Ismael Sanogo set career high with 16 rebounds as Seton Hall outlasted Rutgers. (Photo by the New York Post)
NEWARK, NJ -- With two scorers capable of putting up 20 points on any given night, it is easy for the casual fan to lose Ismael Sanogo in the shuffle when watching Seton Hall.
When you look closer at what makes the Pirates such a formidable side, though, the junior forward's offense takes a backseat to his contributions on the defensive end of the floor; a skill set that is responsible for not just the little things that final box scores may neglect to highlight, but a Big East championship as well.
The losses of Isaiah Whitehead and Derrick Gordon were question marks that were raised around Seton Hall going into the season, yet all their departures have done is further showcase the understated brilliance that Sanogo carries with him. Averaging 7.1 rebounds per game, certainly not a pedestrian number for a Big East program playing against the likes of Villanova and Xavier among others, the Newark native and East Side product has adhered to a simple mantra of merely doing his job to get he and his team through the rigors of not only attaining success, but also protecting it.
"Honestly, I could care less," Sanogo said about the gaudy offensive statistics of Angel Delgado and Khadeen Carrington garnering more attention. "As long as we win, I could really care less. I'm more of a behind-the-scenes guy anyway. As long as Coach (Kevin Willard) recognizes what I do and my teammates recognize what I do, the outside world doesn't really have to know."
So what exactly is the secret to Sanogo's importance to the Seton Hall roster?
"Just that toughness and that grit, never giving up," he revealed. "Sometimes we get down and I have to be the emotional leader of the team, and bring everybody together and get their heads back in the game."
A survivor in every sense of the word, one whose family was displaced in the wake of Hurricane Katrina nearly a decade ago, Sanogo has followed through with his self-described emotional leadership, pouring his heart and soul into every nuance of the game in every possible facet. Look no further than the sequence that gave the Pirates the lead for good against Rutgers Friday night. With just over six minutes remaining in regulation, he procured a loose ball from Corey Sanders and turned it into a transition layup to give Seton Hall a lead it would never relinquish. No sooner than the next trip down the floor did he take a critical charge against Scarlet Knights forward Ibrahima Diallo, solidifying the comeback all the more on a night where his 16 rebounds set a new personal best.
"I'm going to tell you this: Ish is the best defender I've ever seen in my life," said Delgado. "This kid is unbelievable. I really have a lot of respect for him, he works so hard. I've got a lot of confidence in him on the defensive end because he does the little things, and when you do the little things, that's what makes you a big player."
And if the offensive exploits are not always visible to the naked eye, the impression that counts; the one left in the locker room and on the hardwood, is more than indelible.
"If you ask anybody on our team who the most valuable player is, day in and day out, they'll say it's Ish," Willard proudly stated after Seton Hall wrapped up a sixth consecutive win to improve to 10-2 on the season. "We game plan our defense around Ish, he's involved in everything we do defensively. He is going to make a lot of money in this game one day, because he can really change the game defensively."