Seton Hall’s Fishy Recruiting Tactics

Posted by Chris Johnson on September 20th, 2013

Chris Johnson is an RTC Columnist. He can be reached @ChrisDJohnsonn.

There will be some measure of disbelief the first time you see it. Don’t hesitate to look, just know that when you start scratching your head, trying to think of an explanation, your eyes do not deceive you: the above link takes you directly to a list of Seton Hall’s 2014 recruiting class, which now counts three top-100 commitments, including Thursday’s huge addition: Lincoln High School (NY) shooting guard Isaiah Whitehead, a consensus five-star prospect ranked well within the top 40 of any recruiting database, ended his high profile recruitment Thursday when he committed to the Pirates. Whitehead, an explosive 6-foot-3 shooting guard with possible one-and-done designs, received offers from Indiana, Kentucky, Louisville, UCLA, Syracuse, and other big-name high-major programs. Before Thursday’s decision, Whitehead was believed to have narrowed his lengthy list to two schools: St. Johns (who Whitehead visited Wednesday, and thus the school many expected Whitehead to choose) and Seton Hall. As word of the five-star guard’s announcement circulated, it was easy for one’s mind to wander: what led Whitehead to choose Seton Hall, a long-dormant program under Kevin Willard, over the Steve Lavin-led Red Storm? Was there something behind Whitehead’s decision not made apparent at his announcement? That seemed to be the implication from a New York Post report divulging the imminent hiring of Dwayne “Tiny” Morton, Whitehead’s middle school teacher and high school coach (and founder of Juice All-Stars, Whitehead’s AAU team), to Seton Hall’s staff. The sequence of events did not really leave much room for interpretation: Whitehead appeared to be a “package” deal.

If Seton Hall can't compete with top programs for high-level recruits, bundling players assistants is a legal, yet questionable, workaround (Photo credit: Under Armour/Mary Kline)

If Seton Hall can’t compete with top programs for high-level recruits, bundling players assistants is a legal, yet questionable, workaround (Photo credit: Under Armour/Kelly Kline)

I’ll answer the question that surely popped into your brain sometime over the last five seconds: No, there is nothing illegal about Seton Hall’s reported decision to hire Morton. The NCAA instituted a rule last season prohibiting the hiring of third-parties connected to recruits to any position other than one of the three assistant spots allotted to each team. Morton is expected to become one of the Pirates’ three assistants, making his new position perfectly valid – in the eyes of the NCAA. How the rest of the college hoop world (fans, rival coaches, and players) feel about this is another story entirely. Before you make a conclusive judgment, there is a pattern of repeated behavior worth discussing that might influence your opinion. Whitehead may be the latest package deal in Seton Hall’s 2014 class, but he’s not the only one. It was just over a month ago that 2014 four-star forward Angel Delgado’s commitment to Seton Hall was followed weeks later by the Pirates’ hiring of Oliver Antigua, who knew Delgado through his assistant’s role on the national program of Delgado’s native Dominican Republic. Or go back five months earlier, when 2013 point guard Jaren Sina – who reneged on his verbal commitment to Northwestern after the Wildcats replaced former coach Bill Carmody with Chris Collins – opted to join Seton Hall right around the time Fred Hill, a former Northwestern assistant instrumental to the New Jersey-based Sina’s initial commitment to the Wildcats, was added to the Pirates’ staff. That makes Morton’s potential addition Seton Hall’s third prospect-tethered hire under Willard over the past six months.

If hiring assistants in conjunction with recruits doesn’t run afoul of NCAA rules, and Seton Hall – a mostly nondescript program joining the new hoops-only Big East this season, still reaching for its first NCAA Tournament bid since 2006 – is all but guaranteed to benefit from the practice, then why should anyone take issue with the Pirates’ sudden recruiting success? Other than a possible optics problem – there’s something unseemly and vaguely disreputable about tying assistant hires to the whims of 17-year-old high school basketball players – Seton Hall’s prospect-staff packages don’t seem like anything deserving of loud public outcry. Rival programs may consider Willard’s recruiting methods unethical, and at least partially unbecoming of a scouting process that should be less about backdoor deals than traditional human salesmanship, longstanding program success, tradition, coaching acumen, and any other characteristic normal recruitment typically boils down to. But if Seton Hall wants to attempt to jumpstart its afterthought of a program by promising top-level recruits a deal with their high school and/or grassroots-level coaches – rather than courting players through conventional means – there’s not much one can really say or do to stop them. I just have one question: Will Seton Hall be forced to fire one of its new assistants the next time it wants to land a blue chip recruit? Surely the next top-50 player committing to the Pirates will require some staff turnover. That seems to be the only way Seton Hall can get highly ranked high school players to sign up these days.

