On the court for four consecutive Thanksgivings now, Seton Hall has created a tradition of holiday bonding.
“Since I’ve been at Seton Hall, I never had Thanksgiving with my family.”
Myles Powell has been to Florida for the Advocare Invitational, Brooklyn for the NIT Season Tip-Off, California for the Wooden Legacy, and now the Bahamas to take on ranked Oregon in perhaps the strongest early-season tournament field.
But he hasn’t been home with his family for Thanksgiving since 2015.
Prior to Myles’ freshman year, Seton Hall hadn’t played in a Thanksgiving tournament since the Great Alaska Shootout in 2003, although they didn’t play on the actual holiday.
Now it’s an annual tradition that fans, players, and coaching staff alike have grown used to.
For fans, it goes something like this: Get together with family, eat quickly, and then argue with the football fans that a Seton Hall hoops game should really be on the T.V. instead.
“I’ll be honest with you: I think one of the great things about this job — and there’s a lot of them, but one of the best things about it — is our fans travel to our Thanksgiving tournaments. That’s why I do it,” explained Kevin Willard when I asked what he does to cultivate a family experience while on the road.
“The one year I didn’t — I think the one year I went to Brooklyn, everybody was like, ‘Why aren’t we going somewhere?’ Our fans travel. I think we’ve bought more tickets than any program in the history of the [Battle 4 Atlantis] tournament, so our fans make it special for our guys.
“The people that travel, the booster club that gets down there, they take up all the good hotel rooms, but they travel and they make our kids feel great, so I don’t have to do much because our fans do such a great job of it.”
Sounds like a couple sections of Nassau’s Imperial Arena — which resembles an intimate, oddly-lit ballroom on T.V. — are going to be packed to the gills with Seton Hall fans keen to tie their holiday tradition to hoops against some of the nation’s best. The official Booster Club alone is bringing 75 fans, so expect a touch more than that.
For the players, an often-cited family atmosphere instilled from the top down by Willard is the glue that helps create an authentic experience no matter how many hundred of miles away from home they’ll be lacing up on Thanksgiving day.
“It’s tough. For me, I’ve only had Thanksgiving with my family one time since I’ve been to college,” said senior guard Quincy McKnight. “My first two years [at Sacred Heart] I was five minutes from my house but since we were low D-I you’re always traveling during Thanksgiving.
“But I can’t complain. Being around these guys, being around the coaches, this is my family. I’m around these guys 24/7 and being with them during Thanksgiving, if I can’t be with my family, I’ve got my second family here with me.”
“It doesn’t feel like we’re missing a Thanksgiving,” added fellow senior Myles Powell. “Yeah you miss your mom, your dad, your parents, your family but this Seton Hall basketball team that you guys see is really a family.”
While Powell smiled and knocked on the media table when he told me he thinks he’s undefeated on Thanksgiving (narrator: he’s 1-2), I’ll attempt to speak for his foggy memory.
He thinks he’s 3-0 because of how positive the off-court experience has been since his freshman year down in Kissimmee losing to Florida in a disappointing opening game. And to Myles’ credit, he’s averaging 25.6ppg on Thanksgiving including a 40-spot against Grand Canyon last year.
Despite the 1-2 record on Turkey Day, Seton Hall has improved their tournament performances each year, culminating in a Wooden Legacy title win over Miami (Fla.) a year ago.
That upward trajectory bodes well with by far the toughest field they’ve faced looming ahead.
Starting Monday morning when the team flies out to the Bahamas, the players, staff & co. will be isolated from their families of origin but bonded with their second family.
“It’s not just for the media or when we’re on the basketball court, it’s off the court too,” said Powell of the team’s close bond.
“We really enjoy spending time together and Thanksgiving is about spending time with people you’re thankful for and I’m thankful for all my teammates. And if I could do it all over again I would do all four years over again.”
“I don’t have complaints. It’s tough being away from your family, you don’t get the home-cooked meals and the love,” said McKnight with a touch of homesickness in his voice.
“But I’ll take Thanksgiving with these guys any day.”