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.
Excited by Rutgers-Seton Hall Atmosphere, Elite Recruits Give Glimpse of What Future Could Hold
NEWARK — Naz Reid, Jahvon Quinerly and Louis King were among the flock of recruits sitting behind the Seton Hall bench on Friday night during what was an electric atmosphere at the Prudential Center.
“It was a packed house, everybody came to see the two Jersey teams play and it was an exciting game,” the 6-foot-11 Reid, a junior at Roselle (N.J.) Catholic who runs with the Sports U AAU program, told me after Seton Hall held off Rutgers, 71-62, in front of 10,481 behind Angel Delgado’s 19 points and 16 rebounds.
How much talent was behind the Seton Hall bench?
Guys from Hudson Catholic, The Patrick School, St. Benedict’s, Immaculate Conception and many more. The state is rich in talent, especially in the 2018 and ’19 classes.
Could Rutgers and Seton Hall get better if a bunch of these recruits stayed home?
“Definitely, I think so,” Reid said.
Seton Hall was the first to offer the “Fab Five” of Reid, Quinerly, King and their Sports U teammates Luther Muhammad and Atiba Taylor, and Rutgers and UConn later made the group offer.
Do these guys talk about sticking together for college?
“Yeah, we do,” Reid said. “More often than not, we definitely do.”
“Yeah, we talk about it every now and then,” the 6-3 Quinerly told me. “I think it’s still a possibility.”
How good could a college team be if they got some faction of Jersey players in the Class of 2018?
“It would be great if you ask me,” Reid said.
He went on to say that he considers Rutgers and Seton Hall among the schools recruiting him the hardest, along with UConn and Syracuse. (St. John’s has also made him a priority.)
Quinerly also appreciated the high-energy environment, and believes the Jersey schools could be among the elite if these younger guys stayed home.
“They would definitely be the top teams in the country,” Quinerly said.
“If kids were to stay back this would definitely be a rivalry game just because of the talent that stayed home,” he added.
Quinerly recently said that Seton Hall was among the schools recruiting him the hardest, along with Villanova, Arizona, Stanford and Virginia. Pirates coach Kevin Willard and associate head coach Shaheen Holloway were among the coaches who saw him last week at the City of Palms.
“They’re just making me a priority, they check in like every two weeks,” Quinerly said of all the schools working for him. “Arizona was at my game at City of Palms, and Stanford was there.”
Ayton Branch, an assistant coach at The Patrick School, sat with several of his players, including 2018 guard Jordan Walker, 2018 forward Valdir Manuel and 2019 guard Al-Amir Dawes.
A New Jersey native, he believes that if Seton Hall and Rutgers could harness the talent in their home state, they could elevate to become among the top rivalries nationally.
“It could be the Duke-North Carolina rivalry right here in the state of New Jersey if all those tri-state dudes just gather up and say, ‘We’re just gonna stay home,’ and that’s just what it’s about,” Branch said.
But of course, we’ve been hearing and saying this for years now.
And all you have to do is look at the Kentucky and Duke rosters across the last few years to see the Garden State talent that has left the state: Karl-Anthony Towns, Kyrie Irving, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Isaiah Briscoe, Nick Richards and on and on.
“The difference now is that these guys have proven to be winners,” Branch said of Seton Hall (10-2) and Rutgers (11-2). “And these kids also want to be a part of a winning tradition, so with Seton Hall obviously getting it really, really started last year with winning a Big East championship and then doing it again Year 2, and then doing it Year 1 for Rutgers.”
Branch pointed out that the staffs at both schools are doing a good job, highlighted by Seton Hall’s Holloway and Rutgers assistant Brandin Knight.
“Absolutely,” he said. “In my opinion, I believe that Shaheen Holloway is maybe the best associate head coach in the country just for the simple fact that he understands the new-generation kid and because he understands the new-generation kid, he’s able to relate to a lot of these guys. Just like with Brandin Knight, these guys are not so far removed from being elite players at this level, so they’ve done a tremendous job of making the transition and understanding the new-school kid. So the new-school kid relates to these guys and comfort-ability is everything because you have to be able to relate to the kids first.”
Hudson Catholic coach Nick Mariniello also sat courtside — across the court from his players — and was impressed by the atmosphere at The Rock.
“This atmosphere tonight is a major-college atmosphere and talented players being recruited by the schools will just bring it to another level,” said Mariniello, whose team went 3-1 at the elite City of Palms Classic. “I really believe that.”
Can Rutgers-Seton Hall ever be Duke-North Carolina or Kentucky-Louisville? That might be a little much.
“I think the key is keeping the talent in,” Mariniello said. “I think both schools are doing a great job recruiting all these kids and you want your local teams to be good. I think it would take both schools to the next level. I mean, obviously Seton Hall with winning the Big East tournament last year and Rutgers is playing really well, they’ve had a great first part of the season. It’s just a matter of getting players.”
Yes, it is.
And both Rutgers coach Steve Pikiell (in his first year on the job) and Seton Hall’s Willard (in his seventh) understand that if the Jersey schools are both good, it can only help recruiting.
“We’re going to continue to recruit,” Pikiell said after the loss. “We’ll build a presence here in New Jersey and I’m very confident that we’ll build a program that will be better.”
Willard went so far as to say he’s rooting for Rutgers — and St. John’s — to be good, especially Rutgers since they’re no longer in the Big East.
“The more local teams are good, the more buzz, the more attention we’ll get,” Willard said. “And there will be a crowd like this. It can only beneficial for all of us.”
One look at the vast reservoir of engaged and excited talent behind the Seton Hall bench made that abundantly clear.
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.