Feb. 16, 2011
by Pete Spiewak '10
When Saint Joseph's took on Fordham this past Sunday at the IZOD Center in East Rutherford, N.J., head coach Phil Martelli achieved an impressive feat in the Hawks' 76-70 victory. Martelli, who spent 10 years at Hawk Hill as an assistant coach before being promoted to his current position, reached 500 games as the Hawks' head coach. The win against Fordham marked the men's basketball team's 1500th win in the 102-year history of the program, becoming just the 35th school to reach that plateau. It also marked the 250th Atlantic 10 game Martelli has coached for Saint Joseph's.
"It's an honor that I can't even describe," said Martelli of being the head coach on Hawk Hill. "I'm humbled to have had the opportunity to represent Saint Joseph's 500 times."
With that in mind, it's a fitting time to take a look back on some of Martelli's milestone victories over the years.
First Win December 2, 1995 - Saint Joseph's 64, Delaware 56
In his first-ever game as head coach, Martelli's Hawks went back and forth with the Blue Hens at the Bob Carpenter Center, as Saint Joseph's won a competitive season opener under their new coach, with four points being the largest lead for either side until 30 seconds were remaining in the game. Forward Dimitri Domani responded with 14 second-half points after being shut out in the first half to lead Saint Joseph's. For the unsure Martelli, it was a relief to see his team be competitive. The coach had concerns as to whether or not his team would be prepared.
"I remember watching games on TV, seeing teams playing exotic defenses and thinking `well, we're not ready for that,'" said Martelli.
Despite the Hawks turning the ball over 21 times, Saint Joseph's managed to win.
"It wasn't a thing of beauty, but it was certainly a special memory for me."
First Atlantic 10 Win January 20, 1996 - Saint Joseph's 67, La Salle 65
Martelli's first conference win didn't come easily. It was a typical hard-nosed Big 5 battle that wasn't decided until the final seconds. Reggie Townsend buried a jumper with seven seconds on the clock to give the Hawks a two-point victory.
"Here I was, on this big stage - at the Palestra," Martelli reminisced. "I had so much respect for [La Salle head coach] Speedy [Morris] and all that he had accomplished. And for a Big 5 game to be your first Atlantic 10 win, that's special for a Philadelphia kid."
50th Win January 14, 1998 - Saint Joseph's 55, St. Bonaventure 50
Led by a 17-point performance from point guard Rashid Bey, who was inducted into the Big 5 Hall of Fame this year, the Hawks pulled out another win in the final minute. Saint Joseph's took the lead with 41 seconds left, as Duval Simmonds hit a clutch three-pointer, breaking a 50-50 tie at Alumni Memorial Fieldhouse.
Simmonds' shot wasn't the play of the game, however. Forward Harold Rasul made an unforgettable play on defense, hiding in the Saint Joseph's band to surprise the opponent, running back onto the court and coming behind an unprepared St. Bonaventure player to get a steal, which he turned into a dunk.
"Never seen anything like it," remarked Martelli. "I'll always remember that play." Rasul's play gave a 43-42 lead to the Hawks, who never trailed the rest of the way.
100th Win February 10, 2001 - Saint Joseph's 78, St. Bonaventure 76
Martelli's 100th win came at the Reilly Center, just one day after Jameer Nelson's 19th birthday. At this point in the season, according to Martelli, the seniors had agreed to follow the lead of the team's future all-time leading scorer during his freshman campaign.
"We were led out of the wilderness, so to speak, by [Nelson]," Martelli recalled of this milestone victory. The point guard scored 12 points and dished out four assists in the triumph.
150th Win November 14, 2003 - #17 Saint Joseph's 73, #10 Gonzaga 66
For Martelli's 150th career win, the magnitude and importance of the game outweighed the significance of milestone, as Saint Joseph's took its first step towards an undefeated regular season. The Hawks matched up with the Bulldogs of Gonzaga in Madison Square Garden for the team's season opener. Martelli's team won despite Nelson not having his strongest game.
"He didn't play a Jameer-like game," Martelli said of Nelson, who scored 20 points but shot just 6-of-20 from the field. The team received a boost from defensive specialist Tyrone Barley, who shot 4-of-5 from three-point range.
Barley stepped up on offense, but still provided the lockdown defense he became known for. In one extraordinary play, Barley stole the ball from a Gonzaga player by snatching the ball mid-dribble, catching the ball between the player's hand and the floor, giving Saint Joseph's possession.
The most memorable part of the night, however, might not have had anything to do with the players on the court. Martelli fondly remembers the tremendous showing of Hawk fans in New York City.
"The fan support in the Garden that night was unbelievable," he said. "I had to beg the tournament directors to give us that game, and I told them that we would have six-to-eight thousand people from Philadelphia at that game - and we did."
100th Atlantic 10 Win February 12, 2005 - Saint Joseph's 69, Temple 57
Pat Carroll had a strong effort to lead the Hawks in Martelli's 100th conference victory, as he poured in 27 points on 6-of-10 shooting from beyond the arc. Chet Stachitas added 15 points and point guard Dwayne Lee was spectacular, handing out 11 assists in the game. It was experienced players like these who led the veteran Hawk team that season.
"Older guys played that game - Dwayne Lee, Pat Carroll, Chet Stachitas - these guys had been through wars," said Martelli of the players who would lead him to the NIT Championship Game later that season. "They benefited from the chances they had when they were younger players."
200th Win March 19, 2005 - Saint Joseph's 55, Buffalo 50 (NIT Second Round)
In the same season that he reached 100 Atlantic 10 wins, Martelli eclipsed another milestone as well. In the second round of the NIT, Saint Joseph's took down Buffalo for the Philadelphia native's 200th career victory - one win that did not come easily.
"Buffalo was really good," said the Hawks' head coach. "They were a tough team."
What made the night most special for Martelli was, once again, the fans.
"The crowd support for John Bryant and those guys was just amazing," said Martelli. "People would say to you that it's not a big deal, but here at Saint Joseph's, the crowd, in what at the time was the Fieldhouse, made it a priceless night for all of us."
235th Win February 4, 2007 - Saint Joseph's 71, Dayton 65
Out of all of Martelli's wins, his 235th is the one that sends chills down his spine. That's because in the win over Dayton during the 2006-07 season, Martelli surpassed legendary coach Jack Ramsay on the all-time wins list at Saint Joseph's. He is now the second-winningest coach in the history of the program.
"What Dr. Jack did at small Saint Joseph's College is a feat that may never be matched," said Martelli. "It doesn't seem real to be talking about having more wins than Jack Ramsay. I would hope that my significance to the program could be a third of what he's brought to Saint Joseph's and Saint Joseph's basketball."
250th Win January 19, 2008 - Saint Joseph's 82, Penn 42
Along their way to a NCAA Tournament berth, the Hawks won for the 250th time under Martelli, as Saint Joseph's trounced Penn. The three-headed frontcourt monster of Pat Calathes, Rob Ferguson and Ahmad Nivins combined for 45 points in the win.
Defeating Penn at the historic Palestra for his most recent milestone is fitting for an old-school Philadelphian and one of the Big 5's most loyal supporters.
Now having coached in 500 games, Martelli hopes that that number will represent just the halfway point of his career at Saint Joseph's.
"My dream is that there are 500 more."