SOUTH ORANGE, N.J. – Jared Rhoden sat on a waist-high wall along the sideline of Seton Hall’s practice court on the afternoon of Nov. 1. While journalists swarmed around his teammates, the curly-haired, 6-foot-6, 210-pound teenager was alone, unassumingly looking into the cavalcade of cameramen and reporters for the program’s Media Day.
It will not be long before the freshman, from Our Saviour Lutheran High School, garners the bulk of media attention, much like his wing teammate Myles Cale, who one year ago suffered the same shoulder injury he did entering this season.
“I went through the same thing, so, my freshman year was full of ups and downs,” Cale said. “So, you’ve got to go through it, take it on the chin, just got to fight through it. He’s been doing really well, though.”
Injury is an almost inevitable, commonplace occurrence in sports, but the first long-term recovery for an athlete can be devastating. From not being capable of basic in-game motions to the isolation of physical rehab, the emotional hurdle is often as tall as the physical one. The obstacle proved particularly complex for an 18-year-old eager to make a good first impression.
“It was kind of hard mentally,” Rhoden said. “I was just sitting at home doing nothing pretty much for a while. So, I got a lot of time to think, and think about what I was going to do, how I was going to approach my rehab and come back.”
To recover in time for the start of camp in late September, Rhoden trained diligently with the team’s Director of Sports Medicine, Tony Testa. He was able to perform solo drills, but his ailing shoulder prevented him from absorbing any contact. Throughout the interim, Cale offered a road map to recovery.
“I was always talking with Myles – especially when I came on campus – just about how to get through my injury, like, his time frame, what he was able to do at certain times,” Rhoden said. “So, I came along and I knew I was looking forward.”
Cale went from pupil to veteran when four graduation caps were tossed into the air last May. Both listed at 6-foot-6, the wing pairing is only separated by a mere five pounds – the elder Cale has the edge.
The circumstances are not identical, but Rhoden will be asked to put his injury behind him and contribute in a way that parallels Cale last season. The sophomore from Middletown, Del., meanwhile, will need his 4.3 points per game from last season to rise significantly.
Their adjustments will be challenging, but Cale spent many early mornings and late nights over the summer in the very gym where he spoke during Media Day, honing his three-point shot. The long hours of preparation were a precursor to the extended minutes he will see on the court, following a season in which he averaged 17.2 minutes off the bench.
“I remember last year I actually caught a cramp during the Villanova game after I dunked the ball,” Cale said. “So, I definitely got to get used to those minutes. I think it’ll definitely come on the court.”
One of the teammates who burned the midnight oil with Cale this summer, Myles Powell, has helped give the bright, potential-packed Rhoden invaluable guidance and encouragement.
“Myles Powell’s been teaching me stuff that I like – just amazing things that I didn’t really know I could even imagine,” Rhoden said.
“It’s big and little things as well,” Rhoden went on to say. “Just off the court things, like, how to be as a person; on the court things, just confidence and stuff like that. He always encourages me to shoot the ball, because he thinks I can shoot the ball.
“So, yeah, he always encourages me to shoot, just little things like that that go overlooked.”
With a twinkle in his eye, Powell mentioned at Big East Media Day that, “it’s all love” between the 2018-19 team and the departed quartet of Khadeen Carrington, Angel Delgado, Desi Rodriguez and Ismael Sanogo. With that said, having four seniors and no players from the 2015 recruiting class created a natural gap.
“You know, last year we were really close too,” Cale said. “But, this year, I guess the age isn’t that far apart, and we’re really – like, we had four seniors, so they had their own little – but the age isn’t really that far apart [this year], and we’re all together.”
“You can really feel it,” Cale added. “We all play together, play the game together, Fortnite, a little of that. Yeah, we have a lot of fun out there.”
Throughout last season, Willard often joked about the change in his seniors, remarking that girlfriends substituted the video games of prior years. While the team may be embracing game consoles again, the group is by no means less mature.
Cale assumes the mantle left behind by Rodriguez, and does so with the demeanor of a polished upperclassmen. The sophomore starter is not finished learning himself, but this new season presents him with an added responsibility – one he hopes to manage with the same effectiveness as a windmill slam, without the cramps.
“He [Jared] actually follows me a lot in practice, tries to see what I do, and then goes out there and does that,” Cale said. “I’ve been trying to be a good role model for him, and I think I’ve been doing that.”
James Justice can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @JamesJusticeIII.