robinson and Eniel Polynice, to graduation.
“You have to change the perception,” Ralph said. “I don’t have to tell you that. The perception of the program was not good. Whether it was deserved or not, it’s not good.
“It’s going to affect your recruiting. That was why initially Rick and I both said, ‘You have to think long and hard about this because it’s going to take time. You’re not going to be able attract the quality of people and player initially until that perception has changed.'”
Ironically, Gonzalez said he’s gained “perspective” from his time off and that he probably picked too many fights during his time at Seton Hall.
“I was just too much of a maniac, I was too driven,” Gonzalez told ESPNNewYork.com.
Ralph said his son “really understands that there some people in this world that you just have to ignore because that’s the best thing you can do.
“If you listen to people like that, if you let them upset you, it’s just counter-productive.
“Kevin’s focused on the kids in the program, on attracting good players and good kids to the program and on building the thing the right way.
“If it was somebody with any credibility then it would be something that would upset you to a degree.”
**Hobbs has no comment on latest Gonzo riff
Adam Zagoria is a Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. A contributor to The New York Times and SportsNet New York (SNY), he is also the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker. His articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide. He also won an Emmy award for his work on the SNY mini-documentary on Syracuse guard Tyus Battle.
A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013.
He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.