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February 19, 2003 Columns No Comments



The Kids in the Hall

by Adam Shandler

It was the year 2000, NCAA tournament. The Seton Hall Pirates scourged
through a bracket with such troublesome foes as Oregon, Temple and
Oklahoma State. Tommy Amaker’s first Pirate tournament team surprised the first two
opponents before succumbing to the Cowboys in the Sweet 16. But that was
okay, because the Hall went beyond expectations, and in the contest
against Temple, backup point guard and heir apparent Ty Shine “shined”
in place of injured All-Big East point guard Shaheen Holloway.

The following off-season, Amaker announced a stellar recruiting class.
2000-01 featured phenoms Eddie Griffin, a forward with a great outside
shot, Andre Barrett, a stumpy but quick-as-heck point guard with superb
court vision, and Marcus Toney-El, Seton Hall Prep’s monster rebounder
who ate up New Jersey high school opponents for breakfast, then asked,
“What’s for lunch?”

And Hall fans looked to the heavens and said, “Yes, this is it. This is
the year we return to Big East and NCAA hoops prominence, when we
consistently make the Top 25 and the NCAA tourney. It’ll be like the
Carlesimo days all over again.”

Not quite. That 2000-01 season was a nightmare.

The team did finish over .500 — 16-15 — but went 5-11 in conference
play. There was infighting on the team that on one occasion even came to
fisticuffs. Each of the new recruits thought he was “the man” while the
old guard, led by Darius Lane and Shine, were less about being poster
boys and more about winning games. There was a distinct line drawn in
the sand between the rookies and the vets, and it was killing the
program.

Over time, stuff happened. After just one year of college ball, Eddie
Griffin jumped to the NBA, where he was drafted by the Nets but then
traded to the Rockets. Two years ago, Tommy Amaker accepted a
high-profile gig at Michigan, as well as all the baggage from the Chris
Webber days.

Enter Louis Orr, a Syracuse guy who did some pretty nifty things at
Siena. Unlike Amaker, Orr is a player’s coach with a fundamental
coaching style. He is unassuming, never flashy and sometimes, he won’t
even wear a tie. He wants to win, but when he does, he doesn’t need to
be front page news. Orr was just the guy the Seton Hall hoops program
needed to simmer the team down, a blue-collar, roll-up-the-sleeves kind
of guy who imported a concrete philosophy of team play.

Last season, Orr stepped into the role of Pirate coach quite modestly.
Very modestly. He compiled a 12-18 mark, but there were flashes of
brilliance (or at least Brill Cream) in his inaugural year. Andre
Barrett’s game started coming around with the distraction of Griffin
long gone. John Allen, then a rookie small forward, was sneaking up on
the Big East elite, finishing the season averaging 11.4 ppg and 5.5
rebounds. But a slew of role players showed Pirate fans that this team
had potential, even if a conference championship wasn’t going to happen
overnight.

This season, the Pirates are bothering a lot of opponents. At this
writing, they are 12-9 overall, 6-4 in the Big East, on a five-game win
streak (four straight at home)…but wait, there’s more. They defeated,
with precision, Top 25 powerhouses Notre Dame and Pittsburgh. Seton Hall
was supposed to take on Villanova on February 17, but a doozie of a
snowstorm rocked the Northeast and forced postponement.

What caused this startling metamorphosis in the team from South Orange,
NJ? Orr’s team philosophy apparently has taken. Most importantly with
the team leaders, Barrett and Allen. Barrett is a year older, wiser and
better as a basketball player. Barrett isn’t terribly quick, but he is
an adept ballhandler who gets the job done as a bringer-upper and a
feeder. Big men Allen, freshman Kelly Whitney and Duke transfer Andre
Sweet have been able to take quick, fluid shots inside because of
Barrett’s ability to get the ball to them crisply.

Allen has been consistent, averaging 15 points and 5 rebounds per game.
He’s a constant contributor even when he’s not putting up big numbers,
and his natural leadership as a Sophomore will bless Orr’s teams for
another couple of years.

Kelly Whitney, a freshman out of the Chicago high school hoops scene,
loves to rebound. He’s bringing down six a game and had 14 in an earlier
loss this season to Notre Dame. He wasn’t really brought in for scoring,
but has put up the double-digit game on occasion. Whitney is a nice
complement to junior Marcus Toney-El and Andre Sweet.

Sweet, the sophomore Duke transfer, was a major catalyst for the Pirates
in their win over Pitt last week. He was one of two players with a
game-high 17, netting 15 in the second half, and he poured in 11 points
in a climactic 13-6 Pirate run. Sweet, who also scored 17 points in the
upset of the Irish, spent most of this season wondering where he fit
into the lineup. He seems comfortable coming off the bench but will make
it harder for Louis Orr not to implement him into the starting lineup
soon.

After losses to Syracuse and Manhattan at the end of January, the
Pirates wondered if they’d even be suiting up for the Big East
tournament. Now, with a couple big wins and a team-oriented mission, the
Pirates and their fans might be spending a Sunday evening in early March
at their travel agent’s.

Orr might just take a page from Pirate predecessor Carlesimo who, after
a bunch of losing seasons, was the target of burning effigies and the
fodder of school board committee pink-slip talk. Two tourney appearances
later, Carlesimo was the toast of North Jersey and an A-list candidate
for NBA and big-time college coaching vacancies.

Yes, Orr has righted this Pirate ship, and if his team-chemistry
approach remains intact, he’ll continue to guide his team through
treachery-free waters.

     

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