Photo courtesy of Daly Dose of Hoops/Bob O’Dea.
By David Cordova
This is Part 3 of a six-part series on the Seton Hall Men’s Basketball program, as it goes through the month of December. Part 3 is talking about the new Pirates, such as freshmen Darnell Brodie, Jared Rhoden and Anthony Nelson, as well junior transfers such as Quincy McKnight, Romaro Gill and Taurean Thompson.
This season, after losing four seniors that helped bring them to three NCAA Tournament appearances, the Seton Hall Pirates are in rebuilding mode, but have a 6-3 record during the non-conference schedule, which included an upset win over Kentucky, the No. 9 team in the nation.
One of the reasons for the Pirates’ success is the emergence of the newcomers that have been added to the fire. There are six newcomers that can be the future of the Pirates. There is freshmen such as Darnell Brodie, Jared Rhoden and Anthony Nelson. And there are the juniors, such as Taurean Thompson, Romaro Gill and Quincy McKnight.
Roster turnover is never easy, especially when you’re bringing in new personnel. Cohesion will take time to develop, and thus far things have been working with these six newcomers being added to the mix.
Things can be difficult when you’re in your first season as a collegiate basketball player, as you are getting adjusted to the style of play, and also the speed of the game. Everything is a learning process, which is what Nelson, Brodie & Rhoden are learning.
When asked what made them want to commit to Seton Hall, all three had their own individual answers as to why they chose to don the blue & white uniforms of the Pirates.
Nelson: “When I came on my visit, I just felt like I was at home. I built a great relationship with the coaching staff.”
Rhoden: “Well, this place just felt like home, so genuine, when I came on campus on my visit, it just felt so natural and free, so it was just a combination of that opportunity that I knew I was going to have to play here and learn here and get my education. I saw the business school was really good here and stuff, so it was a combination of a lot.”
Nelson, a 6-foot-4 point guard from Harlem, is someone with great court vision that can direct a team and can also score. As a senior at South Kent School in Kent, Connecticut, he averaged 16 points, eight assists and five rebounds per game and was named to the Class AA All-NEPSAC first team.
When asked if his experience at South Kent helped prepare him for the Hall, he replied, “It helped me a lot with the pace of the game and the physicality, a little bit, so I’m just still trying to build on that.”
Rhoden, a 6-foot-6 forward, is a native of the Baldwin section of Long Island, where he was the main player at Baldwin High School as a junior, scoring 19.5 points and 6.7 rebounds, while earning the Nassau County Boys Basketball Coaches Association Player of the Year award and also earning a place on the Newsday All-Long Island first team. He then spent two seasons at Our Saviour Lutheran High School in The Bronx, where he averaged 29.3 points, 7.2 rebounds and 3.2 assists in his postgraduate season and also earned first-team All-USA Today first team honors.
“I’ve just been trying to get the freshman kinks out and stuff like that and just learning a little bit of everything,” says Rhoden, who can play both the small forward and the shooting guard positions.
Brodie, a 6-foot-9 forward, is a native of Newark, which isn’t too far from Seton Hall’s campus in South Orange. Brodie played his high school ball at three high schools such as Newark Eastside High School, Putnam Science Academy in Putnam, Connecticut and Montverde Academy in Montverde, Florida.
When he’s in the paint, Brodie can be a nightmare for opponents, as he can be a force by rebounding, blocking shots and also throwing down rim-rattling dunks.
When asked if the prep school experience prepared him for Seton Hall, Brodie replied, “Yes, as far as being s student-athlete and having the desire to play every day.”
On staying close to home to play for the Pirates, he added: “I always wanted to put on for my city, and I also want to be a mentor to the kids in Newark.”
All three are getting adjusted to the college game, and admit that it isn’t as easy as it was in high school. But they always have the upperclassmen to help them out every step of the way.
“I’ve learned a lot,” said Brodie. “Like, there’s not one thing I can say that I haven’t learned from Myles [Powell] and Mike Nzei. Him [Powell] being here two years, he showed me a lot.”
“I learned a lot, I learned how to be patient, just work on my decision-making, take the right shots, make the right plays, stuff like that,” said Nelson.
“I’ve learned a lot, just so many little things that I’ve never really learned about the basketball game. Like, Mike [Nzei] has taught me so much about the defense, how to guard the post, how to play certain angles and do certain things like that on the court, which I’m going to be able to utilize on the court,” said Rhoden.
So far, all three aren’t averaging many points and rebounds, but when they get into the game, they make the most of their time on the hardwood count.
But the question now is what will the three freshmen bring to the Big East?
“My decision-making & just trying to help my team get wins,” said Nelson.
“I’ll say I bring a little bit of different things, some versatility, some excitement, just playing hard, what the signature of the Big East is,” said Rhoden.
“My energy and effort,” said Rhoden.
With the three of them, time will tell what’s in store for the young Pirates.
