Bright lights, big city: MSG hosts Big East Media Day
A consensus top-15 recruiting class in the country has already begun to make an impact on Seton Hall. Wednesday’s Big East Media Day at Madison Square brought nothing that said otherwise. The 2014 McDonald’s All-American Isaiah Whitehead was named Preseason Big East Freshman of the Year, becoming the first Pirate to be honored with the award since Eddie Griffin in 2000 and the fourth in program history.
“I’m honored to accept this award, but this says a lot about the recruiting class as a whole that is coming in,” Whitehead said. “I think it sends a message. I think there are guys who wish they could be a part of this class because what we have is special.”
The freshman out of Lincoln High School (Brooklyn, NY) was ranked as the #2 shooting guard by ESPN coming out of the 2014 recruiting class, and his plans in his first year are major. When asked about making the NCAA Tournament this year, Whitehead used one word – “definitely.” Seton Hall has not made the “Big Dance” since the 2005-06 season.
Junior Sterling Gibbs was also recognized as an honorable mention preseason honoree. It was Gibbs who lifted the Pirates to their first Big East semifinal berth in over a decade last season when he hit a game-winning jumper with just over a second left to beat top-seeded Villanova, 64-63, in the conference tournament.
A young Pirates’ squad was picked to finish sixth out of 10 in the preseason poll, with top-25 team Villanova taking first for the second straight season. “With nine guys who have not contributed to this team’s on-the-court success, we’re just trying to bring these guys along and I think Brandon (Mobley) and I have done that,” senior Haralds Karlis said.
Oh, what a difference a year makes for Seton Hall WBB…
Head coach Tony Bozzella didn’t feel right just yet when he took the podium as the first-year head coach of the Pirates last year.
“It was a whirlwind,” he said.
His team was picked to finish dead last in the league.
“I think we’ve done a 180 in terms of where we are right now compared to last year,” Bozzella said. “All of a sudden, we’re a program that everybody’s much more concerned about.”
Just a year later, the blue and white sit in fifth in the conference and have two preseason honorees. For the second straight season, graduate point guard Ka-Deidre Simmons was named to the All-Big East Preseason Team.
Simmons has already had her fair share of accomplishments as a Pirate, becoming the first to garner All-Tournament Team honors since 1996.
“We know our role has changed in the conference, and we like having a target on our backs,” Simmons said. Simmons enters the 2014-15 campaign at 14th in all-time scoring at The Hall with 1,139 points.
Last year’s Most Improved Player award winner, Tabatha Richardson-Smith, also was named to the preseason team. The junior put up 17.1 points per game last season and set a Pirate record with 85 three-pointers.
Despite the recognition, graduate forward Janee Johnson looked at the preseason poll the same way that she did last year. “Being fifth this year is good, but it also means that there’s four teams that people believe are better than us,” she said.
Alabama transfer Daisha Simmons made her first public appearance since addressing the media after she was ruled immediately eligible by the NCAA on October 9. In a sense, coming to Seton Hall was a “homecoming.”
“Having started in the Big East at Rutgers, this is a new-look team but it’s fun to be here at The Garden,” Simmons said.
Ackerman speaks out
Big East Commissioner Val Ackerman started the day with opening remarks about more than just the upcoming season. After having only three NCAA Tournament teams last season, the league took some criticism.
“If you want to know what the state of the Big East is, we’re all in,” Ackerman said.
In regards to paying players, the conference commissioner stood by the NCAA. “We have 3,100 athletes in the Big East. Our players are students. They’re not employees. This is not just rhetoric. We were built to be a basketball powerhouse and we intend to stay one.”
John Fanta can be reached at email@example.com or on twitter @John_Fanta.