Former teammates collide in intrastate showdown
Myles Mack hesitated before doing so, but called the Rutgers men’s basketball team’s affair tonight against Seton Hall “just another game.”
The freshman point guard knows what is at stake — both members of the New Jersey rivalry are tied for 10th in the Big East. Both teams continue to struggle. The Scarlet Knights lost four of five, and Seton Hall dropped its last five games.
And both programs lay claim to a small sliver along Paterson’s 11th street.
The county seat of Passaic once boasted one of New Jersey’s top private basketball programs in Paterson Catholic, where Mack used to call home.
Three other players taking the Louis Brown Athletic Center floor once did, as well. They collide for the first time — two donning scarlet and the others in blue — in college.
“I’m looking forward to it a lot,” Mack said. “I just want to see how it is and just compete with everybody.”
He will line up across from Pirates senior Jordan Theodore, a former Paterson Catholic point guard who guided Mack as a high school freshman. He will face also off against Seton Hall sophomore Fuquan Edwin, who Mack is closest with out of anyone, Mack said.
But he will not do so alone.
Freshman forward Derrick Randall wore maroon and gold with Mack, playing a decisive role in Mack’s commitment to head coach Mike Rice.
“It definitely adds to the mix,” Rice said. “They’re from the same school, same AAU program, they played against each other. They know each other. There’s a lot of smack being talked in the summertime over it. I don’t think it’s where there’s a hostility. It’s a rivalry.”
The Knights claimed two of the past three meetings, including a first-round victory in the Big East Tournament, where Edwin and Theodore fouled out.
The series’ renewal is not without its fair share of gamesmanship.
Seton Hall (15-8, 4-7) senior center Herb Pope and former Knight Hamady N’Diaye exchanged shoves during Rutgers’ 2010 Senior Night. The Knights’ (12-12, 4-7) overtime win at Madison Square Garden featured 42 combined fouls.
“It gets chippy. It gets really intense,” said junior forward Austin Johnson. “It gets hot and heavy, a different element to it. It’s a big rivalry — that’s all you can say about it. Players are running off emotions.”
Pope, the Big East’s second-leading rebounder, sat out Saturday at Connecticut. But he likely will not miss the 61st meeting between teams of a rivalry that spans less than 30 miles.
“You have to be sort of on guard, but you should like to have a rivalry,” Rice said. “It should be important to you. I don’t have to hype it up with them because they played AAU with these guys, they played summer league against them or with them. We know them and they know us.”
None know each other than the former Paterson Catholic quartet.
Mack’s and Theodore’s parents both speak regularly. Edwin and Mack find a way to talk nearly every day. And regardless of where they are, they all enjoy a close following.
“When we go home, there’s a lot of love for us,” Mack said. “I appreciate that from the Paterson citizens. I just love it when I go home because I get a lot of support from everybody.”
Mack transferred to St. Anthony for his senior season after Paterson Catholic closed its doors because of financial reasons. Randall prepped for a season at the South Kent School (Conn.) after earning his diploma.
Edwin, the Big East’s leader in steals per game, and Theodore, second in the league in assists, were already in South Orange.
Paterson Catholic product and New York Giant Victor Cruz plans to attend the reunion in Piscataway. Cruz and Mack have a close relationship, but Mack said he cannot worry about the crowd.
He has enough to focus on with Theodore, his energetic and pesky predecessor. Edwin will likely draw his attention, as well.
“If he doesn’t say anything about it, I won’t say anything about it,” Mack said of Edwin. “That’s how we play it off. Off the court, [Theodore’s] not like that, either. On the court, he probably talks a lot.”
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