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.
**Click the Video Player on right for SNY’s exclusive interview with new Seton Hall coach Kevin Willard**
In his first interview since agreeing to a five-year deal to become head coach at Seton Hall, Kevin Willard talked to SNY about the team, Herb Pope’s future plans and the style of basketball he plans to play.
By succeeding the fired Bobby Gonzalez, Willard becomes the youngest coach in the Big East Conference. He turns 35 April 6, the day after the national championship game.
“Well, it’s a great honor,” he told SNY. “If you just think about all the coaches who are in the Big East, from Rick Pitino, Jim Boeheim, Jim Calhoun top to bottom, the legendary coaches. So to be part of that group is not only a privilege but it’s a great honor.
Willard spent six years under Pitino at Louisville and considers him a mentor.
“He was great throughout the whole process,” Willard said. “Even though it was a quick process. He said let’s make sure you get a good staff behind you. Get in there and get to know the players and then obviously you really gotta go out and hit the recruiting trails and hit them hard and I think we’ve done that already.”
A day after Willard took the job Sunday, Pope, a 6-8 sophomore who was the Big East’s leading rebounder, announced he would test the NBA waters. Neither Pope nor junior forward Jeff Robinson, who is also testing the NBA waters, has signed with an agent. If they do not sign, they can withdraw by the May 8 deadline and retain their college eligibility.
“I think if Herb wants to test the waters, I think that’s great for him,” Willard said. “Every kid wants to play in the NBA. If he thinks he can do it and has the ability…If he wants to take a chance and see how he is, obviously I”m all for it. I want every kid to be a millionaire and if he can do, I’m all for it.”
Junior shooting guard Jeremy Hazell, the Big East’s No. 2 leading scorer, is expected to return for his senior season.
“Getting to watch Jeremy, I think he’s a special player,” Willard said. “He has the ability to shoot the basketball from not only deep but can take tough shots and make them. I’m looking forward to getting in the gym with Jeremy and working on him and doing some different things with him. I think he can be a special player.”
Willard has also met with Fuquan Edwin, the lone signed player in Seton Hall’s recruiting class.
“The one thing that we want to tell everybody is it’s going to be a fun style of basketball,” Willard said.
“I got to take a great tour of The Rock the other day and was so impressed with the building and the atmosphere. We’re going to play an exciting style of basketball. We’re going to play a fundamental style of basketball and we’re really going to get after it on the defensive end.”
When the Nets move to the Prudential Center next year, Seton Hall will also share the building with an NBA franchise, something the new coach is looking forward to.
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.