The Next Era Begins
The start of a new era has begun as Seton Hall welcomed the new men’s and women’s head basketball coaches to the Pirate community in a joint press conference on Wednesday. “These two hires, we announce to the college basketball world that Seton Hall is back in the game and we intend to win it,” Patrick Hobbs, Dean of the Seton Hall Law School and current overseer of the Athletic’s Department, said.Kevin Willard and Anne Donovan were both greeted with standing ovations as members of the Seton Hall hierarchy introduced them in Walsh Gymnasium.Willard, the former head coach of Iona College’s men’s basketball program, becomes the 19th head coach in school history, replacing Bobby Gonzalez who was fired earlier this month.In his three years with the Gaels, Willard turned around a program that had two wins in the year before his hiring.”I was told to find someone on the way up, someone with tremendous energy and a great work ethic, someone who can relate to players and treat them with respect,” Hobbs said. “Kevin Willard is a superstar in college coaching.”This past season, the Gaels finished third in the MAAC Conference, with a record of 21-10, while Willard was named Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Coach of the Year.Prior to Iona, Willard was an assistant for six years at the University of Louisville under head coach Rick Pitino.While with the Cardinals, Willard was responsible for game preparations, scouting and game plans. He was also the team’s chief recruiting coordinator.As a player, Willard played three seasons at the University of Pittsburgh, after transferring from Western Kentucky. Willard left before his senior season to be an assistant coach for the Boston Celtics under Pitino.Willard will be joined on staff by Seton Hall alums Shaheen Halloway and Grant Billmeier, as well as Dan McHale and Stephen Sauers.Halloway, McHale and Sauers were all on his coaching staff at Iona.”For four years I gave my heart, my blood, sweat, my tears for this place,” Halloway said. “I like being around this environment, it’s always been a special place for me.”Willard inherits a program that finished 19-13 and struggled at different times during the year.”My main goal here is to have the opportunity to hang banners year in and year out,” Willard said.He also noted that “the one thing you need to do to win championships, is to play defense.”Willard might also be inheriting a team that could possibly be losing three of its best players, as in the past week junior guard Jeremy Hazell, junior forward Jeff Robinson and sophomore forward Herb Pope have all officially declared their interest in the NBA Draft in June. “It’s the first team not winning a national championship that has three guys going to the pros,” Willard said.He also noted that he and his staff will do whatever is needed to help these players become successful at the next level.”I’m a big believer in kids reaching their dreams,” Willard said.Over the past four years, the Pirates have also failed to successfully recruit in the North Jersey region.Willard, on the other hand, has been very successful in luring New Jersey athletes up to Iona, as there are currently eight players on the Gaels roster that originate from the North Jersey/New York region.Willard wants to be able to recruit with balance so that every year so that the team will “have the chance to not only get there, but stay there.””We want to recruit some character, kids that want to get an education and at the same time have a great basketball experience,” he said.Donovan becomes the third coach in the women’s basketball program’s history since it started in 1974.Donovan is taking over for Phyllis Mangina who stepped down from her position on Mar. 15, as the all time wins leader as coach of the women’s team.”I am very pleased to have the opportunity to come home to New Jersey and coach at Seton Hall,” Donovan said. “The outlook for the women’s basketball program is bright and I look forward to becoming a part of the university community.”Donovan is still currently head coach of the WNBA’s New York Liberty, but will step down from that position and come to the Hall after the 2010 WNBA season ends in Oct. She takes over a program that just finished its worst season ever in Big East conference play going 1-15 and 9-21 overall.Receiving a coaching position with her Alma Mater of Old Dominion University in 1987 she worked as an assistant until 1995 when she became the head coach at East Carolina University. In her three season at East Carolina Donovan went 33-51 and a trip to the conference finals in 1997.Then moving to the WNBA in 2000 Donovan recorded a record of 157-152 with a .508 winning percentage in nine season with four different teams from 2000-2010.While head coach of the Charlotte Sting in 2001 she took her team to the championship only to get swept. With the Seattle Storm in 2004 she took her team to the finals again where they won the championship after going 20-14 during the season.Also spending time with the U.S. Women’s National Team, Donovan has won two medals as a member of the coaching staff, first in 2004 as an assistant and then in 2008 where she was the head coach.”Anne Donovan is a basketball legend,” Dean of the Law school and overseer of the Athletic department Patrick Hobbs said. “She is one of the most decorated women in college basketball.”In her four years playing college basketball at Old Dominion, Donovan led her team to the 1979-1980 AIAW national championship in her first year and a third place finish the following year. Her junior and senior years Donovan’s team went to the first two NCAA women’s Final Four’s only to lose in the semifinals each year.After her senior season Donovan won the first Naismith Trophy awarded to women in 1983, finishing her career as Old Dominion’s all-time leader in points and rebounds with 2,719 and 1,976 respectively. She also still holds the women’s record for career blocks with 801.Donovan has also won two gold medals in the Olympics for the U.S. with the first one being in 1984 and the other coming in 1988.Donovan a native from Ridgewood, NJ also graduated from Paramus Catholic High School and is a member of the New Jersey Sports Hall of Fame along with being a member of the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame. “This Jersey girl is finally back home and I couldn’t imagine a better place,” Donovan said.Tim LeCras can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.Nicholas Parco can be reached at email@example.com.Stephen Valenti can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.