When you’re a player transferring into a new situation, chances are that there will be growing pains at first. But a transfer player is almost like a sort of senior citizen, as they come with wisdom and experience, and knowledge that they can impart on their younger teammates.
With Thompson, McKnight & Gill, such is the case. All three came from different places around the nation, all with one specific goal, to help Seton Hall win.
Thompson, a 6-foot-11 forward from Harlem, knows a lot of about movements. For the first three years of high school, he played at the legendary St. Anthony High School in Jersey City. As a junior, he averaged 10.7 points and 1.3 rebounds per game. He then went on to play at national powerhouse Brewster Academy in Wolfeboro, New Hampshire in his senior season and earned second-team All-NEPSAC honors.
Then, in the summer of 2016, Thompson decided to play for Syracuse University. In his freshman season for the Orangemen, he averaged 9.2 points and 3.8 rebounds and helped lead them to a 19-15 record and a second-round appearance in the NIT, where they would lose to Ole Miss.
After that season, he would leave Syracuse, citing a reason to be closer to home. And that’s when Seton Hall came into the picture. Now, he’s a Pirate who has three seasons (including this season) of eligibility remaining, after sitting out due to NCAA transfer regulations.
When asked if he wished he had played with last year’s Pirates team, he replied, “Yeah, I practiced wit them. I’ve gotten better, I feel like.”
When asked about how his redshirt season was like, he replied, “It was motivation. Me not being able to watch myself on TV, is motivation.”
Playing in the ACC, where he was battle-tested against the best of the best around the nation, he brings a lot of toughness to the Pirates, with his long wingspan and aggressiveness in the low-post.
“Just hard work and I just want to go hard,” said Thompson on what he’ll bring to the Big East.
McKnight, a 6-foot-4 junior guard from Bridgeport, Connecticut, is a player that thrives with the ball in his hands and has always been a big scorer.
As a freshman and sophomore, he helped lead St. Joseph’s High School to two consecutive Connecticut state titles. He then went on to The Phelps School, an all-boys boarding school in Malvern, Pennsylvania, where he helped lead them to a PAISAA state title and averaged 15.9 points, 4.2 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game.
After his high school days were over, he brought his spectacular play to Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, Connecticut, which played in the Northeast Conference. In his freshman season, he averaged 11.4 points and 2.5 assists per game. As a sophomore, he averaged 18.9 points, 4.9 rebounds and three assists per game.
However, he decided to transfer because of the fact that the Pioneers weren’t winning and like many other talented players in the NEC, wanted to test his skills on the grand stage, the high-major level. That’s where the Pirates came in.
Last season, just like Thompson, he was a redshirt as well. “Redshirt season was great,” he said. “I enjoyed it, the process was great for me. Coming from the NEC to the Big East is a big transition, I just loved it.”
On the differences between the low/mid-major level and the high-major level, he added: “Competition level, the grind is different. You know, that’s really the big thing, the competition was just, the Big East was just one of the best conferences in America. When you play in conference play and non-conference play, night in and night out, you’re going to play great teams.”
McKnight is handling the transition very well, as he has learned various things about playing in the Big East. When asked what he’s learned from the other players on the Pirates, he replied, “Just little things about the Big East, defensively, where to be at on the court, just little things on the court, on offense. Just a lot, I learned a lot from Myles [and] Mike Nzei on how to play post defense on bigger guys, things like that.”
Although he started playing this season, the fact that he’s been in the program for the last two seasons qualifies him to be an elder statesman on the team. “Yeah, definitely, we have a lot of younger guys, like Jared Rhoden, Ant Nelson, Darnell Brodie. So they all come to us for advice. We’re the veterans on the team, me, Myles Powell and Mike, we just try to help them any way we can.”
On what he’ll bring to the Big East, McKnight replied, “Just a lot of, just energy, really. That’s all you’re going to look forward to, come watch us play and you’ll see.”
And lastly, there is Gill, a 7-foot-2 center from St. Thomas, Jamaica, who is a player with a massive build. He is a terror on both ends of the floor, especially on defense.
He played two seasons at the junior college level at Vincennes University in Vincennes, Indiana, where he averaged 5.1 points, 5.2 rebounds and 2.5 blocks per game as a sophomore. Also, he was tenth in the NJCAA with 85 blocks on the season.
Gill is still a raw talent that will continue to blossom this season. After dealing with Angel Delgado as a redshirt last season in practice, he will use those lessons and utilize them on the court.
Statistically, both Thompson (6.6 points & 2.5 rebounds) and McKnight (9.4 points & 2.9 rebounds) are doing well. Gill (1.8 points & 1.5 rebounds) is doing his best with his limited time on the court, playing behind Sandro Mamukelashvili.
If there’s something that comes with experience, it’s showing that you’re willing to adapt to new things in a new environment. That’s what the six new guys are showing.
Part 4 of this six-part series will talk about the in-state rivalry game against Rutgers, which is to take place this Saturday, December 15th, at the Prudential Center in Newark, as part of the Garden State Hardwood Classic. Part 4 will be released on Monday, December 17th.