Sports

Seton Hall Basketball Coach Kevin Willard Has Team Ready for NCAA Tournament

4fcd84b46934f396ac9b_Kevin_Willard.jpg
Kevin Willard Credits: Seton Hall Athletics
a8046867b5c42b4b0a94_Kevin_Willard_with_Myles_Powell.jpg
Kevin Willard with Myles Powell Credits: Seton Hall Athletics
a5a3fbb114328063b8a9_Kevin_Willard_at_post_game_press_conference_at_Madison_Square_Garden_at_Big_East_Tournament.jpg
Kevin Willard at a post-game press conference at Madison Square Garden during the Big East Tournament. Credits: Mike Cohen
75c4b4eb1ad7068f05c9_Will_Cody_with_Khadeen_Carrington.jpg
Will Cody with Khadeen Carrington Credits: Mike Cohen
fda3c70a4548433f6413_Will_Cody_with_team_mananger_Nick_Romano.jpg
Will Cody with team manager Nick Romano. Credits: Seton Hall Athletics
978735345f996efa199a_will-cody-small.jpg
Will Cody with the team.
4fcd84b46934f396ac9b_Kevin_Willard.jpg

SOUTH ORANGE, NJ  — The Seton Hall basketball team showed their typical tough-minded, never-quit attitude on the court in an early February game at the Prudential Center defeating Providence in overtime 74-72. That night the Pirates also delivered that same message in real life first-hand to 13-year-old Chatham boy Will Cody, who was diagnosed with acute leukemia back in the spring.

As a special guest of head coach and Westfield resident Kevin Willard, Will was made to feel a part of the team for the entire evening. He presented the referee with the ball to start the game at center court and had a seat on the bench right next to Willard, getting an up-close view of the coach and the team at work. Will was even presented with his own game ball in the locker room in front of the entire squad by an emotional Willard at the end of the thrilling victory.

Before his diagnosis, Will played travel hockey, CYO basketball and every other activity that kids play.

Sign Up for E-News

"We just thought it would be great if he came to be part of our team for a day, kind of got back to team sports,” said Willard, the 2015-16 Co-Big East Coach of the Year.  “I think it’s an important reminder to college kids, how lucky they are. I think that gets lost in college.”

What didn’t get lost is the effect this show of kindness has had on Will and his family and the message to his team that, while winning basketball games may be the main focus, the sport is also a vehicle to teach critical life values. For the Cody family, who are Seton Hall fans and continued to go to home games the rest of the season, the personal connection to Willard and the team made a difference.

“The big thing is it’s been a long year,” said Kelly Cody, Will’s Mother. “You can’t do the things you used to do. It’s special because it makes him happy to be a part of something that had to do with sports.”

Will is undergoing daily treatment and doesn’t have the stamina needed for a regular routine. He is still in remission and in the maintenance phase where treatment lasts about three years. He is able to go to school a few hours each week and spend some time with friends.

Seton Hall was going through a particularly rough stretch at the time Willard invited Will to sit on the bench. The Pirates had lost five of its previous seven games in Big East conference play. The season needed to be turned around if Seton Hall were to return to a second NCAA tournament in two years.

Last season, led by Isaiah Whitehead, who now plays for the Brooklyn Nets, the Pirates won the Big East Tournament in a thrilling game over the eventual national champion Villanova Wildcats, but lost in the first round of the NCAA tournament. This season the expectations were once again that Seton Hall – led by four returning Junior starters – would be vying for an NCAA tournament bid.

Since the Providence game when Will spent time with the team, Seton Hall finished the regular season winning five of its final seven contests. The Pirates continued its stellar play in this year’s Big East Tournament, making it all the way to the semi-finals, though losing this time to Villanova in, yet, another exciting game 55-53, before a capacity crowd at Madison Square Garden.

The dramatic in season turn-around can be attributed largely to the emergence of 6'10" junior center Angel Delgado, who has become one of the premier big men in the country. Delgado led the nation in rebounding this season at just over 13 per game while showing a deft passing touch creating offensive opportunities for his teammates.

