February 20, 2010

by Pete Spiewak '10

Darrin Govens' career got off to a rocky start. A highly-regarded recruit, he was one of the reasons Saint Joseph's fans were excited for the new-look 2006-07 Hawks, a team that would feature four freshman guards -- all who were local products. The Chester, Pa., native's first night did not go as planned. He shot 0-for-2 from the field in the season opener against Fairfield and fractured his hand.

The guard had surgery but managed to get back on the court in two weeks, missing just three games. In his first game back, Govens showed no ill effects from his injury, scoring 11 for the Hawks in a 55-39 win over Boston University, while shooting a perfect 3-for-3 from three-point range.

Throughout that season, Govens proved to be a threat from beyond the arc. He made multiple three-pointers in 11 games, while averaging just under 23 minutes per game.

Without any veteran guards in the rotation, the four freshmen competed for minutes at both guard spots.

"When I got here, D.J. Rivera and Jawan Carter were also here, and both were good players, so there was competition on a regular basis," said Govens.

Govens proved to be the most dangerous shooter of the bunch, shooting 39.8% from downtown, giving head coach Phil Martelli another perimeter shooter to put alongside Rob Ferguson and Pat Calathes.

Fully healthy, Govens caught fire at the end of his freshman year, performing well enough for Martelli to name him the starting point guard for the final month of the season. Govens made his coach's decision look great by scoring in double figures in five out of the last seven games of that season, including a 16-point effort against George Washington.

After showing off his sweet stroke as a freshman and with Tasheed Carr taking the reigns as point guard, Govens seemed like an obvious candidate to take over as starting shooting guard during his sophomore year, but Martelli was not going to hand him the position.

In the offseason, classmate Garrett Williamson challenged Govens for the final spot in the starting five. Both players performed well, and as the season approached, neither had any indication of who would get the starting job.

"Going into the first game of sophomore year -- between me and [Williamson] -- we still didn't know who was going to start," said Govens. "We went all the way until right before tipoff, when [Martelli] let us know."

Martelli chose to start Govens and bring in Williamson as his defensive stopper off the bench. Both players got their fair share of minutes as Martelli stuck to a small rotation.

Although the team missed out on two marquee victories early in the season, losing close games to Syracuse and Gonzaga, Saint Joseph's would later build a strong resume for the NCAA Tournament.

Even in those two losses, Govens knew the team had potential.

"I knew it, right in those games, that we could be a special team," said the guard.

Rebounding from tough losses early in the season, the Hawks beat eventual tournament teams Siena, in late December, 74-68 and Temple, 68-67, in January. Both if those wins came on the road. In February, the Hawks would blow out archrival Villanova at The Palestra, 77-55, giving them hope of a possible at-large bid come March.

The two most important victories of the season, however, wouldn't come until the very end. In the "Fieldhouse Finale" -- the last game before the renovation of Alumni Memorial Fieldhouse -- Saint Joseph's knocked off #8 Xavier, 71-66. The two teams would meet again a week later in Atlantic City in the semifinals of the Atlantic 10 Tournament. This time, Xavier was ranked 12th, and the Hawks would once again beat the Musketeers, this time by the score of 61-53. The Hawks would fall to Temple in the A-10 Championship, but it looked like SJU may have just done enough to earn an at-large bid.

Not knowing for sure whether or not they would make the field of 65, the Saint Joseph's team gathered at Coach Martelli's house on Selection Sunday. For Govens and his teammates, seeing their school's name on television was an unforgettable experience.

"When we got called, it was one of the best feelings," said the guard, who is averaging over 12 points per game this season. "To get to Alabama, and do all of those things; getting a police escort to the game -- that was great."

But the Hawks' stay in Alabama and the NCAA Tournament would be cut short as they lost to #6 seed Oklahoma in the first round.

"Looking back, we left a whole lot out there," said Govens, a member of the Saint Joseph's 1,000-Point Club. "We could have been better than we were."

Since then, Govens has established himself as one of the Hawks' best offensive players, stepping up as one of the main scorers during the past two seasons as an upperclassman.

It has been a frustrating season for Govens and the Hawks, but the shooting guard, who will end up with over 1,300 points for his career, was responsible for one of the best moments in recent Hawk history, and one of the few bright spots of this year.

The Saint Joseph's faithful packed the house on November 13 to watch the Hawks open up the brand new Hagan Arena against Drexel, led by former Hawk Bruiser Flint.

"It was a real intense game," Govens said. "I didn't want to go down as a trivia question answer: `who lost the first game at Hagan Arena?' I told my teammates, `we can't have that on our records.'"

And Govens did his part to help the Hawks win the first game in their new home. The senior led Saint Joseph's with a game-high 23 points. He made three of his six three-point attempts -- one of which will be etched in the minds of SJU fans forever.

Trailing 60-57, junior Idris Hilliard attacked the basket with under 20 seconds remaining. His shot was blocked in the direction of the Saint Joseph's bench by Drexel's Leon Spencer, but Govens, who had missed his last three shots, was there to catch the ball and set up for a three-pointer with just 14.6 seconds remaining: nothing but net.

The Dragons would come back to grab the lead with nine seconds left, but fellow senior Williamson would hit a pull up jumper with 3 seconds left to send the game into overtime, where the Hawks pulled away and won the game, 77-67.

"I knew once I shot it that it was good," he said. "It was special. I'm glad I could be a part of it."

Govens' heroics in the Drexel game will give Hawk fans a reason to smile when they reminisce about the opening season of Hawk hoops in Hagan Arena.

Maybe he'll be the answer to a trivia question after all.