PISCATWAY – The Rutgers-Seton Hall rivalry has run down the Garden State Parkway for decades. But now its reverberating through the streets of Paterson.
Five players — all of whom have integral roles on their team — are either from Paterson (Rutgers’ Eli Carter), went to Paterson Catholic (Seton Hall’s Jordan Theodore and Rutgers’ Derrick Randall), or grew up there and went to PC (Seton Hall’s Fuquan Edwin and Rutgers’ Myles Mack).
While they were all in the same vicinity, everybody doesn’t know everybody. Theodore only knows Mack, since Theodore was a senior at Paterson Catholic when Mack was a freshman.
Coincidently, that was the last time Mack didn’t start before this season, as his older brother Wayne and Theodore made up the starting backcourt.
However, Edwin knows everyone on Rutgers' side. He played with Mack for three years at Paterson Catholic. He did the same with Randall for two years, who gave Edwin the luxury of playing small and power forward his junior and senior seasons after having to play center for the undersized squad his first two seasons.
While Carter didn’t attend Paterson Catholic, he and Edwin are good friends from the neighborhood and used to play pick up games at the parks in Paterson.
Clearly, a lot of familiar faces will be bumping bodies and diving for loose balls on the RAC floor Wednesday night. So while an already intense rivalry has a lot of new faces, there’s still the element of familiarity.
“I think it adds to the rivalry because now it’s not just we’re playing against Rutgers, I’m playing against family. Guys I grew up with, guys that I know like the back of my hand. It just makes it even more fun,” Theodore said by phone on Monday.
“We going to have each others' families rooting against each other and that’s what a rivalry's about. On the court we’re enemies but off the court we’re the best of friends and I think that’s Jersey basketball.”
Being that it’s Jersey basketball, obviously, some trash talking would be involved.
While Carter and Mack insisted they did not talk to Edwin or Theodore about the upcoming game, that’s hard to believe. But it’s also their first taste of the rivalry, so maybe they’ve just been playing it safe and waiting for their play to do the talking.
Either way, Rutgers' head coach Mike Rice knows that the friendships forged maximizes the rivalry.
“It adds to the mix,” Rice said after Monday’s practice. “They know each other. There’s a lot of smack being talked in the summer time over it but I don’t think where there’s hostility. There’s a rivalry and it’s good competition.”
Rutgers trio of freshmen are well aware of the rivalry. And it’s something they’re excited to be a part of for the first time.
“It’s going to be a big brawl and I’m looking forward to it,” Randall said. “It’s going to be more passion and aggression than any other game.”
To say the least.
The upperclassmen can tell the freshmen about the rivalry all they want. But they won’t really grasp the intensity of it until they experience it themselves.
So Mack is trying to take it like any other rivalry game he’s been a part of.
“It’s just a regularl rivalry to me,” Mack said. “I just want to play my first rivalry and not think about anything. Just trying to get a win. Not thinking about them or us. Just trying to get a win.”
So is Theodore. Badly. Especially with his once promising team now on a seven game skid.
As the leader of the team, Theodore will make sure his team knows what’s at stake.
“Even though we’re still in Jersey and we’re only 40 minutes away from home, it’s still a business trip and even though we have friends on the court, it’s not going to be all smiles,” Theodore said.
“It’s a lot more that goes into this game than just getting the win," he added. "It’s bragging rights for the state. It’s a lot. It’s family, it’s friends, it’s girls. It’s everybody. Everything goes into this game.”