Oct. 15, 2004
The 2004-05 Saint Joseph's Hawks have a tough act to follow. Last year's team posted a magical 30-2 season and captured the attention of the nation with a perfect regular season record, a number-one ranking, and a top seed in the NCAA Tournament. Their run to the NCAA Elite Eight ended just two points shy of the Final Four with the heartbreaking loss to Oklahoma State.
The Hawks were the "feel good" story of college basketball in 2004, with an unselfish squad that played tenacious defense and solid team basketball. Led by consensus National Coach of the Year Phil Martelli, the group put together the most significant season in school history and won the hearts of fans from coast to coast.
This year's squad returns three starters and a few key reserves from that record-setting team, but significant pieces are missing. The '04-05 Hawks are minus Jameer Nelson, Tyrone Barley and Delonte West. That adds up to the National Player of the Year, two NBA First Round Draft picks, and a senior class which won 98 games in four years.
Nelson captured all of Player of the Year awards and made himself as a first-round pick in the NBA. West, the team's second leading scorer and an honorable mention All-America, made the leap to the NBA after his junior season and landed in the first round as well. Barley, the team's sixth man, was the heart of SJU's swarming defense.
Martelli now faces one of his biggest challenges in his 10-year career, but if any coach is up to the task, it's the Hawk mentor, who knows that what he had last year was very unique.
"You don't replace them (Nelson, Barley, West). You couldn't possibly replace what the three of them brought. What you hope they would leave behind is their way of doing things, such as their approach to work and their dignity in the way they handled their success. Also, the fire that was never quenched in terms of individual improvement or the team being successful," said Martelli. "So we're going to have to do it in a different way because we don't have anybody on our team who has the skills of Jameer or Tyrone or Delonte. It doesn't mean we're not going to have good players, it just means we're not going to have that set of skills on this particular team."
But the experience of winning 30 times in one season is invaluable and Martelli expects that there should be some lasting effect in the minds of the 10 returning players.
"I would hope that they would understand the standard of play that they're being held to. The sharing of the basketball, the maximum effort on defense on every play - I wholeheartedly expect they know that is how basketball is meant to be played," said the head coach. "The standard to which to play to is number one. The idea that we expect to win is second. Because Jameer's gone, or because Tyrone's gone or because Delonte's gone, that doesn't mean that we expect to take a step backwards. I expect them to expect to win, and therefore, prepare to win."
SJU has won many times in the last four years and in 2004-05, the Hawks will be seeking a third straight NCAA Tournament berth, a fifth consecutive Atlantic 10 regular season title, and a third straight outright Philadelphia Big 5 crown.
But to continue the winning ways, the Hawks are going to have to find more ways to score. That seems to be the biggest question mark in Martelli's mind, and rightfully so. Nelson and West alone accounted for almost half of the team's offense.
One of the obvious choices to carry a large part of the scoring burden is senior swingman Pat Carroll, the only returning double figure scorer (10.1 ppg). He is one of the nation's best from three-point range, converting 45.8 percent last year, with a fluid jump shot. Often the beneficiary of the defense keying on Nelson or West, Carroll will need some creativity to obtain his shot this year.
Joining Carroll in providing leadership and experience will be classmate John Bryant at the other forward spot. Bryant is a valuable defender and rebounder who does all of the little things that don't show up in the boxscore. The 6-7 senior will be looking to maximize his all-around level of play in his final season.
Center Dwayne Jones is already considered one of the top defensive players in the Atlantic 10, as the league's top shot blocker with 1.97 per game, but the Hawks will definitely need him to increase his offensive production. The 6-11 junior showed glimpses of his full potential last year, with a string of three double-doubles, but Martelli will need him to put up those numbers on a more consistent basis.
Junior Dave Mallon struggled with injuries last season, but the 6-10 forward's outlook is positive if he can stay healthy. Mallon has addded more weight and strength and provides the Hawks with a post player who can also pop outside and hit the three-pointer.
Redshirt freshman Rob Ferguson spent a year learning the system in practice and often was considered one of the top players in the practice sessions. The 6-8 forward, who was the Florida Class 5A Player of the Year in 2003 from Mariner High School, can score around the basket and will be a welcome addition to the frontcourt.
One of the most difficult tasks falls upon the shoulders of junior Dwayne Lee. The two-year backup must now step into the role of point guard vacated by Jameer Nelson, who is arguably the greatest player in Hawk history. The hard-working Lee has studied for his role diligently, and gets his opportunity this year despite averaging only eight minutes per game over the last two seasons.
The two-guard spot could go to any number of players, with one of them being returnee Chet Stachitas. The 6-5 junior was a valuable reserve last season scoring 6.5 ppg and shooting 43.9 percent from three-point range. The team's Most Improved Player in 2004, Stachitas brings great energy and confidence to the squad and will play a key role, whether he's called on to score or defend.
A pair of freshmen will be in serious competition for playing time. Pat Calathes began his career at Lake Howell High School in Florida as a 5-11 point guard. Since then, he's grown to 6-10 and thus possesses some unique skills for a player of his size. Calathes can score from the outside and will pose interesting matchup problems for Hawk opponents.
Classmate Abdulai Jalloh, an All-Metro D.C. selection from National Christian Academy, is an extremely athletic 6-1 guard who will be a versatile addition to the backcourt. Like Calathes, Jalloh brings an incredible energy and enthusiasm to the Hawks.
Other reserves include 7-foot center Artur Surov, who saw limited action last year but is a developing project. Fellow sophomore Arvydas Lidzius is an energetic 6-7 forward looking for his chance to contribute. Junior Rob Sullivan and sophomore Andrew Koefer are hard workers who each earned a spot on the history-making squad as walk-ons.
With the success of the program comes the notoriety, and the Hawks won't back away from the challenges. Included in the slate are trips to Kansas and Ohio State, as well as to the University of San Francisco's Northwestern Mutual Shootout. In addition to local rivals Villanova, Penn and Drexel, the league schedule will be challenging as well. The Atlantic 10 Conference proved its strength last year as it sent four teams to the NCAA Tournament and had Xavier join the Hawks in the Elite Eight.
"Each year what you have to do with your non-conference schedule is plan for the Atlantic 10. You have to look and see what you're going to face in the conference. We have some road challenges. We have some games that people will say `well, you should win', but that's the same as it is in the Atlantic 10 - there are some games that we should win," stated Martelli. "But everything is in preparation for the league because it is the vehicle that takes you to national prominence. It did last year for us and if that's to be this year, it will be the exact same thing."