Feb. 14, 2007
By Brian W. Ferrie '98
With the 72-50 victory over La Salle on Feb. 10, the up-and-down Hawks raised their overall record to 14-10 and conference mark to 6-4. Most observers going into the season believed that St. Joe's had talent but would likely be inconsistent, with four freshmen guards receiving regular playing time. That belief was correct. Sometimes, Saint Joseph's can look great - such as the scintillating 82-74 victory over preseason conference favorite Xavier. Other times, the team can look disappointing, such as the lopsided loss to Villanova, in which the Hawks committed 21 turnovers, shot 26 percent from the field and scored just 39 points.
Nevertheless, at four games above .500, SJU is in solid position for a third-consecutive NIT bid. Furthermore, in the wide-open Atlantic 10, the Hawks have to be considered a threat to win the conference tournament in Atlantic City from March 7-10, thereby earning an automatic bid to the Big Dance.
"I'm really not a guy that goes by [preseason] expectations," said head coach Phil Martelli. "What I look for is daily improvement, both individually and collectively. I also like to probe and be creative about getting the most out of the team that I have each season. With this team, from August through October, I could see that they had a good work attitude. But I didn't know about their work ethic. To me, work ethic is about what you do when you're on your own. And what I've realized is, we have to work on work ethic with this group."
According to the coach, that goes beyond players practicing basketball skills on their own.
"It's the mental aspect too, it covers everything," Martelli related. "From how to be a teammate to how to be a student. That's been a daily focus for us as a coaching staff. We talk about it all the time. All of our players generally have a quiet demeanor. There's really not a strong personality on the team. Each guy kind of does his own thing. And that's OK, it's just that there are also times when you have to have a voice."
Asked whether he thought the team should have more than 14 victories at this point, Martelli commented, "I don't think about records much. Sure, you could look back and say in the Penn State game, if only we hit our foul shots, or in the GW game, if only we cut down on the turnovers. But to me, that's just wasted energy. Once a game has ended, my thoughts turn to preparing the team as well as I can for the next game."
Of the four freshmen who make up the Hawks' regular guard rotation, he noted that there have been positive contributions but that notable room for improvement remains.
"Darrin Govens and Jawan Carter have both been given a daunting task," said Martelli. "It's a difficult challenge for anybody to direct a Division I basketball team as a point guard, but that much more difficult if you're a freshman. So they've developed a sponge mentality to [assistant coach] Doug Overton's teaching. They need to take the approach that every play is important."
"They both have guarded the way I would expect them to," Martelli said. "In fact, they guard beyond their age. Their shooting needs great work, but that is improving under [assistant] coach [Mark] Bass. It's a challenge when you've had success in high school because you think you're just going to keep having success. But you have to take your game to the next level. They have both definitely been better at that since Jan. 1."
Martelli has been impressed by the play of the team's starting frontcourt, which is much more experienced with juniors Rob Ferguson and Pat Calathes and sophomore Ahmad Nivins, all of whom saw significant minutes last season.
"I think Pat is the most improved player on the team," said Martelli. "We do still have to limit his turnovers and work on his attention to detail on defense. But he is a creative offensive player, a very good passer and he has really stepped up his rebounding."
With Ferguson, the challenge to maximize his potential is more mental.
"Rob is being asked to come out of his comfort zone [now that he is an upperclassman], to be assertive and to be a leader," Martelli commented. "We're starting to see him do that. The fact that he leads the team in shots is a good sign."
Nivins, meanwhile, has made great strides since last season to become the team's most dominant player.
"Ahmad has really played well at an all-league level," said the coach. "I'd still like to see him be more attentive defensively. And we as a team have to work at different ways to get him the ball. We can't just try to throw it to him in the post. But he's really worked hard on his game with [assistant coach] David Duda, and he's enjoying his success."
"Right now, those three guys are behind all-league caliber players [on the depth chart]. I think most of our games have been close and in situations like that, it's hard to take your best players out of the game. Arvydas has also battled injuries again. Rockwell is starting to come on, and I think Alvin will be more of a face-the-basket guy for us from now on."
Sophomore guard Edwin Lashley, meanwhile, is another scholarship player who has not seen significant court time this season.
"Edwin has become a terrific scouting report player for us in terms of helping to prepare our guys for the next opponent. Edwin's greatest skill is he can shoot, and it's our responsibility as a coaching staff to put him in position to be more successful by getting him open shots and improving his foot speed. But he definitely has become a much more attentive practice player."
The Hawks do have strong reinforcements coming in next year, who Martelli also discussed. Tasheed Carr grew up in Philadelphia and is a 6-4 transfer point guard from Iowa State. Already practicing with the team, Carr will have two seasons of eligibility remaining when he begins play for St. Joe's next season. Idris Hilliard, meanwhile, is an athletic 6-5 forward, who has already signed his Letter of Intent to join the SJU squad next fall. Coming from The Hun School in Princeton, NJ, Hilliard is ranked among the top 40 small forwards in the high school class of 2007, according to Scout.com.
"Tasheed is a very vocal player on a team full of guys who are kind of quiet," noted Martelli. "I think he's really going to be a great addition for us. He's a big guard, while our freshmen guards this year are smaller, not as well-built guys. With Idris, he provides another scoring option. He can create his own shot and play off the bounce. His playing style is to get to the rack and try to dunk on you."
Martelli also noted there is a chance the team could add another scholarship player before next season. Turning his attention back to the final stretch of the 2006-07 season, the coach concluded, "I'm anxious to see what will happen in the next month. Our improvement has been sporadic to this point. What we want is to improve game by game."