Kevin Willard and Seton Hall have worked to get to their current standing as 19th-ranked team in nation, something that Pirates are now placing greater value in after briefly dropping out of Top 25 last month. (Photo by Bob Dea/Daly Dose Of Hoops)
NEWARK, NJ -- Throughout his tenure at Seton Hall, Kevin Willard has been, by and large, the type to take every game and every result in stride, not riding too high after a win and not dwelling too far or long on a loss since assuming the reins of the Pirates in 2010.
Therefore, when the eighth-year head coach took a moment Saturday to reflect on how far his program has come; a feeling he has allowed himself to slide into from time to time, following Seton Hall's 90-67 win over VCU, the product of his postgame rumination was a very introspective and poignant assessment of what has been a process spanning multiple seasons, and is now on the precipice of reaching its highest crescendo since the beginning of the century.
"Every day, I wake up and I remind myself it's taken us a long time to get here," Willard humbly declared, with the Pirates set to improve their No. 19 ranking in the Associated Press Top 25 poll this coming Monday, moving potentially into their highest placement in the poll since the 2000-01 season, when a No. 7 ranking represented the high water mark in a season where the late Eddie Griffin led Seton Hall to the NCAA Tournament. "This group has worked extremely hard. I have five guys that spent three summers -- they haven't gone home in the summers -- they've been here working, they've been sacrificing. I don't ask them, I don't have any rules on it, I don't tell them that they have to be here. They're driven, and they want it."
Getting to where Seton Hall presently stands has only been half the battle. Ranked to start the season, the Pirates carried the number next to their name for three weeks before losing it in a one-point loss to Rhode Island on Thanksgiving night, a No. 20 standing in the polls having evaporated for a week before victories against Texas Tech and Louisville vaulted the Hall back into the creme de la creme of college basketball. Since then, the Pirates have protected the number much more vigilantly, defending it with the same pride and toughness they take the court with nightly, regardless of whether they receive votes from the media or coaches.
"I talked to them yesterday for about an hour about things given and things earned," said Willard. In life, you're really going to appreciate things that are earned more than things that are given. What I talked to them about was that they've earned this ranking. It wasn't given to them. We've played a tough schedule, had some big wins, we've earned the right to get ranked. And when you earn something, you want to take care of it."
"I always try to teach my guys in life, people are going to give you stuff and you're going to take that and chuck it in the back of your closet," he continued. "But the things that you've earned with your paycheck, that you go out and buy, you're going to appreciate. And I think these guys have really appreciated the fact that they've worked very hard, they've sacrificed a lot to get this, and they don't now want to give it away."