“Bringing a team back from the dead is in my view is the most difficult thing to do in basketball,” said Steve Lavin, who was a head coach for UCLA and St. John’s and is currently an analyst for Big East games on Fox Sports national coverage. “In particular climbing the ladder in a conference that has 7 NCAA tournament teams. It’s one thing to be 3-6 in a bad league, turn it around and get hot on the back 9, and go 7-2 against bad competition, but Seton Hall went 7-2 in a very competitive league.”

Willard, who is in his 7th season at Seton Hall, has a record of 127-100 with the Pirates. The last two seasons have been the best basketball that the South Orange campus has seen since the early 1990s. Now the Pirates are ready to face Arkansas on Friday in the NCAA tournament.  

A hard-driving coach, Willard expects the same focused effort from his players that he gives every day. The son of NBA and college coaching icon Ralph Willard and the mentee of Rick Pitino, he has taken the lessons learned from these men and his other basketball experiences and formed his own basketball voice.

“He has a nice balance of tough-love,” said Lavin. “Excellent pedigree in terms of his background, you can see with each year as a head coach he’s beginning to master his craft.”

That craft  that he’s been working on and wants his players to experience includes having them understand the value of being in a positive environment, communicating with each other on and off the court and seeing that success is not only defined by winning basketball games.

“He’s never negative,” said star Junior forward Desi Rodriguez, teary eyed and in hushed voice in the locker room following the loss to Villanova in this year’s Big East tournament. “I’m kind of devastated [after the loss]. I appreciate my coach. He did a great job all year.”

The Cody family would agree.

The Pirates in the NCAA tournament: No. 9 Seton Hall (21-11, 10-8 Big East) will face No. 8 Arkansas (25-9, 12-6 SEC) in Greenville, SC in the South Region at 1:30 p.m. on Friday, March 17. The game can be seen on TNT. AM790 will have the radio coverage.

A frequent contributor to TAPinto Westfield, Mike Cohen is the founder/director of Throwback Sports (a sports program for children of all abilities) and the editor of Education Update. Email him at throwbacksports@verizon.net.

TAP Into Another Town's News:

Sign Up for E-News

SOMA

South Orange Police Blotter - iPhone Reported Stolen from Basketball Courts

June 21, 2018

South Orange Police Blotter as of June 21

Burglary - The owner of a business on Vose Avenue reported that sometime between 12:45 p.m., Sunday, June 17,  and 10 a.m., Monday, June 18, actor(s) unknown forcibly gained access to the business through the front door, rummaged through cabinets and desks and removed some personal items (including Bose brand speakers ...

South Orange Police Blotter: Robbery Reported on South Orange Avenue

South Orange Police Blotter as of June 16

Robbery - An Alpha, NJ resident reported that he was robbed on Sunday, June 3, at approximately 12:30 a.m. while he was walking on South Orange Avenue near Scotland Road. The victim stated that he was approached by three unknown actors who punched him and knocked him to the ground. The actors then stole his cell phone and wallet ...

Fifth Annual Two Towns Triathlon for Kids Postponed Until September Due to South Orange Pool Still Being Closed

June 14, 2018

SOUTH ORANGE, NJ - The 5th Annual Two Towns Triathlon for Kids, originally scheduled to be held in South Orange on Saturday, June 16, has been postponed until Saturday, September 8, according to an update on the South Orange website. 

 

The postponement is because the South Orange Community Pool is still closed for the season due to construction delays with the filter ...

Second Year of Maplewood South Orange Book Festival Brings Authors and Readers Together

MAPLEWOOD, NJ - Anna Quindlen. Rosemary Wells. Keith Hernandez. Tayari Jones. These are just a few of the authors who were speakers at the Second Annual Maplewood South Orange Book Festival on Saturday.

The book festival, which attracted about 2,000 attendees according to organizers, had a full day of author panels covering a wide range of topics that included "#MeToo: From ...

