How Romaro Gill grew into Seton Hall’s unstoppable force

Sometimes, Romaro Gill thinks back about the past five years.

He remembers where he was and how far he has come, from a high school graduate in his native country of Jamaica with no set plans to a key piece on one of the best college basketball teams in the country.

It still seems surreal to No. 10 Seton Hall’s game-changing 7-foot-2 center.

“I have to ask myself if this is really happening,” he said in a phone interview.

It’s a remarkable story. The 25-year-old Gill didn’t begin playing organized basketball until landing at Vincennes (Ind.) University. His first season, he averaged 1.8 points in 13 games. Fast forward to now, when Gill has emerged as the linchpin to Seton Hall’s defense, averaging 3.11 blocks per game, which is tied for the sixth most in Division I. His offensive game has taken off, virtually out of nowhere. Gill dunks everything and displays a soft touch around the basket. After reaching double figures once in his first 40 games as a Pirate, he’s averaging 12.5 points through six Big East contests, along with 6.5 rebounds per game.

This all began with a leap of faith, by several people, including Gill. Growing up in Saint Thomas, Jamaica, he played cricket and volleyball, but basketball always intrigued him. He was tall and played pickup games on occasion. He took part in Jamaica Basketball Development’s annual camp, which has produced the likes of Samardo Samuels, Jerome Jordan and current Illinois freshman Kofi Cockburn. Gill impressed scout Mike Minto, who saw him again later that year.

Romaro Gill (center) is averaging 3.11 blocks per game for Seton Hall.
Romaro Gill (center) is averaging 3.11 blocks per game for Seton Hall.Getty Images

“He could outrun everybody,” said Minto, a New Jersey native originally from Jamaica. “There was no way we’re going to have this 7-foot kid walking around here not playing.”

Gill was stunned when Minto approached him about a potential college scholarship. He felt there were better players than him — and there was no film for Minto to show college coaches.

Minto wanted to keep Gill close to him in the Northeast, but local junior colleges blew him off. Vincennes coach Todd Franklin had one open scholarship left for the 2015-16 season and trusted Minto, a friend of his. He took Gill in. His second year at Vincennes, which competes in the National Junior College Athletic Association, Gill averaged 2.5 blocks while shooting 56 percent from the field. His recruitment was subsequently very light, mostly mid-to-low-major schools.

In March 2017, Seton Hall had just been eliminated from the NCAA Tournament and assistant coach Grant Billmeier was in Hutchinson, Kan., for the junior college national tournament. He was there to see other prospects when he noticed Gill. On one possession, Gill threw down a dunk on a pick-and-roll, nimbly catching a pass on the move. On another, he blocked three shots in succession.

“I looked around and thought, ‘How come nobody is recruiting him?’ ” Billmeier recalled. “A lot of people at that event needed a finished product. We needed someone not for that year, but for the following two years.”

Billmeier worked fast to get Gill on campus. Following the tournament, other high-major programs — Georgetown, Washington and Washington State among them — had grown interested. But Seton Hall landed Gill, who liked the campus and being close to Minto. Gill was also happy with the plan coach Kevin Willard mapped out. Due to a crowded frontcourt that included Angel Delgado and Ismael Sanogo, the Pirates wanted Gill to redshirt his first season and learn from the program’s veterans.

“They kind of inspired me,” he said. “It was a great decision for me to sit out that year I did.”

Gill showed flashes last season, getting better as the year went on, helping Seton Hall reach the NCAA Tournament for the fourth straight season. When he missed three weeks due to an ankle injury last year, the Pirates struggled, losing four of five games. In one of their biggest wins of the year, over No. 23 Marquette on March 6, he had seven points, five rebounds and three blocked shots.

Still, Gill’s recent offensive production never seemed likely. He reached double figures in just one of Seton Hall’s first 13 games this year. Then came Jan. 3, a 78-62 victory over Georgetown at Prudential Center. Gill exploded for 17 points, eight rebounds and four blocks.

“I never knew I could score so many points,” he said.

He followed that up with 11 points and five blocks against Xavier and 10 points and six rebounds against Marquette. In a come-from-behind win over then-No. 5 Butler on Jan. 15, Gill had a number of alley-oops, scoring 17 points. He then notched the second double-double of his career, a 14-point, 13-rebound, six-block tour de force in a win over St. John’s last Saturday at the Garden.

“This rapid transformation,” Minto said, “is a surprise to everybody.”

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