The prevailing feeling around the Big East is that Seton Hall will once again be a program in transition this season after the Pirates struggled in year one of the Kevin Willard regime. Now eight months removed from battling through a 13-18 campaign that the Pirates hit their stride toward the end of the season even after losing star guard Jeremy Hazell on two separate occasions, the boys from South Orange have hit the court harder and more focused than at any point a year ago; and leading the charge is a senior point guard who has seen pretty much everything, including a coaching change halfway through his collegiate career.
New Jersey product Jordan Theodore will now be counted on to pick up some of the slack in the absence of Hazell this season as he leads a young Pirates team with just one other senior in forward Herb Pope. To suggest that the former Paterson Catholic standout is merely up for the challenge would be an understatement. I have been a broadcaster and writer for five years now; and when I had the opportunity to interview Jordan this past Wednesday at Seton Hall's annual team media day, it only took a few seconds for me to realize who and what I was dealing with. Never before had I spoken to a player as mature and articulate as Theodore, who carried himself in our 15-minute chat better than some NBA veterans that have been playing professionally for over a decade.
Theodore first touched on life without Hazell, who left Seton Hall third on the all-time scoring list, and intimated that there would be more options for Willard to replace the productivity vacated by one of the best players in the Big East. "Now, the scouting report is not just 'Let Jeremy go off and keep the other guys contained," said Theodore, who will also be playing off the ball at times when Willard elects to play freshman point guards Aaron Cosby and Freddie Wilson. "They know I'm a good point guard, but they don't expect me to dominate."
Theodore, and Pope as well, are more than just seniors on this team; they are also the last connections that Seton Hall basketball has to Bobby Gonzalez, the former coach who was dismissed after four seasons despite gradually improving the Pirates' win total in each of his four years at the helm. (Gonzalez also recruited sophomore Fuquan Edwin, but was fired before he had the chance to coach his last signee.) For Theodore; who had thrived under the uptempo, run-and-gun style Gonzalez had spent seven years perfecting at Manhattan, the adjustment process came during his junior campaign, as it did with pretty much the rest of the team, which was a far cry from what Seton Hall basketball had come to be known for under its previous caretaker.
"Toward the end of my sophomore year, I was really excelling in Coach Gonzalez' system," Theodore said. "Last year, it was tougher on me because I was used to what he wanted me to do." However, the point guard has had the opportunity to get to know Willard over the last eighteen months since he was hired at the end of March 2010; and he has taken full advantage of being able to bond with his second-year head man. "Coming into this season, I don't think he has any problems with me running the show," said Theodore, who had discussed his having to adjust to the coach changing plays while the point guard called them on the fly.
Now entering his final season in South Orange, Theodore expressed a desire to enjoy each moment as it comes, since he "doesn't get these days back." After following in the footsteps of Hazell, Eugene Harvey and Paul Gause over his first two years, Jordan is now "the man," and is confident in his abilities as the focal point of the offense. "I'm up for the challenge of being that guy and leading this team," he said. Theodore has even gone so far as to change his jersey number from 10 to 1, becoming the second player in the New York metropolitan area to make that switch; following former St. John's swingman D.J. Kennedy, who moved from 10 to 1 prior to the 2008-09 season, and proceeded to be the team's leading rebounder in each of his final three seasons while also averaging more than ten points per game in each year.
"I just wanted a fresh start," said Theodore when asked about the decision to change numbers. "I felt like I needed to change it because I want to go out on top." The point guard left me with this nugget before preparing for the Pirates' practice later that day: "These other teams we're playing? They don't know what to expect. I'm ready to take on all the responsibilities that I have, and I'm ready to win."
So too are Seton Hall fans eager to embrace a winner once again after having not made the NCAA Tournament since 2006 despite finishing with a winning record in four years under Bobby Gonzalez.