St. John’s wanted no part of Desi Rodriguez.
That was the case on Sunday, Feb. 21, and it was the case when the now-Seton Hall standout was going through the recruiting process as a high school kid from the Bronx. While fellow New York City products and current Pirates teammates Isaiah Whitehead and Khadeen Carrington received offers from the Red Storm – the Concrete Jungle’s most notable college team – Rodriguez flew under the Johnnies’ radar, as he did with most schools.
“St. John’s is definitely a team to look at and want to go to,” Rodriguez said, generally speaking about recruiting. “But I was never offered, so I just took my opportunity and Seton Hall gave me an offer and I took that. I still respect St. John’s.”
To give St. John’s credit, there were few household programs looking at Rodriguez. He had offers from a few low and mid-majors in Buffalo, Central Connecticut, Niagara, Southern Mississippi and Towson, but he ultimately decided to follow Whitehead – his teammate at Lincoln High School – and Carrington to South Orange. When the three city kids and the Hall visited St. John’s at Madison Square Garden on Sunday, it was the one that SJU never offered who did the most damage.
Rodriguez, playing in front of family and friends at the World’s Most Famous Arena, erupted for a career-high 24 points as he shot 8-of-10 from the floor. He was perfect from deep, nailing all four of his attempts at a trey in Seton Hall’s 62-61 nail-biter of a win.
“I felt great today knocking down shots,” Rodriguez said following the performance. “I’m home.”
“For the people who haven’t followed us, that’s what Desi has been doing all year,” head coach Kevin Willard said after the game. “He’s been playing that way pretty much all year.”
Rodriguez has turned into a high-flying, sharp-shooting, highlight reel-producing player for the Hall. Having played at the 4 last year, the 6-foot-6-inch, 215-pound sophomore moved to the 3 this season, and the change has worked wonders.
As Willard said, Rodriguez’s production against St. John’s was nothing out of the ordinary. “Dunkin’ Desi” or “Downtown Desi” – there are days when both monikers are fitting – is averaging 12 points, 5.1 rebounds and 1.6 steals a game. He is shooting 50.5 percent from the floor this year and has made 23 threes after making just one in his rookie campaign.
Now 19-7 overall and 9-5 in the Big East, the Pirates expect Rodriguez to be a big part of an equation that, at this point, looks like it while result in Seton Hall playing in the NCAA Tournament. SHU has four games left, as the team hosts Providence and Xavier before heading to middle-America to cap its season with games against Butler and DePaul. With the win over St. John’s crucial to Seton Hall’s March Madness bid, Rodriguez is focused on finishing the year strong.
“We just gotta get it done,” he said.
Gary Phillips can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @GaryHPhillips.