Nov. 2, 2007
PHILADELPHIA - One thing's fairly certain - the 2007-08 Saint Joseph's basketball squad will at least be a year older and a year wiser than last season's team, which was one of the youngest in Phil Martelli's 12-year tenure as head coach. That youthful squad provided a rollercoaster ride during the season, and despite the 18-14 record, the Hawks saw their six-season streak of postseason play come to an end. All the pieces are in place for the 2007-08 Hawks to get back to postseason play and to again challenge for the Atlantic 10 title, as four starters return, including All-Conference selections Ahmad Nivins and Pat Calathes and senior Rob Ferguson. The Hawks look strong on paper, but Martelli stresses that there's still a lot of work to do. He wants to regain the focus that seemed to be lost last season, which in turn caused the inconsistency that plagued SJU. "I don't think that anybody should see that as the be all and end all, that they are (four starters) coming back. To me, you either have to be coming back from a winning experience, or you have to be coming back from a disappointment. So that might be a positive as we're coming off a disappointment not being involved in the postseason. I don't see just them coming back as the be all and end all. Older is not better - better is better," said Martelli, now in his 13th season at the helm.
FRONTCOURT Nivins had a breakout year, averaging team-highs of 16.6 points and 7.6 rebounds and setting the school single-season record for field goal percentage (.631). He established himself as one of the top players in the Atlantic 10, earning All-Conference First Team honors as well as selection to the All-Big 5 First Team. The 6-9 center was a force to be reckoned with, giving the Hawks' offense a different look with a dominant post player. Nivins also served notice on the national level when he was one of 30 players invited to participate in the USA Basketball Pan Am Games Trials. Calathes used his size (6-10) and ballhandling skills to his advantage last year, and provided the Hawks with a unique weapon on offense. With the ability to play a few positions, including point guard, he became tough to defend, and could score from long range or by driving to the hoop. He was second on the Hawks with 13.9 points and 7.1 rebounds while getting nods to the All-A-10 Third Team and All-Big 5 Second Team. Calathes was almost "automatic" from the foul line, hitting 84.6 percent and setting the school record with 38 consecutive free throws. "For Pat and Ahmad, they've both come off of good experiences as All-League players. I think they have to be considered winners, hard workers, and as guys, tangibly, who should be looked upon as the top five or six or seven best players in the league. And if you have two of the five to seven best players in the league, then you should be one of the better teams in the league," said the coach. Ferguson was the Hawks' third leading scorer last year with a personal-best 11.3 points per game. The 6-8 forward has been a solid all-around player for the Hawks and can score in a variety of ways. The coaching staff is hoping that his final season will become his breakout year. Senior Arvydas Lidzius was the first frontcourt player off the bench last year and will see a similar role this year. The 6-9 forward plays tough basketball and does the little things needed to help the Hawks win. Depth will be added by 6-9 sophomore Rockwell Moody, who will be looking for more playing time this season. Idris Hilliard, a 6-7 forward from Roselle, NJ, is the newcomer to the frontcourt. The three-time All-State selection from The Hun School (N.J.), he averaged 15.0 points and 6.2 rebounds in helping his team to the 2007 State Prep A title. Hilliard is a hard-working, energetic player who can find ways to score around the basket. "I think he contributes right away because of his energy," said Martelli.
BACKCOURT The Hawks' backcourt is still relatively young with sophomore Darrin Govens likely to be the starting point guard on a full-time basis. Govens, who had some minor setbacks with injuries during 2006-07, grew more comfortable on the court as the season progressed, earning a starting spot for the final six games of the year. He averaged 7.3 points and 2.3 assists while hitting close to 40 percent from 3-point range. "Darrin started to show up every day at practice in the right frame of mind. I was disappointed in the beginning of the year that he didn't have solid practice sessions and therefore I couldn't develop the confidence in him. I thought during the year he had some really positive games for us. I liked when he started with the ball and liked his shooting form. He's a guy I've targeted as one who should be in contention for the most improved player in the league this season," said Martelli. With the transfer of Jawan Carter, Govens will have a new running mate in junior Tasheed Carr. The 6-3 guard sat out last season after transferring to Saint Joseph's from Iowa State. The Philadelphia native has good size and provides the team not only with experience, but with a vocal, take-charge player. Garrett Williamson was a 31-game starter for the Hawks as a freshman and made his mark primarily on defense. The hard-working sophomore has put in extra time on his offensive game and will be a valued contributor whether it's as a starter or as a reserve. D.J. Rivera, a 6-2 sophomore, was the Hawks' "sixth man" last year, contributing great athleticism. Rivera led SJU in steals (41) and was a tenacious defender, drawing comparisons to former Hawk Tyrone Barley. He will sit out the first semester of competition, however, to concentrate on academics. Edwin Lashley is another Hawk who will be looking to break through this season. The 6-4 junior guard is a good outside shooter and might have more opportunities this season to show his skills. The second newcomer to the Hawks this year is 6-2 guard Charoy Bentley from Harding High School in Connecticut. Bentley had a stellar scholastic career, averaging 21.0 points in his career, while scoring over 1,600 points. The two-time All-State selection helped his team to a 20-0 record and the conference title as as junior. "Charoy is a winner. He's been taught how to practice and has a love of the game of basketball. He's a multi-skilled guard. He'll fit in that mold of Darrin (Govens) and Tasheed (Carr)," said Martelli.
THE SCHEDULE The Hawks will face a challenging non-conference slate that includes some old foes and some new ones. SJU opens the season in the NIT Season Tip-Off at Syracuse, meeting Fairleigh Dickinson in the opener, with Syracuse and Siena as the other teams in that bracket. SJU will resume its rivalry with Gonzaga in Philadelphia, while also hosting Ball State, Penn State and Holy Cross. The Hawks will travel to fellow Jesuit school Creighton for the first meeting since 1981, and will also visit Boston University, Fairfield and Siena. SJU will face its city rivals in the annual battles with games against Drexel, La Salle, Penn, Temple and Villanova all at the Palestra. "Anytime that you have an opportunity to be in an exempt tournament like the Preseason NIT it should give you a jolt as you prepare, whether it be August or November. You're preparing for the challenges that you face. I think the Atlantic 10 challenges are going to be extraordinary. In the preseason rankings you can put one team first and somebody else can put them sixth. There's going to be great depth in the Atlantic 10," said the coach. "The great rivalry with Gonzaga is back. That'll be a premier game. Another strong test will be at Creighton, a place where not many visiting teams win. And the Big 5 is enough of a proving ground for anybody." In this year's Atlantic 10 schedule rotation, the Hawks will meet Massachusetts, Temple and Xavier in both home and away contests. SJU will host Fordham, La Salle, Richmond, St. Bonaventure and Saint Louis, while traveling to Charlotte, Dayton, Duquesne, George Washington, and Rhode Island.
THE OUTLOOK Martelli will reinforce his "one day at a time" philosophy to get the Hawks back on track. "The mantra and the foundation of this program of daily improvement is going to be paramount because we lost our way last year, there was not individual improvement, and there was not collective improvement. We need to regain our focus," said the coach, who ranks second on the school's all-time list for victories with 240. "With all of the new players we had last year - as well as new coaches - I feel responsible for not having led and kept our vision on the straight and narrow. And this year, it's on the straight and narrow," said Martelli. "Today and only today is important. Improving and only improving is important. And we have to get it back to where the direction is basketball and academics. That's what we want to get clear-minded about. These are our pursuits - excellence in academics and excellence in basketball."