March 2, 2008
As the 2007-08 season enters its home stretch, Robert Ferguson can see his college career coming to an end. That career has lasted longer than most. Since Ferguson redshirted as a freshman (2003-04), this is actually his fifth year on Hawk Hill.
The 6-8 forward arrived on campus with great fanfare, having been named Florida Class 5A Player of the Year as a senior at Mariner High School in Fort Myers. During that season, he averaged 25 points, 16 rebounds and seven blocked shots per game in leading Mariner to a 28-2 record and berth in the regional final.
"I pretty much played every position [at different times] in high school," Ferguson remembered. "I would bring the ball up, shoot threes and post inside."
His play drew great attention from colleges, including Florida, Florida State, Miami, Saint Joseph's and other Atlantic 10 schools. He had no connection to Philadelphia at the time of his recruitment, but a few factors led Ferguson to choose the Hawks from among his many scholarship offers.
"I visited here and just liked the atmosphere," he said. "Plus I heard how Philadelphia was a great basketball city and about the Big 5."
However, Ferguson carried just 195 pounds on his tall frame when he came to SJU as a freshman. That lack of muscle was a major factor in the Florida native taking a redshirt year while his new college teammates rampaged to an undefeated regular season and the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament.
"Of course I wanted to play," Ferguson said. "But I see how it was a good decision [to redshirt]. There was just no way I could play at that weight on this level. So I took the time to train and get better."
With the departures of Jameer Nelson, Delonte West and Tyrone Barley, there was playing time to be had during the 2004-05 season and Ferguson began to carve out his own niche. He played in 36 games and averaged 13.7 minutes as the team reached the NIT Championship game. His other averages included 3.8 points, 2.4 rebounds, 45.2 percent shooting from the floor and 84.2 percent from the foul line.
"That season was a good experience for me," he said. "I was able to play against some good A-10 teams and other big-time colleges."
Ferguson then took a major step forward his sophomore season, vaulting into the starting lineup for all 33 games. He averaged 30.6 minutes, 10.8 points and 4.4 rebounds per game while shooting an impressive 50.2 percent from the field, 84.4 percent from the line and 39.8 percent from three-point range. His efforts helped the Hawks again make the NIT, where they reached the second round.
"That year was also positive for me," Ferguson commented. "In fact, last year was the only disappointing season I've had here because we didn't make the postseason."
Despite that unfortunate fact, Ferguson was still a potent force for the Hawks in 2006-07. He again started every game and contributed 32.9 minutes, 11.3 points and 5.3 rebounds per game while shooting 46.5 percent from the floor, 85.7 percent from the foul line and a blistering 42.9 percent from three-point range.
But when the Hawks fell to George Washington in the Atlantic 10 Tournament quarterfinals, they finished their schedule with an 18-14 record and no postseason invitation for the first time since 2000. Motivated by falling short of that goal, this season's Hawks came out flying. As of February 27, the team had compiled a 17-8 record (8-4 Atlantic 10) to position itself in the thick of the NCAA Tournament hunt.
Ferguson again has been a key element, starting each of the first 25 games. His averages include 32.4 minutes (4th on the team), 11.9 points (3rd), 5.0 rebounds (3rd), 1.3 assists (5th) and 1.1 blocks (3rd) per game, and he is shooting 51.4 percent from the field (3rd), 80.6 percent from the line (2nd) and 43.7 percent from three-point range (2nd).
"I think I've played pretty well this season," said the fifth-year senior, who now weighs a sturdy 230 pounds. "Each year, my confidence has gotten a lot better. In the past, I usually tried to lead by example. But this year, I've tried to be more vocal."
Nevertheless, the veteran thinks he can improve on his defense and all-around game. Furthermore, Ferguson believes the team has not yet reached its full potential.
"I still don't think we've played our best," he commented. "Some games, we've looked like the top team in the conference and others we've let get away because we played immaturely. But I think we're learning how to close out games, which can be good for the future because it won't get any easier."
Defensive commitment and balanced contributions are of utmost importance to the team's success, he emphasized.
"If we can play our best, the sky is the limit. But we need to focus on defense. Coach [Martelli] just said that with as many points as we get per game, there's no way we should be outscored as long as we play 'D.'"
As his accomplished career on Hawk Hill winds down, Ferguson has two main goals remaining -- to win the Atlantic 10 Tournament and qualify for the NCAA Tournament. The former has not been achieved by SJU since 1997. And Ferguson has not experienced the latter as an eligible player.
"I think [both goals are] pretty realistic as long as we don't let anything distract us," he said. "We prepare as hard as anybody in the country so it's just a matter of putting the game plan into action and following it."
And what about Ferguson's own legacy on Hawk Hill?
"When I committed here, I envisioned two things -- graduating and leaving my mark on the program," he concluded. "I will graduate in May. That makes this my last chance to really make a mark in basketball, so I need to do anything and everything possible."
by Brian W. Ferrie `98