Upcoming Events

Carousel_image_9f96b00f934f44e64d68_fridays-for-families-social-media-03

Fri, June 22, 3:00 PM

Outside of U.S. Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen's office, Morristown

Fridays for Families: Vigil in Morristown calls ...

Government Health & Wellness Law & Justice

Carousel_image_af1b89eae735bf536426_par440_promo

Fri, June 22, 7:00 PM

Par 440 Restaurant & Lounge, Short Hills

The Extra Rich In Class Dinner Show with E.R.I.C.

Arts & Entertainment Food & Drink

Carousel_image_6f87fbcddb8c623bb6c0_downtown_after_sundown_2

Fri, June 22, 7:00 PM

Spiotta Park, South Orange

Jersey Swamp Cats in Downtown After Sundown

Arts & Entertainment

Tue, June 26, 6:30 PM

Millburn Free Public Library, Millburn

Memoir Writing Class at Millburn Library

Arts & Entertainment

Lecia Bianca Jewels Creates a Bridge to Make Bloomfield Center the Next Style Destination

June 16, 2018

BLOOMFIELD, NJ - The Bloomfield Center renaissance continues as Lecia Bianca Jewels becomes a style destination on main thoroughfare in this Essex County Community. Lecia Clay, owner of the boutique, describes her jewelry as 'bridge jewelry,' - pieces that are in a space between costume jewelry and fine jewelry, while having value. 

'Lecia Bianca' is the ...

Record Number Attends West Essex YMCA's Sixth Annual Bike Livingston

LIVINGSTON, NJ — On the heels of National Bike Safety Month in May, a new record of nearly 500 Livingston riders participated in the sixth annual Bike Livingston event, a family-oriented bike tour of Livingston’s neighborhoods hosted each year by the West Essex YMCA on the first Sunday in June.

With three routes to choose from—a four-mile route around the ...

VIDEO: Westfield Police Show Love for Fallen Detective’s Son at Middle School Graduation

June 21, 2018

ROSELLE PARK, NJ — When his dad, a Westfield police detective who died last month, couldn’t be at young Eric Lieberman’s eighth grade graduation from Roselle Park Middle School, 16 members of the Westfield Police Department instead walked across the stage to give him a hug Tuesday night.

“What a beautiful tribute to both my son and his father,” said his ...

Westfield High School Sophomore Dies; Counselors on Hand at School

WESTFIELD, NJ — Carthoris “Carter” Uziel, a sophomore at Westfield High School, died Sunday night, according to Westfield Public Schools and a letter sent to parents by Principal Dr. Derrick Nelson.

“Words cannot convey the grief we feel in the Westfield Public Schools community over the death of Carthoris ‘Carter’ Uziel, a sophomore at Westfield High ...

Susan G. Komen North Jersey Increases Program Funding by 15% for 2018-2019 and Awards 13 Grants to 11 Local Community Non-Profit Organizations

June 21, 2018

Susan G. Komen North Jersey announced that it will award a total of 13 grants to 11 local community non-profit organizations in its nine-county service area for 2018-2019, with an increase in total program funding at 15% year over year. Since its founding in 1997, Komen North Jersey has awarded nearly $19 million to local community programs in nine North Jersey counties and has directed more than ...

'Fridays for Families' Vigil in Morristown

On Friday, June 22, NJ 11th for Change and six other organizations will be holding “Fridays For Families” – a vigil in front of Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen’s Morristown office in opposition to the Trump administration’s draconian policies leading to the separation and indefinite detention of families, including young children, apprehended at the U.S. border. The groups ...

South Orange Pool Update - June 21

Work on the main pool filter replacement project at the South Orange Community Pool is being completed today. The contractor is on site, working to get pool filtration operational.

Chemicals must then be balanced and a positive water test result from a 3rd party laboratory is required before pool use is permitted. Water samples will be taken today for analysis. While the pool has been ...