The Seton Hall Men’s Basketball Head Coach has been hit with a two-game suspension amid transfer tampering probe
When Seton Hall begins its most anticipated basketball season in decades next Tuesday, coach Kevin Willard will not be on the sideline.
Willard was hit with a two-game, University-imposed suspension in response to an NCAA investigation into Seton Hall and allegations of transfer tampering. Willard served the first game of his suspension in Seton Hall’s final exhibition game against Misericordia on Oct. 29 and will also miss the Pirates’ season opener against Wagner on Nov. 5. He is the first Seton Hall coach to be suspended since 2008, when Bobby Gonzalez went on a post-game press conference tirade regarding Wally Rutecki’s officiating following a loss to Rutgers.
As first reported by the New York Post, the investigation involved the transder of Taurean Thompson, who left Syracuse and joined Seton Hall in August 2017. The NCAA prohibits schools from contacting players that have signed a National Letter of Intent. Since Thompson had already signed his Letter of Intent with Syracuse, any communication between either Thompson or his family members and any member of Seton Hall’s coaching staff is a violation of the NCAA’s rules.
“Seton Hall University has been working collaboratively with the NCAA enforcement staff to address an infraction within our men’s basketball program,” a statement issued by the Athletics department said. “Our department has been proactive in our review and has been fully cooperating with the NCAA enforcement staff. “As head coach, Coach Willard assumes responsibility for the program, including this underlying violation, and has agreed to sit out the Oct. 29 exhibition contest and the Nov. 5 game. This matter is still in review, and as a result, we will refrain from commenting any further until it is resolved. Seton Hall is and always will be committed to a culture of compliance, and we will continue to work diligently to ensure it.”
The NCAA has yet to rule on whether the University-imposed two-game suspension is sufficient. A decision on any potential future punishment is expected soon.
A New York City native, Thompson attended St. Anthony’s High School in Jersey City, N.J., before transferring to Brewster Academy in New Hampshire to finish his high school career. A top-100 recruit in his class, Seton Hall was a legitimate contender to land Thompson coming out of high school, but he ultimately committed to Syracuse over the Pirates and Michigan State.
Following a freshman season in which he averaged nearly 10 points per game in a limited role, Thompson was expected to be a major piece for Syracuse in 2017-18. However, Thompson could not be reached by teammates during the summer and did not report for the Syracuse’s first day of classes. Three days later, he was enrolled at Seton Hall.
“We have been informed that Taurean is taking a leave of absence from Syracuse University,” Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said in a statement one day before it became known that Thompson was enrolled at Seton Hall. “My understanding is that he wants to go to school closer to home due to some family health issues.”
It is unknown whether Thompson ever officially received a release from his scholarship at Syracuse. At the time of his transfer, a release was required before the player could obtain financial aid at his new school per NCAA rules.
“I heard about it,” Boeheim said of Willard’s suspension following a Syracuse exhibition game on Oct. 29. “I don’t know anything about it, of what happened. I don’t know anything about it. Nothing.”
Thompson averaged 4.6 points and 2.3 rebounds in 10.3 minutes per game for Seton Hall last season. He is expected to be a back end of the rotation player for the Pirates in 2019-20.
Assistant Coach Grant Billmeier coached Seton Hall against Misericordia and was not permitted to discuss Willard’s suspension with the media after the game. He will also serve as the head coach against Wagner with assistants Tony Skinn and Duane Woodward remaining in their normal roles. Despite his suspension from in-game coaching, Willard is permitted to run practices as usual.
“The one thing I’ll say about coach Willard is he prepares everyone to one day be in this spot and have their own program,” Billmeier said. “Coach Willard is big into everybody being involved in all aspects of the program. From scouting to recruiting, player development and overseeing academics, this is what he prepares us for on an everyday basis.”
Billmeier has served as an assistant coach at Seton Hall since Willard became coach in 2010. He spent his first four seasons on Willard’s staff as a director of basketball operations before being promoted to assistant coach prior to the beginning of the 2015-16 season. Billmeier also played for the Pirates from 2003-07 and was a member of two NCAA Tournament teams.
Tyler Calvaruso can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Find him on Twitter @tyler_calvaruso.