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Seton Hall’s not-so-secret ingredient: Desi Rodriguez

The rising junior looks to further amp his dominance this season for the Pirates.

NCAA Basketball: Xavier at Seton Hall Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

Not many teams can say they grabbed the W over Villanova last season. Seton Hall, however, can boast not only a W, but the Big East championship. At the epicenter of the Pirates’s strong season? Desi Rodriguez.

Coach Kevin Willard marked Rodriguez’s second year as a period of transition—although initially playing for the Hall as a power forward his freshman year, Rodriguez shifted into the small forward role. The shift helped upgrade his game.

The Bronx native had a strong opening season with Seton Hall. In 2014-15, Rodriguez introduced his role by racking up 25 steals with near nominal minutes played. His highest freshman accolade occurred against Xavier, scoring a crucial 16 points in just 20 minutes played. He may not have been playing every minute, but he worked every minute played.

This hustle continued onto his sophomore year, but serving as a wing helped Rodriguez noticeably expand his influence on the scoreboard. Nailing an overall shooting percentage of over 50%, Rodriguez exerted a newfound offensive presence. Intriguingly, his career high of 27 points in a game came at the expense of Xavier once more, this time adding a casual 12 rebounds to the Musketeers’s disappointment. Oh, and let’s not forget this one-handed dunk masterpiece:

Dunking seems to Rodriguez’s poison of choice. Topping his teammates with 20 dunks this past season, Rodriguez thrives upon finding, and creating, a break. His spirit for the drive was equally seen during Seton Hall’s Big East championship game, as he put up 12 points and secured 4 vital steals.

Clearly, the transition to playing wing has emphasized and pushed Rodriguez’s abilities on the court. His 6’6 stature gives him additional edge around the arc, allowing him to powerfully maneuver and shape offensive drives.

Rodriguez’s skill set will likely be regularly utilized by the Pirates this upcoming season. Isaiah Whitehead’s departure to the NBA signifies that the Hall needs dependable shooting forces for the 2016-17 season. Fellow juniors Khadeen Carrington and Angel Delgado will presumably aid in fulfilling that role, and Rodriguez is expected to deftly complement the effort.

A high school teammate of Whitehead, Rodriguez has had ample time to observe Whitehead’s explosiveness and accordingly cultivate his own brand of firepower. With Whitehead now off to the Brooklyn Nets, South Orange is left to Rodriguez to further accentuate his mark with Seton Hall.

Rodriguez’s impactful sophomore year indicates we’ve only just begun to see the extent of his capabilities. The additional time to perfect his offensive abilities, paired with his natural defensive predisposition, suggests that Rodriguez will be a noted force to watch this season.