February 26, 2011
by Anthony Calabro '08
Geoff Arnold's last game as a collegiate athlete was played in front of 34,000 people at a sold-out Carrier Dome in the second round of the 1986 NCAA Tournament. Although sixth-seeded Saint Joseph's would eventually fall in an upset to the 14th-seeded Cleveland State Vikings, Arnold, a third-year assistant coach for the Hawks, tells his players that he hopes one day all of their careers will end like his - in late March in front of a raucous crowd.
To his young squad, the 1986 NCAA tournament might as well have been played in the stone age, so Arnold rarely speaks of "back in my day." Still, when the Hawks recently faced Fordham University at the Izod Center, in East Rutherford, N.J., Arnold, a senior captain and point guard on the 1986 team, took a moment to tell his current Hawks team that they were playing on the site of his greatest basketball moment - the 1986 Atlantic 10 championship game.
"It was the greatest game I ever played in," Arnold explained. "We won the Atlantic 10 championship in that building. It is a moment I will always remember."
Arnold is in his second stint at his alma mater. He initially joined the Hawk staff as an assistant from 1993 to 1996 before leaving to join his former Hawk teammate Bruiser Flint at the University of Massachusetts. He then came back to Philadelphia when Flint was hired as the head coach at Drexel University. Arnold is credited for his recruiting while at Drexel, which helped the Dragons reach the postseason four times in seven seasons. He returned to Hawk Hill for the 2008-2009 season under head coach Phil Martelli.
"I had the opportunity to coach at the three different schools and I met a lot of great people and have been given tremendous opportunities," Arnold said.
Recalling moments and memories is easy for a former player and longtime assistant like Arnold. But for this young group of Hawks, each game and each road trip brings with it new challenges and unfamiliar territory. They are going into many basketball games with a clean slate, with no memories to fall back on.
"Every road trip is a new adventure in their careers, visiting hostile environments and playing in different atmospheres," Arnold explained. "Creighton, Penn State, Temple...these are harsh atmospheres and it is going to affect their play early on. "
Arnold described going on a recent road trip to play the University of Massachusetts. Most of the team had never played in Amherst before. In fact, only two Hawk players on the roster had ever played at UMass.
"Most of our guys never played at Dayton, Saint Louis or at the Liacouras Center," Arnold admitted. "If you've experienced the situation before, you have recall and you can rely on that recall. You can relax. You know the defensive rotations, or the offensive plays and you can just play and adapt. Without that recall, you're playing at a disadvantage. But as we head towards the end of the season, they are beginning to learn how to play in those types of environments and in tougher situations."
Their improved play in hostile environments was exemplified in their come-from-behind victory over Fordham in mid-February. In that victory, the Hawks were down as much as 16 early in the second half. The Hawks used the three-pointer to climb back into the game, going 12-of-25 for the contest. The Hawks were led by freshman Langston Galloway, who led all scorers with 25 points. The victory was also the 1,500th in school history.
"We talk of recall and going through the processes and remaining comfortable in any situation," Arnold said. "That victory proved to our guys that we can come back from large deficits. They can rely on that in tough situations down the road. They can draw on those experiences as they get more games under their belts."
Plenty has been said regarding the Hawks and their young team. Arnold spoke of a team that, despite its age, comes to practice every day willing to learn. That approach, though rarely seen by the public, will translate onto the court on game days.
"They want to get better and they are hard workers," Arnold said. "That's the stuff most people don't see. It's late in the season and they are still coming to practice every day ready to learn.
That's good because they have a lot to learn."