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Saturday / December 16.
  • Seton Hall Can Thank Machado, Gonzo for Jordan Theodore

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    NEWARK — Seton Hall fans might want to consider sending Iona point guard Scott Machado a thank you card or a box of chocolates for Valentine’s Day.

    You see, it turns out Machado, the nation’s current assists leader, played a critical role in keeping Theodore from transferring in the days after former coach Bobby Gonzalez was fired in May 2010.

    While Theodore had spent two years under Gonzalez working hard to make the NCAA Tournament, Machado had played for Kevin Willard at Iona, dreaming of the same thing.

    But when Willard ultimately replaced Gonzalez, Theodore was a Pirate who considered jumping ship.

    “Oh, yeah, I definitely thought about transferring,” Theodore revealed after going for 16 points and 10 assists in Seton Hall’s 94-64 rout of St. John’s that kept its NCAA Tournament hopes very much alive.

    “Of course. Especially, I didn’t know who Coach Willard was coming in. I heard about him through my boy Scott Machado. He told me he was a good guy, man, he told me to stay.”

    Two years later, Theodore can feel an NCAA Tournament bid as Willard’s second year at Seton Hall winds down. He can see it. He literally dreams about walking into a postseason arena somewhere and seeing the words “NCAA” on the floor.

    If the Pirates (18-8, 7-7 Big East) can at least split their final four Big East games, they would have 20 wins and be at least 9-9 in the conference. Traditionally, that gets you in.

    “I know we’re on the bubble,” Theodore said. “We’re back to .500. A lot of people wrote us off when we lost six in a row, and it happens. You see a team start 15-2 and then it lost six in a row, everybody’s like, ‘Wow, what happened? What’s going on?’

    “Guys understand what’s at stake and guys do want to be in the NCAA Tournament but you know we gotta take it one game at a time.”

    Theodore is thriving under Willard’s system — averaging 15.8 points and 6.7 assists — but he said he still maintains some loyalty to Gonzalez, the man who recruited him hard out of PC and ardently advocated for him as the best young point guard in the New York area in that class.

    “Bobby was a great guy, man,” Theodore said. “I learned a lot from Bobby, especially off
    the court with just handling myself. I learned a lot from Coach Gonzalez, man. He taught me how to be a man, especially as a young guy coming in and me trying to find my place on the team, and the guys I had to follow, Eugene Harvey, great point guard here, 1000 points, 500 assists.”

    “It was tough and Bobby was a hard-nosed guy, he always wanted perfection. I used to strive for [it]. I used to stay in the gym just so I could see coach smile and say, ‘Yo, good job, Jordan,’ because it was hard to get those out of him because he wanted everything right.”

    Still, Theodore says he chose to stay after Gonzo left because Machado — now making his own NCAA Tournament push with Iona — and Willard convinced him it would be a grand opportunity to lead the team in the post-Gonzo Era.

    “Yo listen, you’re a point guard and coach is going to let you run the system and you’re going to be able to do the things you want to do as a point guard,” Machado told Theodore.

    The meeting with Willard sealed the deal.

    “He said a lot of good things,” Theodore said. “Especially when he told me he was giving me the keys and letting me drive. When you hear that as a point guard, it’s, ‘I’m really the only point guard here.’ You know it felt good and I just thought it was the perfect fit.

    “And Shaheen Holloway, he didn’t make it any worse, you know what I mean. To come in and learn from a legend at Seton Hall and the things that he did, especially him going to the [NCAA] Tournament. If he didn’t break his ankle he’d probably still be making money playing pro so it was really easy decision.”

    Playing for Willard is, of course, different from playing for Gonzo.

    “You know, Bobby was more aggressive,” Theodore said. “He was always on top of you. Coach [Willard] is a lot more laid back. He’s not a rah-rah guy.

    “I remember my sophomore year we beat Georgetown. Before the game, Bobby put on the ‘Any Given Sunday’ speech from Al Pacino and it really got us hyped. Coach [Willard] is not doing that. He doesn’t really give us any rah-rah speeches or put on any videos like that. Coach is just, ‘Go out thee and play, man. You’ve been doing this all your life. You not ready to play, then sit down, I’ll find somebody else.’

    “Both of them guys I’ve learned a lot from. I was sad to see Coach Gonzalez go because when you come into a school you want to play for a coach that you committed to and it was tough to really see him go and to have me have to learn a new system under Coach Willard but it worked out fine.”

    Yes, it has.

    The Pirates are on the brink of the Big Dance.

    And Theodore knows if they get there, it will mean something special not only to Willard and the players, but to Gonzalez, who recruited senior Herb Pope and sophomore Fuquan Edwin, too.

    “I hope he understands that for us to make the Tournament, I hope it means a lot to him and it means a lot to us,” Theodore said, “because we haven’t been there and we want to go so bad. It’s really desperation on our part.

    “We really want to win and we really want to get to the Tournament.”

    Next stop, Cincinnati.

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    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.