Although his family’s roots are fimly planted at Penn State, Jared Rhoden decided to commit to Seton Hall and wear Pirate blue instead.
The freshman from Baldwin, N.Y. was a three-star recruit in high school. Rhoden plays forward, which is a crucial get for a Seton Hall squad that lost Khadeen Carrington, Eron Gordon, Desi Rodriguez, and Jordan Walker among others, on the wing.
“I feel like that I just have to play my role,” Rhoden said. “I’m going to take everything that I can get. Whatever coach gives me and whatever time I get, I’m going to earn it and continue from there.”
In the weeks leading up to his commitment, Rhoden narrowed his options down to Seton Hall, Penn State, Saint Louis and Wichita State. Ultimately, Rhoden came to South Orange, mostly in part to the quality and vibe of the program.
“When I came here it was so genuine,” Rhoden said. “I know that I had a lot of family ties to Penn State and Wichita State was a great visit as well. When I came here, and I met with [Shaheen Holloway] and Coach Willard, I just knew that I could really get better here and I knew that they were always going to have my best interest.
“It just felt so much at home and that sounds crazy. Penn State was almost my home as well, but Seton Hall just attracted me here and I gravitated here.”
At 6-foot-6, Rhoden brings plenty of athleticism and high-flying offense to the new-look Pirates. His play may be indicative of the style that Willard will look to this season, as Seton Hall can begin to experiment after losing four of its starters from 2017-18. Still, he is adjusting to the collegiate level and the rigors that comes with being a Division I basketball player.
“Versatility. I’ve been getting so much better defensively,” Rhoden said. “Learning little things about defense and stuff like that. I feel like I can become a way better defensive player.”
Rhoden’s ability will be crucial for the Pirates this year. Although he may see limited time at the beginning of the season as a freshman, he can be looked at as a prominent piece moving forward.
“What I love about Jared is that he can play two positions,” Willard said. “He has great energy and plays as hard as any freshman we’ve ever had here.”
The transition to the college level for Rhoden, like many others, has not been simple, but it has been easier with Anthony Nelson by his side. The two, who played together for the New York Lightning, room together on campus. Nelson is expected to take a large role at point guard alongside Quincy McKnight, and Rhoden will be waiting in the wings to hop on an opportunity with his longtime friend.
“It’s been cool because I actually have someone that I have long ties with,” Rhoden said. “Being a freshman with him, we’ve been going through everything together.”
Rhoden’s journey to this point has also been amplified by his transfer to Our Savior Lutheran High School for two years.
“We played a national schedule and played against top-tier teams,” Rhoden said. “Getting a chance to get in the gym and work on my game, I was constantly in the gym. Less class, more time to work on my game, late nights and stuff like that. [I] just had the opportunity to get better.”
Despite his high-quality career in high school, Rhoden suffered a shoulder injury to slow him down, but he is confident that it will not be an issue moving forward and that it is almost fully-healed.
“Shoulder is almost there,” Rhoden said. “I got cleared so I’ve been playing. I still feel tension but other than that I’m good to go.”
His shoulder appeared to be in fine shape against Wagner on Nov. 6, as Rhoden scored six points and looked as in place as anyone on the court during his collegiate debut.
On top of recovering from his shoulder injury, Rhoden is trying to take in the entire college atmosphere in his initial months on campus and on the court. Even though he never played with the likes of Carrington, Rodriguez, Angel Delgado and Ismael Sanogo, he still feels their presence through the other veterans and the lessons that have been passed down.
“I’ve just been trying to learn a lot from the older guys and take in the little things before I can make that jump,” Rhoden said. “I’ve just been trying to take everything I can every day, every little lesson, every little drill, and try my hardest just to earn my keep here.”
Even though the core-four departed after Seton Hall’s loss to Kansas in the Round of 32 at last year’s NCAA Tournament, the legacy left behind has not been forgotten. However, Rhoden, his teammates and the coaching staff are looking ahead to the future and what the new team can bring to the table.
“We’re a little bit better athletes this year,” Rhoden said. “In terms of big men, blocking shots and the wings, we’re a little bit more battle equipped. We’ll do well defensively.”
After the season-opening win over Wagner, the Pirates head to the Gavitt Tipoff Games on Nov. 14 against Nebraska and Nov. 17 against one of Rhoden’s finalists, St. Louis.
Kevin Kopf can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @KMKTNF.