HAWKS HOPE TO SWAT YELLOW JACKETS
Courtesy: SJU Athletic Communications
SAN DIEGO, CA (3-14-01) -- They've dropped the "Pa." from St. Joseph's name, and Phil Martelli couldn't be happier. The parenthetical state reference, used for years to distinguish SJU from other St. Joseph's across the country, is finally gone from the NCAA's materials. When a reporter at Wednesday's media session in San Diego State's Cox Arena asked Martelli about it, the Hawks' head coach didn't hesitate to offer his stamp of approval. "I did notice the 'Pa.' was taken off, and I appreciate it," he said. "They do give oil to a squeaky wheel once in a while." St. Joseph's has been making a different kind of noise all season long, and its 25-6 record earned the Hawks their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 1997. They will play Georgia Tech in a first-round game Thursday. Martelli asked his three seniors, Erick Woods, Frank Wilkins and Lionel Ngounou, to represent the team to the media Wednesday. They noted that despite the Hawks' success thus far, many remain unconvinced of exactly how special this group is. "We feel like we're here to prove something, if we didn't already prove it during the season," said guard Erick Woods. "We're here to show America again. We hope to make it to the second room and make a little more noise." The matchup against Georgia Tech will test the Hawks. The Yellow Jackets complement a nifty outside game with double-figure scoring and rebounding from massive center Alvin Jones, an Atlantan whom Martelli called "bigger than the CNN building." Both St. Joseph's and Georgia Tech like to push the ball, and players and coaches alike are looking for a length-of-the-floor game. "Expect us to play an up-tempo game," said forward Lionel Ngounou. "We like to run up and down the court." Any hopes the Hawks had of sneaking up on their first-round opponent were dashed when Georgia Tech appeared on the selection board. The Yellow Jackets' head coach, Paul Hewitt, is a former Villanova assistant only a few years removed from the Main Line. "As familiar as I am with St. Joe's and Phil Martelli and his players, it's not hard for me to look past them," Hewitt said. "Twice this year we knocked off teams in the top 10, and were barely mentioned in the 'others receiving votes.' They're ranked in the top 25, and we're not. We've got a lot to play for with this game." Martelli's reputation as a genial and humorous personality evidently preceded him to San Diego. The coach entertained several questions about his fun-loving outlook, and he was quick to point out that it serves a much larger purpose than good newspaper copy. The Hawks followed their 1997 Sweet Sixteen run with three straight losing seasons, and Martelli said that his lighthearted attitude helps to keep things in perspective. "You enjoy the highs and know that the lows are coming," he said. "I'm very aware that the same people patting us on the back now were aiming lower on our body the last three years. It's the nature of the beast. "For the three kids who were just up here," he said, referring to Woods, Wilkins and Ngounou, "I'm thrilled for them. They had to hang their heads on campus the last three years. They don't ever have to do that again." Indeed, the Tournament experience is especially sweet for Wilkins, a fifth-year senior and the only remaining member of the 1997 squad. Wilkins was a redshirt that season; he accompanied the team to Salt Lake City and San Jose, but only to practice. "This year is a little bit different," Wilkins understated. "This is the biggest and greatest opportunity I've been afforded in my college career. I'm going to try to enjoy it and try to go as far as we can go."