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.
Fate of Jersey’s ‘Fab Five’ Illustrates Recruiting Hurdles for Seton Hall, Rutgers
Back in the fall of 2015, Seton Hall coach Kevin Willard and his staff made a bold move.
They brought five young players from the New Jersey-based Sports U AAU program to campus and made a collective offer to the “Fab Five” of Naz Reid, Louis King, Luther Muhammad, Jahvon Quinerly and Atiba Taylor.
“They want to try to get all five guys,” Sports U coach Brian Colemantold me when the offer was made. “They feel like if they could get these guys that play together to stay home, it would be great for their state, it would be great for their team because they’d have a group of guys that are familiar with each other and they’re kind of looking at them as kind of like the next Michigan Fab Five.”
Class of 2019 stars Scottie Lewis and Bryan Antoine of the Ranney School are already being heavily courted by Duke, Kentucky and Florida, among others.
“When you’re at a school like Seton Hall, I think you really have to focus on the type of kid that wants to stay local,” Willard told me a few years back. “Again, different kids want to get away. No matter what, New Jersey and New York kids, most of them have always gone away but ..I found some guys that really wanted to stay home and we focused on that. I think you really gotta be selective. If a kid’s taking a visit to UCLA, Stanford and Hawaii, you know he’s not going to be a kid that really wants to stay at home.”
It should be noted that Seton Hall has been to back-to-back NCAA Tournaments thanks to a core of New York and New Jersey kids like Angel Delgado, Desi Rodriguez, Khadeen Carrington and Ish Sanogo. Seton Hall also recruited Isaiah Whitehead, now with the Nets. They should be in the mix for another NCAA Tournament bid this year with the core back plus the addition of a strong recruiting class.
Rutgers, meantime, has had a recent run of recruiting success with 2018 pledges like New Jersey native Ron Harper Jr., Montez Mathis and Mac McClung, and they remain in the mix for 2019s like guard Paul Mulcahy of Gill St. Bernard’s.
But going forward, Seton Hall and Rutgers will likely see their state raided of its best players (like Lewis and Antoine) by the Kentuckys and Dukes of the world.
Of course, Kentucky and Duke out-recruit most every school, so that’s not unique to the Jersey schools.
But if Seton Hall and Rutgers are to truly compete for big prizes down the road, they will have to try to land the best players in their own state. It’s a tough call. If you’re Willard or Pikiell, do you invest 2-3 years in the Ranney kids, only to see them fly off to a blue blood a year from now?
“[Seton Hall and Rutgers] want to recruit New Jersey and New Jersey’s a big part of what they’re trying to do,” Hudson Catholic coach Nick Mariniello told me a year ago. “The metropolitan area is important, and for the locals to be successful they have to recruit from this area that’s got so many high-level players in it.”
What should the locals do? Keep on plugging.
“As Rutgers is doing,” Gill St. Bernard’s coach Mergin Sina said Tuesday. “Keep going to open gyms and showing up at high school games during the season. Both schools have the opportunity to recruit the best players in the state if the players and their parents feel that their kids are the core to the future of their programs.”
Roselle Catholic coach Dave Boff, who once again has a loaded team with young prospects, including 7-foot 2020 big man Cliff Omoruyi (offers from Syracuse, Rutgers, Seton Hall), is putting a positive spin on it.
“I believe the time for kids to stay home is coming soon,” Boff said. “Seton Hall has made a couple NCAA Tournaments in a row. Rutgers has just landed some big recruits and is upgrading their facilities so I think both programs are headed in the right direction. A combination of on court success and facilities is what it takes to compete with the other schools recruiting these kids.”
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.