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.
Giants’ Cruz Inspires Generation of SHU, Rutgers Players
Seton Hall will visit Rutgers Wednesday night in a Big East basketball game in the Soprano State.
The matchup of old rivals will take place in Piscataway, N.J., but it might as well be a celebration of the Silk City of Paterson — the birthplace of Larry Doby, Lou Costello, Tim Thomas, Marquis Webb, Essence Carson and Nicole Louden.
Some five players across both teams have Paterson roots and the most talked-about Patersonian on the airwaves these days — Giants wide receiver Victor Cruz — is expected to be in attendance at the Rutgers Athletic Center.
Rutgers freshmen Myles Mack and Derrick Randall both attended Paterson Catholic, Cruz’s alma mater, as did Seton Hall senior Jordan Theodore and sophomore Fuquan Edwin. Rutgers freshman Eli Carter also grew up in Paterson.
As if the rivalry between the two teams wasn’t enough motivation, they will all be playing in front of Cruz, now a crossover star after the Giants win in Super Bowl XLVI because of his salsa dancing and football-catching talents.
“[Cruz] is someone who they can easily identify with,” Playaz Basketball Club founder Jimmy Salmon, Cruz’s Godfather, told SNY.tv. “He’s tangible to them and his success proves that anything is possible if you work hard enough and have the talent.”
Mack, who won a mythical national title at St. Anthony under Naismith Hall of Fame coach Bob Hurley last year after leaving Paterson Catholic, has known Cruz since the days he grew up in the Silk City.
“He was in high school and I was in grammar school,” Mack told reporters this week. “I used to go to all the football games. We would talk and we bonded. We kept it going until now.”
Cruz hasn’t impacted just kids, either.
Seton Hall coach Kevin Willard was practically giddy when Cruz appeared at The Prudential Center Jan. 3 for the Pirates win over then-No. 8 UConn.
“We had Victor Cruz in the locker room,” Willard said after the Pirates won, 75-63.
“Everybody says, ‘You gotta be happy about this one,’ I just met Victor Cruz. I’m more happy about that than anything. Got my Giants back in the playoffs, I’m all excited.”
Now, Seton Hall (15-8, 4-7) is riding a six-game losing streak but is expected to field senior power forward Herb Pope after he missed the UConn game with rib injuries
Willard hopes Cruz provides good luck to the Pirates.
“I hope so,” Willard told SNY.tv. “It’s great for Jersey and all young kids to see what you can achieve when you’re humble and hungry.”
Cruz played football and basketball at PC, which closed in June 2010 due to financial shortfalls, and he also played basketball for the Playaz.
“Coming into Paterson Catholic, I met Vic at an early age,” Theodore, who was three years younger than Cruz at PC, told SNY.tv last month. ”So I’ve known him forever.
“It was really cool. The guys had fun and took some pictures, but for me and Fu, we’ve known him forever.”
Theodore and Edwin, in turn, tried to recruit the younger Mack out of Paterson Catholic to Seton Hall.
“It’s not just us playing against Rutgers,” Theodore told Jerry Carino of CentralJersey.com. “Now we’re playing against family, guys I know like the back of my hand. It makes it even more fun. Our families will be rooting against each other—that’s what rivalries are about.
“On the court we’re enemies, off the court we’re the best of friends. That’s Jersey basketball. Guys stayed in Jersey, myself and Fu, to make Seton Hall relevant again. Myles wanted to make Rutgers a powerhouse again.”
Mack, along with Carter and Randall, chose Rutgers instead of Seton Hall.
The former Paterson Catholic stars chose opposite courses after high school, some went to Rutgers, others to Seton Hall.
Now, Cruz, a Giant Patersonian, will watch it all go down.
“I’m excited, but I’m just going to play my regular game and let the game come to me,” Mack told reporters this week. “I’m not going to worry about who’s in the crowd.”
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.