He has been waiting for this moment since he was a freshman, when Seton Hall had their Dance ended in the first round by Wofford, since COVID robbed that Myles Powell team from big things, since the 2021 team ended up on the outside looking in on all the Madness.
Now he is the senior star (15.9 ppg, 6.8 rpg.) with the pink shoes and wide eyes that visualize one sweet prize.
“I see us going on a deep run,” Jared Rhoden told The Post. “I think that we had the lowest of our lowest already. I think we’re gonna surprise a lot of people.”
Selection Sunday handed the Hall (21-10) the No. 8 seed in the South Region region against No. 9 TCU (20-12) on Friday in San Diego.
“I just think the chemistry and the bond, it’s like no other that I’ve had on a team in quite a while,” Rhoden said, “and I think that goes a long way, and I think that translates to how we play and how we feed off of each other.”
Kevin Willard is an elite coach. His lone NCAA Tournament win came as a No. 8 seed in 2018 against N.C. State. And this has arguably been his best coaching job given the offensive adjustments made necessary by the loss of point guard Bryce Aiken (concussion).
“Coach Willard is not someone that comes in and gets too high or gets too low,” Rhoden said. “You know what you’re gonna get out of him. I think he’s very quick on his feet. He knows how to change schemes. He knows how to be versatile and utilize himself in his mind to change game plans. … He’s just amazing. I think he does a great job of leading us, and teaching us as well.”
Rhoden played 16 minutes in his one and only NCAA Tournament appearance at Veterans Memorial Arena in Jacksonville, scoring nine points and grabbing five rebounds.
“I just remember how nervous I was to be honest,” he said. “As a kid growing up watching the games for so long, and wanting to be a part of it, having that experience to finally go out there and play. … My parents took the flight down and watched me play. It was just an amazing feeling to be there in that atmosphere and that experience.”
The NCAA jitters didn’t last long.
“I think that was kinda like my breakout moment where I felt like I could really potentially continue on playing and having an impact at the next level,” Rhoden said. “It was just like a dream come true for me, just being able to have an impact game in the tournament.”
Rhoden recalls the frustration of missing out on March Madness as a sophomore because of COVID.
“Me personally knowing that we had a chance to make a deep, deep, deep run, and potential to win a national championship,” he said. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience, so to have it taken away from something out of your control. … It kinda hurt me.”
The Sandro Mamukelashvili 2020-21 team lost five of its last six games and finished 14-13. “It kinda hurt,” Rhoden said.
A caption beneath one of Rhoden’s Instagram photos reads: “ME VERSUS ME.”
“Your battles are within yourself,” Rhoden said. “Many times I feel like people try to compare themselves to outside influences or outside people. But I feel like the main thing that’s important is your battle within yourself in your mind. I feel like if you control that, then you can achieve anything.”
Betting on March Madness 2022?
A basketball journey that began in earnest with the Long Island Lightning picked up steam when he transferred from Baldwin (L.I.) High School to Our Saviour Lutheran High School in The Bronx.
“That was really tough for me, because as a 16-year-old kid leaving my family back home where I was comfortable, just transitioning to living in a suburban life to moving playing basketball in the city was kind of a culture shock for me growing up,” Rhoden said. “And I think that it made me who I am now, and it made me a man.”
It is easy to root for the kid with the pink shoes.
“It started off as a superstition thing for me, where I played well in one of the games,” Rhoden said, “but then I just fell in love with it. I was walking around and I would just hear these little kids talking to me about how much they loved it. I was getting messages from people asking me where the shoes were from, and how much they loved it. So for me, it just became kind of like a part of my image and my look.”
Jared Rhoden has an NBA dream and will discuss his options with his family and coaches once the season ends.
“I can try to sell you on my skills and all that other stuff,” Rhoden said, “but I feel like I’m a great locker-room dude. Someone you can trust. I’ll never get outworked. And I feel like I can fit in in any system.”
In the meantime, he has this message for Seton Hall fans: “Just stay with us. There’s a lot coming. We got big surprises for you guys in the future.”
Go West, young men.
MEET THE PIRATES
Location: South Orange, N.J.
Enrollment: 6,068 undergraduates (10,000 total)
Coach: Kevin Willard (12th season)
Last NCAA appearance: 2019
NCAA Tournament history: 13 appearances, 16-13
How they got here: A torrid start, nine wins in 10 games to begin the season that included victories over Texas, Michigan and Rutgers, and a furious finish. Seton Hall closed the regular season with five straight wins, and eight victories in 10 games to finish sixth in the Big East to punch its ticket. A season sweep of Big East Tournament finalist Creighton and home victory over Connecticut highlight the Pirates’ résumé.
G Kadary Richmond (9.0 ppg, 4.1 apg, 3.6 rpg)
G Myles Cale (9.8 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 1.5 spg)
F Jared Rhoden (15.9 ppg, 6.8 rpg, 1.2 spg)
F Tray Jackson (7.0 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 0.4 apg)
C Ike Obiagu (2.6 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 3.3 bpg)
G Jamir Harris (7.8 ppg, 1.2 rpg, 0.9 apg)
F Alexis Yetna (8.4 ppg, 7.8 rpg, 0.8 apg)
F Tyrese Samuel (7.4 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 0.5 spg)
Player to watch
Jared Rhoden might be Seton Hall’s best player, but Kadary Richmond is its most important one, the lone healthy true point guard on the roster. The 6-foot-6 Brooklyn native is nursing a sprained right thumb, which is one reason the quarterfinal exit from the Big East Tournament may help the Pirates in the long run.
5.5 — blocked shots per game, the 12th-most in the country
12 — wins by seven points or less
5 — NCAA Tournament berths for Seton Hall under Willard
10.4 — Seton Hall’s assists per game, which ranks 334th nationally
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism