College students around the country take great pride in their school’s athletic programs. Sometimes, though, they take great pride in other schools’ athletic programs, as well.
While I attend New Jersey’s Ramapo College, my fandom is deeply rooted in the Seton Hall Pirates.
For any of my Twitter followers out there, it is quite obvious that I have have a slight obsession with Seton Hall basketball, that may even be an understatement. So one may ask, “Patrick, why are you such a big Seton Hall fan if you don’t attend the school?”
The answer to that question goes all the way back to when I was born in 1996. My father John Tonero, a proud Seton Hall alum, had season tickets back at when the Pirates played at Continental Airlines Arena, now called the Izod Center.
My fond memories of being at Seton Hall games date all the way back to the 2001 season, when Seton Hall edged out UConn, 65-63. The early 2000’s bring back many happy memories of some Seton Hall greats.
I remember watching Louis Orr lead the Pirates to the NCAA Tournament in 2004, then again in 2006. After falling to Wichita State in the 2006 NCAA Tournament, Seton Hall shocked a lot of people and decided to part ways with Orr.
At the time I was young, and did not know what to think about the move, but I knew many people were surprised at the decision after Orr had guided the Pirates to the NCAA Tournament.
2007-2008 was supposed to be the new beginning for Seton Hall basketball, a brand new arena in the Prudential Center and a second year head coach in Bobby Gonzalez. I still remember the excitement of being at ‘The Rock’ for Seton Hall’s first game there, in which they edged out upset-minded Monmouth in overtime. I was also at the second Seton Hall game at the Prudential Center, when they needed overtime again to take care of Robert Morris.
While the Pirates certainly had some success under Gonzalez during his reign as head coach, he ultimately left the program a mess when he as fired at the end of 2009.
Current head coach Kevin Willard took over the problem at the beginning of the 2009-10 season and as a die-hard Pirate fan I knew it was going to take time to rejuvenate the program.
Willard’s first season at the helm was a struggle, as The Pirates went 13-18. It was a very rough season. But I still made sure I was in front of the television for every single game. Willard’s second season was an improvement as the Pirates finished 21-13.
The following two seasons were quite frustrating, as Seton Hall failed to finish above .500 in either year. Many fans, including myself, were questioning if this Big East job was too much for Willard, who had come from Iona. Then the 2014 recruiting class happened and the Pirates’ coaching staff reeled in All-American Isaiah Whitehead, Angel Delgado, Khadeen Carrington and Ish Sanago.
My anticipation skyrocketed, as I thought that this was going to be the beginning of something great for Seton Hall basketball. The Pirates started off 12-2 which included a win over 6th ranked Villanova, and things looked to be on the up and up for the Pirates to get back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since Orr took them there in 2006.
Every Seton Hall fan knows how that season went, it fell apart. Team chemistry issues between the freshman class and the upperclassmen derailed the team. The Pirates limped to a 16-15 finish.
The 2015-16 season did not look too promising either for a while, as the Pirates started off 3-4 in Big East play after a strong performance in the nonconference schedule. But then, Isaiah Whitehead took control and led the team on an unprecedented run to win the Big East Tournament and finally make it back to the NCAA Tournament.
Last season was somewhat the same story, but then a four game winning streak at the end of the season topped by a win at 13th ranked Butler on senior day, locked up the Pirates’ second consecutive NCAA Tournament bid, but once again Seton Hall fell in the first round.
What will 2017-18 bring for Seton Hall? That’s why I’m writing this piece. Nothing in sports is more welcoming to me than walking into The Rock and hearing Tim McLoone’s voice over the PA system say, “Welcome to the world of Seton Hall University basketball.” Nothing beats hearing the band play the Seton Hall’s fight song “Onward Setonia” before opening tip.
2017-18 is the season Seton Hall fans such as myself have been waiting for, for a very long time. The program has a great head coach, who took over a program that was in duress and has turned it into a likely preseason top 25 team. This program also has a very special group of seniors which have battled through challenges and adversity over the past three years. This Seton Hall program has not only put it’s basketball program on the map, but the university on the map.
Seton Hall fans, get out and support your Pirates in 2017-18! The players will feed off of the energy in the arena. There is no excuse for there to be any lack of attendance at home games this season, especially with a favorable schedule. The team may hit bumps in the road, but have faith and support them. With great fan support and a great team, 2017-18 should be a special year in South Orange, New Jersey!