Aug. 27, 2009
PHILADELPHIA - The Saint Joseph's Hawks head into 2009-10 having lost the Atlantic 10 Player of the Year and NBA draft pick (Ahmad Nivins) but will gain a new arena, which they hope will translate into the same homecourt advantage enjoyed in the years at historic Alumni Memorial Fieldhouse.
The expansion and renovation of the Fieldhouse will produce the Michael J. Hagan '85 Arena (capacity 4,200), which is scheduled for an October 2009 opening. The Hawks have also experienced a tremendous upgrade with the new 20,000-square foot Ramsay Basketball Center that houses the basketball office, locker room, lounge and video study room.
The Hawks played off campus all season in 2008-09 at The Palestra and experienced an up-and-down season with a winning record (17-15) but no postseason play, despite the double-digit scoring and rebounding effort from Nivins (19.2 ppg, 11.8 rpg).
If anything, last season might have served as a learning experience for the relatively young Hawk squad that will take to the court in 2009-10.
"The returning players have to understand and respect the sacrifices that team made without having a true homecourt and without really having a locker room," said head coach Phil Martelli, who enters his 15th season as head coach. "I think the returning players need to be appreciative of the fabulous surroundings that we now have. They also have to understand that winning records are really not what we're about. We're about postseason appearances and we're about daily improvement," the coach added.
Martelli has a mix of experience and youth in 2009-10, but will be looking for a go-to player to emerge. SJU has three starters returning - guards Darrin Govens and Garrett Williamson, and forward Idris Hilliard - who will need to pick up the scoring to replace the double figures missing with the departure of Nivins and Tasheed Carr.
"It's going to have to be shared responsibility with a balanced attack. We don't have a guy who's going to be in the conversation for A-10 Player of the Year. We may not have a guy who's in the conversation for All-Conference First Team. But the parts have to fit together. Our execution has to be sharper and the daily improvement has to be across the board," Martelli said.
Govens was SJU's third-leading scorer last season with 12.3 points per game, but at times did not show consistency from the perimeter. The 6-1 senior should be the Hawks' top outside scorer and 3-point threat and they will need him to step up this year and put up even better numbers.
"Darrin has got to have an edge, without going outside of his personality. That edge should be honed by disappointment. He wasn't All-Rookie, hasn't been All-League and for a kid to come in here and be the Pennsylvania player of the year twice from Chester High School, as storied a program as there is, he's got to answer the bell," said the coach.
Williamson, a selection to the 2009 Atlantic 10 All-Defensive Team, has undoubtedly made his mark on that end of the floor, but the senior's production on the offensive end could be a key to the Hawks' success. Last season the 6-4 guard played a substantial amount of minutes at the point guard position, sacrificing his own numbers to help the team. With two incoming point guards, Williamson will now be able to slide over to his more natural two-guard or wing slots, where he will look to improve upon his 6.1 scoring average.
The Hawks boast a solid freshman class that includes a pair of true point guards - Carl Jones (Garfield Heights, Ohio/Garfield Heights) and Justin Crosgile (Paterson, N.J./DePaul). Jones, a 6-0 guard, was runner-up for Player of the Year honors in Ohio, while the 5-11 Crosgile was a New Jersey All-State First Team selection, with both averaging over 20 points per game. Martelli sees these two as the top candidates for the point guard position, which would allow Williamson to move back to the off-guard or wing.
"Carl is a prolific scorer - he's a small guard, but he has a great ability to score the basketball. He comes from a winning program, a program that understands work. We're really excited about having the chance to get on the floor with him," said Martelli.
"Justin is similar to Carl Jones, but he's probably a better long-range shooter than Carl. He is a very, very creative passer. He's extraordinarily quick, probably one of the quicker guys that we've had in the program," said the coach. "Justin comes with tremendous skill and he scored 2,000 points in high school which does take a lot of skill to achieve."
Sophomore guard Chris Prescott, who saw minutes in all 32 games in 2008-09, has made great strides in the off-season and gives the Hawks another potential outside threat. Junior Charoy Bentley increased his playing time last season and could also help with the perimeter scoring. Senior walk-on C.J. Brown was named one of the team's most improved players in 2008-09, and will add depth along with walk-on Mike Auriemma.
Hilliard was solid in the frontcourt last season, averaging 9.2 points and 5.5 rebounds to also gain recognition as one of the Hawks' most improved. But although he won't have the benefit of playing next to a force like Nivins again this year, the 6-7 junior is expected to continue his progress and become a more explosive player.
Sophomore forward Bryant Irwin saw action in every game his rookie year and displayed the ability to score both inside and from the perimeter. Like his classmate Prescott, he has impressed Martelli with his off-season workouts. v"I like how hard Bryant and Chris have worked and the time they've put in. I think at times last year they were awestruck. Now I sense hunger. Both have worked very hard on their bodies, dropping weight and tightening their cores. They are guys who I am very, very anxious to see because I want their hard work to be rewarded. And it won't be given to them - it will have to be earned," commented the coach.
Todd O'Brien, a 6-11 center, has three years of eligibility after his transfer from Bucknell and should find his way into the rotation. As a freshman with the Bison in 2007-08, he averaged over four points and four rebounds per game.
"Todd will remind St. Joe's fans of Bill Phillips. He's not as comfortable on the perimeter shooting the ball, but he's a good passer. He's a very hard worker and loves to be in the gym," said Martelli. "He may not have Atlantic 10 experiences, but he still has college basketball experiences, and that will be helpful."
Freshman Carl Baptiste (Pittstown, N.J./North Hunterdon), a 6-8 forward, should also compete for minutes. He averaged 21.8 points and 12.0 rebounds per game while earning New Jersey All-Group IV honors.
"Carl is a guy who's like a true Saint Joseph's player in that he's constantly continued to improve. He has not rested on his laurels. He's a big frontcourt player who has the ability to play away from the basket, but is very willing to bang and make his presence felt," said Martelli.
As always, Martelli will count on the seniors to guide the team, but does see the benefit of having an energetic and youthful squad, with upperclassmen determined to put last year's inconsistencies behind them.
"Like all of our teams, the oldest guys have stepped up their workouts, which means that they can lead the younger guys. We have young blood in the freshmen and Todd O'Brien. We're not going to be stale and apologetic for what has happened. In terms of basketball I think we're going to have competition for minutes and that's always a healthy thing - we haven't had that in the past couple of years," said the coach.
The schedule is set up once again to prepare the Hawks for the rigors of Atlantic 10 Conference play. Highlighting the slate is SJU's participation in the Paradise Jam in St. Thomas, Virgin Islands, a first-ever trip to Minnesota, and the traditional date with rival and 2009 Final Four team Villanova.
But before the season even begins, the Hawks feel they have already taken a huge step forward with state-of-the art facilities that they can now call home.
"It makes a statement to all of the current players that you're being given every advantage. There's just a vibrancy that you feel walking through the building. It's now our responsibility to translate that to the floor," said Martelli. "The statement, `to whom much is given, much is expected' is certainly the case with us now. There are no excuses now. We may not achieve excellence, but there are no excuses for not pursuing excellence."