Nov. 14, 2008
By Jeremy S. Fallis `06
In basketball, five people bring five different sets of skills, intelligence, experiences and personalities to the court. At Saint Joseph's, five freshmen -- Temi Adebayo, Mike Auriemma, Bryant Irwin, Chris Prescott, A.J. Rogers -- bring those traits and more to Hawk Hill.
To fill in a roster that lost an exciting and successful 2008 senior class, head coach Phil Martelli and company saw fit to bring in the likes of a coach's son in Auriemma and his rival from high school in Prescott.
As a walk-on to the team and known most notably as the son of UConn women's head coach Geno Auriemma, Mike fulfilled a life-long goal, even if there was some confusion in reaching it.
"My dad and Coach Martelli have been really close friends," Auriemma says. "And ever since I was little I kind of always dreamed of playing here because it's the second-best thing to playing for my dad."
When Auriemma reached great basketball heights at East Catholic High in Manchester, Conn. he was tempted by other schools, specifically one close to home.
"When I was a junior in high school I was pretty much set on going to the University of Hartford," adds Auriemma. "Towards the end of my senior year after my season ended I sat down with my parents and my heart really wasn't set on it."
When that change of heart took place, it was too late for Auriemma to find another school on such late notice. Coach Martelli steered him to The Hun School, the same stop that sent sophomore Idris Hilliard to Saint Joseph's. Ultimately, that is where Auriemma's decision on Saint Joseph's was finalized by another conversation with Martelli.
"I told [Coach Martelli] that I'd like to walk on and he said that he'd love to have me," says Auriemma.
Auriemma has also provided Saint Joseph's with some friendly intra-squad rivalries. As a star guard at East Catholic, he butted heads with league rival Northwest Catholic whose leading scorer was Prescott.
"[I've known] him since middle school," Prescott notes. "We were rivals, but we had respect for each other."
As for who got the better of the rivalry, one can look to Auriemma's charges that went to the State finals in consecutive years. On the road to the finals the first time, he ran into another future teammate, sophomore Charoy Bentley.
"Charoy's team, Harding, was number one in the state when we were juniors," Auriemma says. "We played them in the quarterfinals and I actually made a three-pointer with 20 seconds left to win it."
And if one doesn't think that Bentley and Prescott don't hear a little teasing from the walk-on, they would be mistaken.
"[Charoy] and Chris haven't had too much luck [against me]," Auriemma jokes. "So I have the upper hand on [them]."
If friendly rivalries and laughter are what make the team stronger and more cohesive, add in 6-10 center Adebayo. Adebayo is the one freshman that is guaranteed to liven anyone's spirits.
"He's funny and he makes people laugh," Irwin, his roommate, explains.
Certainly an odd couple--a Nigerian who has spent just over a year in the United States and a high-scoring West Virginian "country boy"--they've become fast friends.
"Temi's a good guy and we're great friends," Bryant says. "And he's a good roommate. He's free and he doesn't have too many worries."
As for what Adebayo enjoys the most about Philadelphia?
"I love the cheesesteaks," Adebayo deadpans. "I love to joke and laugh and [make] people laugh. I think I'm kind of weird and people think I'm funny. They tell me to say something so they can keep laughing."
Nevertheless, there has been plenty of excitement on the campus and in the city of Philadelphia for Adebayo to take in and appreciate on a daily basis. Aside from a new environment (he spent his first year in the Washington, D.C. metro area after attending Montrose Christian), Adebayo is trying to better understand the unfamiliar culture as well.
"I thought people would be on their own more," says Adebayo. "But Saint Joseph's is different and people care a lot about you. There's something about Philadelphia in general [that I like].
"They love sports and everywhere you go people want to talk about sports. When the Phillies won, it was crazy."
As for the informal approaches to American lifestyle, that surprised Adebayo as well. In his native Nigeria, titles are given to whoever is being addressed, whether it's a simple "Yes, ma'am," or "No, sir."Additionally, English is a second language for Adebayo and it's easy to see how adjusting to a new life takes time.
Getting acclimated to Saint Joseph's is easier for some than others. Having been recruited by assistant coach Mark Bass, Irwin works with Bass daily.
"He wants me to take more charges," Irwin says. "And work on my defensive rebounding."
Irwin echoes sentiments from another newcomer, A.J. Rogers, about the atmosphere at Saint Joseph's.
"I had seen [SJU] play in the Fieldhouse," Rogers says. "It was crazy because of how loud it got and it was electrifying. I wanted to play in the Fieldhouse [as soon as] I saw it."
"I wish we were playing in the Fieldhouse [this year]," notes Irwin. "But The Palestra is a cool place to play."
The frontcourt duo might not get their opportunity to play in the old school Fieldhouse this season, but will have plenty of game time to roam around The Palestra--the Hawks' home away from home--this season. Fans and coaches alike can be sure that Rogers won't be bothered by the venue change thanks in part to his pedigree.
Rogers is a product out of Saint Anthony in New Jersey, continuing a pipeline from Bob Hurley, Sr.'s championship program to Coach Martelli's, which saw Dwayne Lee '06 and senior co-captain Ahmad Nivins find their way from the small New Jersey high school to 54th Street and City Avenue.
Fittingly, Rogers is in the same situation that Nivins was in during his freshman year. Lee was a senior on Ahmad's first team.
"[Martelli has] had back-to-back-to-back Saint Anthony's players," explains Rogers. "So he knows what he's getting."
Coach Martelli will receive the same kind of hard-nosed defensive play from Rogers that Saint Anthony is predicated on as well as the tools in which to succeed at the college level.
"I love playing defense," Rogers notes enthusiastically, "There's something about pride. I don't like to let my man score."
The quintet of freshmen brings every facet and personality imaginable to the SJU lineup. Whether it's a defensive-minded power forward from Rosedale, N.Y., a free spirit from Ibadan, Nigeria, a "country boy" from West Virginia or a couple of central Connecticut guards the Hawks have a core of new players willing to step up their play and help Coach Martelli and company.
Their personalities are different and their stories--if not intertwined before stepping on campus--are certainly entangled now, forming this year's 2008-09 Saint Joseph's University Hawk squad. In the end, the goal is still the same.
"We're trying to win a championship here," Prescott says.