The 2014 Seton Hall men’s basketball recruiting class will never be forgotten.
Getting ready for his fifth season as head coach, Kevin Willard made a splash. He was able to muster up a top-20 recruiting class according to 247Sports, which included a 5-star in Isaiah Whitehead. Not too shabby either was another 4-star center by the name of Angel Delgado and a few other medium-rated guys in Khadeen Carrington, Desi Rodriguez, Ishmael Sanogo and Michael Nzei.
Of course, the rest is history. Whitehead led Seton Hall to a 6-seed during his sophomore season and departed to the NBA, and the rest of the guys became four-year starters on perennial tournament teams. Their impact drew in other 4-star talent such as a guy named Myles Powell, among others. That 2014 Seton Hall recruiting class started a positive uptick in the players that decided to wear blue and white, and ever since, the Pirates have found themselves at the top of the Big East and recently a national force.
So when you look at that 2014 recruiting class, it’s surely the best in Pirates history, or at least since the 1990s, right? Wrong.
In 2000, Seton Hall had arguably the best recruiting class in all of college basketball. It just did not nearly pan out the same as the 2014 version.
To take you back even further, let’s start in 1999. The Pirates finished at 22-10 (10-6 Big East) under head coach and former Duke guard Tommy Amaker. According to basketball-reference.com, that team consisted of a 15.3 points per game scorer in Darius Lane, two other double-digit scorers in Rimas Kaukenas and Shaheen Holloway, and a raw but future NBA player in Samuel Dalembert. However, with Kaukenas and Holloway graduating, Amaker would have to replace a big part of the Pirates offense.
From there, Amaker worked some magic. The current Harvard head coach was able to land Eddie Griffin, a 6-foot-9-inch power forward who was ranked by ESPN as the top high-school basketball prospect in the Class of 2000. Yes, two decades ago the top player in the nation did not choose Duke or Kentucky, but the Seton Hall Pirates.
But it did not stop there. Not only did the Pirates land Griffin, they also landed Andre Barrett (ranked ninth by ESPN and as high as sixth by another recruiting service) and Marcus Toney-El, (another top-30 recruit). While there were no consensus team recruiting rankings like there are now, there is no doubt in my mind that the Pirates would have held the distinction of being number one. Together, those three made up arguably the top college basketball recruiting class in the nation, backed up by the fact that Seton Hall was the only school to have three recruits ranked inside the top 30, and even the top 50 for that matter.
Sadly, unlike the 2014 class, these guys just did not gel and really never even had a chance to. Griffin, who left for the NBA after one season in South Orange, did average an impressive double-double of 17.8 points per game and 10.8 rebounds per game. While Barrett only averaged 10.2 points per game his freshman season, he turned into one of the greatest scorers in Pirate history, averaging nearly 18 points per game by his senior season while leading the Pirates to an NCAA Tournament victory. Meanwhile, Toney-El also stayed all four seasons but never averaged more than seven points per game in a season.
While the 2000 class did not necessarily excel on the court, it did prove that Seton Hall can be an attractive destination for a prospective recruit. Amaker was not able to get his guys to gel, but Kevin Willard has shown time and time again that it’s certainly possible.
As the Pirates prepare to bring in yet another attractive class in 2020, headlined by a graduate transfer in Bryce Aiken, let’s not forget where it started. The 2014 class is the reason that Seton Hall basketball has been so successful for what is nearing a decade. However, the 2000 class proved what the 2014 class played out. South Orange, New Jersey can be the choice for the best of the best.
Mat Mlodzinski can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Find him on Twitter @Mlodzinski_15.