Chris Johnson (290 Posts)

My name is Chris Johnson and I'm a national columnist here at RTC, the co-founder of Northwestern sports site Insidenu.com and a freelance contributor to SI.com.


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2 Responses to “Seton Hall’s Fishy Recruiting Tactics”

  1. smokeweed says:

    For the record Kentucky never offered him.

  2. botskey says:

    Chris, here are my issues with this article. I understand your view but I respectfully disagree with most of it.

    1) Why is this a problem only when Seton Hall does it? This has gone on for decades at many schools, including many blue chip programs. I have a feeling some are jealous of the Pirates’ sudden success and realize they now have some new competition to deal with on the court.

    2) I’m not sure why everyone thought Whitehead was going to end up at St. John’s. He announced on Tuesday (a day before he visited SJU) that he’d be revealing his choice on Thursday. Why would he have made up his mind before visiting SJU? Nobody in their right mind would do that. That’s why I thought it boded well for the Hall when he set his announcement BEFORE the SJU visit (he visited SH on Saturday 9/14, which you failed to mention in your piece). If he had set the announcement after, I’d have said SJU. Basically my point is, why would he decide on a school before he visited it? I think a lot of the “experts” missed this fact.

    3) You mention “conventional means” in recruiting and cite salesmanship, program success, etc. In my opinion, it’s very naive to think the bigger programs out there get players through “conventional means.” Back room deals are common in the world of college recruiting. Family members, associates, etc get benefits, jobs, whatever else comes to mind under the table. The big name schools are great at doing this discretely. Seton Hall is just the latest school to decide to get involved in the recruiting game.

    4) Why is nobody questioning the recruiting success of other dormant Big East programs such as St. John’s and Providence? Perhaps their “dealings” have been more of the clandestine variety? Seton Hall hasn’t been great over the last decade, but it has been better than the Red Storm and the Friars. Don’t believe me? Check out the Pomeroy ratings, Big East records and NCAA appearances. Since the 2002-03 season, Seton Hall has more NCAA appearances, a better Big East record and a far better average KenPom rating than the Johnnies and Friars. It’s not saying much when compared to national powers, but it’s foolish to say the Pirates have been dormant (true in the grand scheme) but St. John’s (and Providence) has not. They’ve been worse.

    5) Regarding Jaren Sina. I don’t deny Fred Hill’s hiring helped bring him to the Hall. It was certainly a factor but it was not the only reason. Willard had an opening thanks to Dan McHale’s departure. He was looking for a coach and Hill, a NJ native who had plenty of success at SH before, was a natural fit for a coaching staff that needed a shot in the arm. Do not forget that Seton Hall was recruiting Sina very hard for years. Sina originally committed to Alabama and the Hall game in second. Then he de-committed and went to Northwestern. Again, the Hall was second. SH had been after Sina long before Fred Hill was on staff.

    6) Many “in the know” SH folks had been saying all spring and summer that Willard would use the two vacancies (McHale and Chris Pompey) on his staff to bring in recruits tied to players. This is perfectly legal and smart given Seton Hall’s recruiting situation. Having missed at the last minute on Kyle Anderson two years ago when many thought the Pirates were the favorite for his services (similar position to SJU in the Whitehead sweepstakes), Willard had to do something bold. It’s called leveraging your assets and it was a no-brainer for Willard. What I’m interested to see is how Willard finds a spot for Morton on the staff, if what has been reported is true. He has three pretty good assistants and one will have to go if Morton is to land at the Hall next season.

    7) If Hill was so significant to Sina’s recruitment, why didn’t Chris Collins keep him on staff at Northwestern if he could keep the player signed with the Wildcats? Don’t forget, Collins and Hill worked on the same coaching staff at Seton Hall in the late 90s so they’re familiar with each other.

    8) I feel you missed the biggest point of this whole situation. Willard did this in order to jumpstart his program, banking on future success to land more recruits in the future. If this class wins big, it’ll be so much easier for Willard and the Pirates to land top notch recruits through those “conventional means” you mentioned. That is what’s really behind all of this. If he doesn’t win with this group, he’ll be looking for a new job anyway. It makes perfect sense to do this now, win and then be able to recruit “normally” in future classes. Good players want to play with other good players and this is the first step for Seton Hall in moving towards that end.

    Instead of bashing a program for doing what it needed to do in order to be relevant again, I’d be commending Willard for thinking a little bit outside of the box. Seton Hall did not cheat as this is perfectly legal in the eyes of the NCAA. Should that rule be changed? Well, that’s another discussion I think needs to be had. But you can’t blame the Hall for playing within the rules and bettering its program.

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