Breakout Game for Seton Hall's Whitehead Bodes Well for Pirates' NCAA Tournament Hopes | Zagsblog
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Tuesday / September 27.
  • Breakout Game for Seton Hall’s Whitehead Bodes Well for Pirates’ NCAA Tournament Hopes

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    NCAA Basketball: Rutgers at Seton HallNEWARK — Entering this season, Seton Hall coach Kevin Willard didn’t mince words when asked about his goals for McDonald’s All-American freshman Isaiah Whitehead.

    “I hope he can go to the NBA at the end of this season,” Willard said at Big East media day. “If he’s getting drafted, it means we had a really good year, it means he had a really good year.”

    In an ideal world for all involved (except Seton Hall fans, I guess), Whitehead and the Pirates will have a big season culminating in an NCAA Tournament appearance, and the freshman from Brooklyn Lincoln High School will head off to the NBA after one season.

    If it takes two years, that would probably be just fine with Willard and the Seton Hall faithful who watched Whitehead have his breakout game Saturday afternoon in an 81-54 dismantling of Rutgers in the Garden State Hardwood Classic at the Prudential Center.

    The 6-foot-4 guard went off for 25 points on 9-for-15 shooting, including 4-for-5 from the arc, in just 21 minutes, adding 5 assists, 4 rebounds, 3 steals and no turnovers en route to being given the Joe Calabrese MVP award.

    Whitehead’s best game as a collegian comes as the undefeated Pirates (7-0) head into a big-time test Tuesday night at No. 8 Wichita State. That game will be covered by NBA scouts and should tell Seton Hall and the nation a lot more about exactly where Whitehead – and his team — stack up.

    “Oh, [he’s] nowhere near [his ceiling],” Pirates assistant Tiny Morton, Whitehead’s former high school coach who has coached Lance Stephenson, Sebastian Telfair and Stephon Marbury, told me. “I think he still has room to grow.”

    Despite much hype coming in, Whitehead failed to reach double-figures in scoring in his first three college games — all Pirates wins.

    “If he’s human, he was nervous,” Morton said of Whitehead’s entry into the college game.

    “I think the first couple games I was forcing a lot of shots,” Whitehead said. “I just sat down and watched film with Coach Willard and Coach Shaheen [Holloway] and we just went over what’s a good shot and what’s a bad shot and I think I’m turning out to be a great player.”

    In his last four games, he’s gone for 18, 15, 12 and now 25 points.

    “This was the breakout game that everybody was waiting on,” said Brandon Mobley, who added 12 points. “I’m sure he was waiting on it, too. It’s a good confidence booster for him, especially going into next week and it’s close to Big East play starting. He did a good job scoring, but his defensive pressure and his energy, everybody was just feeding off of that.”

    Whitehead and Mobley both say the team isn’t thinking about the NCAA Tournament at this point, although if the Pirates could stun Wichita State and/or beat No. 10 Villanova once this year it would certainly give them a signature win.

    “We not looking too far ahead because last year we started off good and then we started thinking past opponents that we thought we should’ve beat but we ended up not beating them,” Mobley said. “So now we just taking it one game at a time.”

    Still, Whitehead chose Seton Hall precisely because he wanted to stay home and help bring the program back to prominence. They haven’t made the Big Dance since 2006.

    What would it mean to help lead Seton Hall back?

    “Oh, it would mean everything to me, just coming here and bringing the program back with my team and just winning as much as possible,” he said. “You see the fans today, they’re excited, we’re 7-0, so everything’s good right now.”

    There’s a long way to go, but Isaiah Whitehead served notice in this breakout game about how bright the future could be — for both him and the Pirates.

    FREE THROWS

    Recruits Trevon Duval, Bryce Aiken, T.J. Gibbs and Veer Singh were all in attendance.



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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.