Willard Thinking Outside the Box in Antigua Hire

**UPDATE 9/1713** Seton Hall officially hired Oliver Antigua as an assistant coach. The press release from Seton Hall was here until Thursday, with my column on it from earlier this summer below.

Kevin Willard is thinking outside the box.

And when you’re the coach at Seton Hall, you might as well try something new to bring in an infusion of talent.

Having already hired former Rutgers head coach and Northwestern assistant Freddie Hill to (successfully) assist in the recruitment of point guard Jaren Sina, Willard is on the brink of adding Oliver Antigua just shortly after Dominican forward Angel Delgado — an Antigua protégé from the DR– verbally committed to the Pirates.

“I haven’t hired anyone yet,” Willard told SNY.tv Tuesday after reports surfaced on Twitter that the Antigua-to-Seton Hall hire was done.

Assuming it does get done in the near future, there are those who think Willard is making a smart move.

“Kevin had to upgrade his staff and he had to bring in some guys who could recruit his geographic footprint and also recruit outside the box,” ESPN college basketball analyst Seth Greenberg told SNY.tv. “I think Coach Antigua fits both criteria.”

Ironically, Antigua will move from working for one Rick Pitino protégé in Manhattan’s Steve Masiello to another in Willard. Masiello parted ways with Antigua earlier this summer.

What makes the move especially interesting is that Willard is effectively taking a page out of John Calipari’s book — not Rick Pitino’s — in terms of this hire.

Orlando Antigua, Oliver’s twin brother, is an assistant coach at Kentucky and also helps Calipari coach the Dominican Republic National Team.

The Calipari/Antigua relationship with Karl Towns Jr. helped bring the 7-footer from New Jersey to Kentucky for 2014, and now Willard is obviously hoping Oliver Antigua can bring in more Dominican talent to Seton Hall, which has often relied on recruits from the Canarias Basketball Academy in Spain in the post-Bobby Gonzalez Era.

“Everyone hires assistant coaches because of their relationships,” one industry expert told SNY.tv. “It’s no different than hiring another assistant coach. He’s a proven coach but he has relationships.”

A 6-foot-9 rebounding machine who is still perfecting his English, Delgado has only been in the U.S. about a year and has strong ties to the Antiguas from his time in the DR.

“They’ve known about him longer than anybody,” New York Lightning coach Dana Dingle said at the Peach jam.

“They probably know better than anybody how he looked last year as in comparison to now and how hungry he got and has a chip on his shoulder and has stuff to prove to himself and his family and everybody.”

Kentucky was looking at Delgado, but never offered, and Louisville was also involved.

In the end, he landed with a former Pitino assistant who is taking a page from Calipari.

Although Oliver Antigua coached at St. Raymond’s in the The Bronx and at Manhattan, he has never coached Delgado in a high school or AAU setting.

That’s what makes the Antigua-Delgado relationship unique.

“He definitely knows the kid, he definitely has a relationship with the kid,” one Division 1 coach told SNY.tv.

“He met him down in the DR, coached him on the National team and developed a relationship with him. It’s a very surprising way of doing things.”

Even if Antigua had coached Delgado in high school or AAU, Seton Hall would have no restrictions going forward because Antigua is being hired as an assistant coach.

By comparison, when St. John’s hired Moe Hicks as the Director of Basketball Operations, it couldn’t recruit anyone from Rice High School or the Gauchos AAU program for two years because of NCAA Bylaw 11.4.2.

So if you’re Kevin Willard and Seton Hall, this hire makes sense.

It’s outside the box, but it makes sense.

In case you hadn’t noticed, Top 100 players aren’t lining up to come to play in South Orange or at the Prudential Center in Newark.

Seton Hall’s best players in recent years were guys left over from the controversial Gonzalez Era — Fuquan Edwin, Jordan Theodore, Herb Pope, Jeremy Hazell.

Among them, only Edwin is left.

Aaron Cosby, one of the team’s top guards during Willard’s Era, transferred to Illinois, and highly touted big man Kevin Johnson also left.

For Seton Hall to compete in the new-look Big East with the Marquettes, Georgetowns, St. John’s and Villanovas, Willard had to do something to upgrade his talent pool — now and into the future.

He has done so by thinking outside the box.

And now he hopes the move will pay off.

Photo: NY Post

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