The 2014-2015 college basketball season began with such hope and high expectations and aspirations for the Seton Hall men's program.
It was the best recruiting class the Pirates had in 15 years. The Pirates were welcoming a McDonald's All-American in Isaiah Whitehead. There were other promising freshmen like Khadeen Carrington, Angel Delgado and Desi Rodriguez, freshmen of impact.
It appeared as if coach Kevin Willard had turned the corner after four mediocre seasons. How mediocre? Well, the Pirates were exactly .500 (66-66) in the prior four years since Willard arrived from Iona.
But with a great recruiting class coming in, one of the best contingent of freshmen in the nation, the prospects finally looked great for the Pirates.
As the New Year turned, the Pirates were headed in the right direction. They were finally ranked among the nation's best, climbing all the way to No. 19 in the AP and USA Today rankings. They owned a 13-2 record and defeated two ranked teams (St. John's and Villanova) for the first time in almost 20 years.
But then, things unraveled rapidly. The Pirates inexplicably lost game after game. There was no rhyme or reason for the Pirates' demise. Some thought it was the injury to Whitehead, who suffered a broken foot after 11 games and missed a month.
After losing on the road to Providence Saturday, the Pirates own a mediocre 15-10 record and a pedestrian 5-8 mark in the Big East. It's been more of the same for Seton Hall. The season might have once had high hopes, but it's now become a gigantic disaster.
How can something so drastic actually take place? Sure, the Pirates might have been average in the past, but they had an average roster. Last year's team had at least four players who were simply not Division I products.
But this year was different. There was a standout shooting guard in Sterling Gibbs, a power forward with a great outside shooting touch in Brandon Mobley. There was a sure-fire 3-point threat in Jaren Sina.
Then, you add the incoming freshmen. Whitehead had all the hype of a McDonald's All-American. Delgado, a complete rebounding machine, was even better than expected. The same can be said for Carrington, who definitely was a better player than advertised. Rodriguez, who came with Whitehead from the same Brooklyn high school (Abraham Lincoln), was more than serviceable.
It was clearly a talented roster, the best Seton Hall had put on the floor in ages. I definitely bought the hype and told anyone and everyone that this was a team that was going to make the NCAA Tournament and could challenge for Big East honors. It was the best Pirate team that I could remember since....
Yes, 2001. It was almost eerily similar to this group. That team featured a nationally ranked recruiting class, led by a McDonald's All-American in Eddie Griffin. That freshman class also included a highly ranked point guard in Andre Barrett and a solid shooting local product in Marcus Toney-El from Seton Hall Prep. With returning players Darius Lane and Samuel Dalembert, the Pirates were set that year to make some noise.
But Tommy Amaker's group never really got along. There was chemistry problems from the outset and everything came to a boil when Griffin, who tragically lost his life a few years later after a non-descript brief NBA career, got into a celebrated fistfight with guard Ty Shine in the locker room after a loss to Georgetown. The Pirates finished that year with a highly disappointing 16-15 record. Amaker was soon gone off to Michigan and so were Griffin and Dalembert.
This year's team has endured very similar circumstances. There has been chemistry difficulties. Mobley questioned some of his teammates' motives after one loss. Sina packed his bags and left the team for good after he took the last two shots in a frustrating loss at home to Marquette. Sina felt like he was an outsider, getting called names because others felt he was getting favoritism from Willard, mentioning the color of Sina's skin as the reason.
There's the major problem caused by the superstar attitude of Whitehead, who had 20 points Saturday in the loss to Providence, but has been less than All-American all season, averaging just 12 points per game and shooting just 36 percent from the floor.
Whitehead came to South Orange complete with his own personal posse, both on the court and off. He arrives everywhere with teammates Carrington and Rodriguez, but also with five or so others who are not players nor family members. It's not known whether or not they are even Seton Hall students, yet they are constantly in Whitehead's company.
The Whitehead faction has caused a tremendous rift within the core of the Pirates, one that now cannot be repaired, certainly not this season, if not ever.
Whitehead came to South Orange with the thought he might be a "one-and-done," meaning spending one year at Seton Hall, living up to his hype as the preseason Big East Rookie of the Year, then declare his intentions for the NBA Draft.
Well, Whitehead has definitely not played like an NBA prospect this season. It's safe to say that he's been a gigantic bust.
Gibbs has basically saved the Pirates all season, but even now he's playing with mixed emotions, because his best friend is Sina, who remains in school, but has left the basketball program.
Any team that loses eight of 10 games in January and February is in serious trouble. That's what the Pirates are right now. The media guide's motto this year was boldly proclaimed "Blue Rising." It now can be best described as Blue Sinking, like the Pirate ship sinking rapidly in the high seas.
Why? Well, taking a page from the immortal Hall of Fame football coach Bill Parcells, it's time for Willard, the mastermind behind this mess, to read the words of Parcells' favorite poem and digest them, because the problems with the Pirates lay solely right now on Willard's shoulders.
The poem is called "The Man in the Glass," written in 1934 by Peter Dale Wimbrow, Sr. Here goes:
When you get what you want in your struggle for self
And the world makes you king for a day
Just go to the mirror and look at yourself
And see what that man has to say.
For it isn’t your father, or mother, or wife
Whose judgment upon you must pass
The fellow whose verdict counts most in your life
Is the one staring back from the glass.
He’s the fellow to please – never mind all the rest
For he’s with you, clear to the end
And you’ve passed your most difficult, dangerous test
If the man in the glass is your friend.
You may fool the whole world down the pathway of years
And get pats on the back as you pass
But your final reward will be heartache and tears
If you’ve cheated the man in the glass.
Yes, the Man in the Glass has to be Willard. He has to take a hard look and realize that he's the one who created the mess. He brought in Whitehead and allowed the posse to follow. He didn't address the chemistry problems and lost his team with the entire Sina incident.
No kid quits a team where he is starting and playing regularly. Only disgruntled kids who don't play quit in the middle of the year. If Sina transfers, he now has to sit out a full year and a half to play again. How ridiculous is that? But things had to be so bad for him to leave now.
Whitehead has not lived up to the hype and has been more of a nuisance and hindrance than a help. Clearly, this team should have been better than this disaster that has completely unraveled in the last six weeks.
Closing the locker room and keeping the media away is never an answer. Sure, when the team was winning and the bright lights of the television cameras were in attendance and the microphones were placed in the players' and coaches' faces, everything was just peachy. The attention was welcomed.
Now, things have gone sour and Willard closes the locker room and tells his players to stay away from social media outlets and don't talk to reporters.
You can't have the good and then not face the bad. It doesn't work both ways.
So there we have the unmitigated mess that is Seton Hall basketball. The Pirates have games at Villanova and St. John's this week, teams definitely looking for revenge and more than likely will get it. Losses will give the Pirates a 15-12 record and 5-10 mark in the league. Just like that 2001 team, a team that was a disappointing disaster, much like this one has become.
Now that the Brooklyn Nets have a 21-31 record and appear headed for oblivion for a long time to come, is it safe to say that the franchise made a gigantic mistake in letting P.J. Carlesimo go?
After all, the Nets posted a 35-19 record with Carlesimo as a head coach two years ago, after Carlesimo replaced Avery Johnson.
But for some reason, the Nets canned Carlesimo in favor for the unproven Jason Kidd, who then played the Nets like a fiddle in a bad power struggle, left for Milwaukee and left the Nets with the recycled Lionel Hollins.
Well, since the Nets let Carlesimo go, they have posted a 65-69 record and have no hope for the future. Deron Williams has become a shell of what he once was. Joe Johnson's skills have deteriorated. Kevin Garnett is at the end of the road.
The Nets are a bad basketball team right now and no one will ever know if the team would have been better off just keeping Carlesimo as head coach.
I am also a believer that new MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred should allow Pete Rose to be on the ballot for Hall of Fame consideration. Rose has paid his dues and deserves a chance to get in the Hall before it's too late.
But it has to be done under certain stipulations. Rose has to hold a press conference to admit that he gambled on baseball games while he was manager of the Cincinnati Reds. He can't just randomly go on TV and radio shows and hint that he gambled. He has to fess up to his indiscretions and answer questions about it, once and for all. Not in a book. Face to face with reporters and cameras and an apology to the sport for breaking the one rule that is posted in every MLB locker room.
Two, he can never hold another paid position in baseball. He can appear at card shows and sign autographs, like he does, but Rose can never be a coach or manager on any level.
No one can deny the fact that Pete Rose doesn't deserve to be in the Hall of Fame. At the very least, he should be placed on the ballot and see if the sportswriters do the right thing and elect him.
But then again, I believe that Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds are Hall of Famers and were Hall of Famers before they ever saw a syringe.
You can read more of my work at www.hudsonreporter.com, www.theobserver.com and www.dailyrecord.com.