by Brian Clarke

This story appeared in the November 12 men's and women's basketball doubleheader game program.

Throughout the country, regardless of where you travel or what town you visit, if there is college basketball played within earshot, you will most likely hear optimistic chatter during the preseason.

Talk of a potential NCAA berth is to be expected whether you are a fan of the Kansas Jayhawks or the Akron Zips.

This season on Hawk Hill, however, the annual conversation involving postseason destinations may amount to more than mere idle speculation.

The Saint Joseph's men's and women's basketball teams are led by a pair of battle-tested senior captains, with Idris Hilliard and Dominique Bryant leading the charge for the men's and women's squads respectively.

Hilliard, a sturdy 6'7" forward, is prepared to lead the talented but inexperienced Hawks, a team that includes its most heralded freshman class in years.

"[Hilliard and fellow senior captain Charoy Bentley] have a big role in leadership," Hilliard said. "We have nine underclassmen. I'm a big part in bringing them along, showing them the ropes."

Similar to Hilliard's task will be that of Dominique Bryant, whose smile broadened when asked to describe her role as captain, a role she shared as a co-captain last season.

"The leadership role that comes with [being a captain] is leading by example and also being a vocal leader," she explained. "It's doing the little things right - on and off the court. I want to show the girls that `I'm going to be your leader and I'm here for you as a friend and teammate.'"

Bryant, who stands six feet tall, is a versatile forward who can play both in the post and out on the wing, as evidenced by a career-high 26 three-point field goals last season.

The importance of Bryant's steady presence cannot be taken for granted, as she is the lone senior on the Hawk squad.

"There are a lot of things that my teammates rely on me for because I'm the only senior," she said, "but we have an amazing group of girls and it'll take a collective effort for us to step up. I think we'll definitely be able to do it."

Forecasted to finish in the middle of the Atlantic 10, Bryant says the team's goal is to finish in the top four in the conference, which would earn the Hawks a bye in the A-10 Tournament while positioning them comfortably to make a run at a berth in the NCAA Tournament.

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Following a season in which the men's basketball team finished 11-20 overall while placing 12th in Atlantic 10 competition, discussion of a possible NCAA berth might seem optimistic.

Be that as it may, and though the young Hawks may experience some growing pains along the way, Idris Hilliard is focused not on what is predicted in preseason publications but instead on the incredible opportunity he has before him.

With a team that includes nine underclassmen chomping at the bit to make their mark, Hilliard is just what the Hawks need.

Offered scholarships by several Big East schools, Idris Hilliard arrived on Hawk Hill touted for, among other things, his basketball IQ and unselfish play.

A case study in hard work paying off, his younger teammates will find in him a well-rounded student-athlete (Hilliard last season was the recipient of the team's Scholar-Athlete Award) whose skills have improved steadily since his freshman season.

No doubt helped by the allure of its upgraded facilities, which includes the Michael J. Hagan '85 Arena, Saint Joseph's and head coach Phil Martelli quickly capitalized on the upward momentum of its basketball program, landing a recruiting class that is dripping with talent.

Asked where he envisioned the Hawks in the coming seasons, Hilliard did not hesitate when saying, "I feel they can go as far as they want, as long as they work hard and stay together. As long as they do everything they're supposed to, they will go a long way."

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Bryant, who attended St. John's College High School in Bowie, Maryland, credits her father, Arthur, with encouraging her to play basketball.

"He would teach me anything I wanted to know," she said. "He still does."

And what led Bryant to choose Saint Joseph's?

"I just love this atmosphere. I love playing in this type of arena. I love this team and the students and the school and the coaching staff," Bryant beamed.

A product of the prestigious Hun School in Princeton, New Jersey, Hilliard, whose older brother Jamaal played for Lafayette before graduating in '07, decided to forge his own path and attend Saint Joseph's, for a variety of reasons.

"Coming to St. Joe's, I liked the size of it; it's not too big, not too small," Hilliard said. "I love coach Martelli and the coaching staff. I knew I'd probably be able to have playing time from day one, so that was another reason."

Lately, archrival Villanova has gotten the better of Saint Joseph's men's basketball. Nevertheless, Hilliard is determined to go out on a positive note against the Wildcats.

"Everybody wants bragging rights against `Nova because it's such a big rivalry," he said.

* * *

Asked to reflect on what has been her proudest moment while wearing a Hawk uniform, Bryant harkened back to last season.

"I'd say last year, getting the WNIT bid was my proudest moment, especially because we gelled together and battled back and fought for the same goal," she revealed.

When faced with the same question, Hilliard's thoughts returned to his freshman season.

"Going to the NCAA Tournament my freshman year," he said. "That's something you always dream about. Being able to go there my first year in college is pretty much a dream come true."

Each an exemplary student-athlete, Dominique Bryant and Idris Hilliard appear ready for an inspired basketball season as they begin their final turn on Hawk Hill.