Dec. 2, 2010

by Pete Spiewak '10

Saint Joseph's five men's basketball freshmen gathered in a quiet Hagan Arena one Sunday afternoon after practice. After a tough season in 2009-10, these young players are a big reason why there is optimism on Hawk Hill these days. With the addition of Louisiana guards Ronald Roberts and guard/forward Daryus Quarles out of New Jersey, as well as local star, C.J. Aiken, a forward out of Plymouth-Whitemarsh High School, SJU head coach Phil Martelli has brought in five high-caliber players that have helped breathe new life back into program.

Bringing in these five players, one of the best recruiting classes the Hawks have ever had, was the result of a relentless recruiting effort by Martelli and his staff. The recruiting trail took the coaches to familiar places like the Philadelphia suburbs and North Jersey, but the Hawks expanded their search by traveling down to the Bayou.

The first commitment Saint Joseph's received came in February of 2009 from South Jersey, when Quarles, a Paulsboro native who Martelli had an eye on since he was a freshman, decided on the Hawks during his junior year and first season at Life Center Academy in Burlington, N.J.

"I just felt that St. Joe's was the right fit for me," said Quarles. "Coach Martelli and Coach [Mark] Bass just made me feel at home here."

Unlike his fellow freshmen, Daryus Quarles, a 6-foot-6 wing, did not garner All-State or state champion accolades in his senior year. In fact, Quarles didn't even suit up during his senior season after transferring back to Paulsboro High School, due to a rule that forced student athletes to sit out 365 days if they transfer schools without a bona fide change in home address.

"It was a negative situation, but I looked at it as a positive," Quarles said of sitting on the bench during his senior year at Paulsboro. "Being around basketball, just learning different things helped me out, but not being on the court with my teammates hurt."

When he committed, the sharpshooting and athletic Quarles, who rejected scholarship offers from Big East schools, was viewed as the crown jewel of the 2010 recruiting class -- a player who could dominate in the Atlantic 10 and bring the Hawks back to the top of the conference.

Little did anybody know at the time, Quarles wouldn't be relied on solely to carry the Hawks for four seasons. Plenty of help would be on the way.

In June of 2009, Saint Joseph's would receive good news from Aiken, a 6-foot-9 forward, who was long rumored to be leaning towards committing to Martelli, but also was considering fellow Big Five schools La Salle and Temple. But he too would choose the Hawks, giving Saint Joseph's the go-to big man that the team lacked after the graduation of Ahmad Nivins following the 2008-09 season.

Aiken, who was rated as the eighth-ranked center in the nation by Rivals.com and may be the most highly-touted of the group, doesn't feed into the expectations and praise of himself or the freshmen class.

"I just keep working," said Aiken, who led Plymouth-Whitemarsh to a championship and was named to the Atlantic 10 Preseason All-Rookie team. "I don't really pay attention to all of that stuff. I just play my game and keep learning from the coaches."

Truthfully, Aiken is a special player. As hard as it is finding a good center, it's even harder finding a center that runs the floor, flies through the air to block a shot or throw down an alley-oop...and also drains three pointers. The best part of his game right now may be his shot-blocking ability. Aiken's frame and long wingspan, coupled with his great timing, make him dangerous when defending the rim. In high school, he averaged eight and 6.5 blocks per game in his junior and senior seasons, respectively.

Instead of celebrating Aiken's commitment, the Hawks were closing in on Galloway, a well-rounded combo guard rated in Rivals.com's national top 150 --the type of player that ordinarily would be headed to an ACC or SEC school. Luckily for the Hawks, Galloway's uncle, Geoff Arnold, is an assistant coach under Martelli, giving Saint Joseph's the inside track to the 6-foot-2 guard from Baton Rouge. Just a week after Aiken's commitment, Galloway made his pledge to Saint Joseph's. Considered a ready-now freshman, Galloway secured a spot in the starting lineup in the preseason, according to Martelli.

Despite being a first-year player, Galloway displays the maturity and composure of a veteran. In many ways, Galloway seemed to be the perfect player to fill a void left at guard when Saint Joseph's lost longtime starters Garrett Williamson and Darrin Govens to graduation. Martelli says he is "wise beyond his years." Twice a District 7-A Player of the Year in Louisiana, Galloway sees the promise in this group of players.

"Playing with all of these guys, it's just special," said Galloway, who was also selected to the conference's All-Rookie team.

After a spectacular senior season in which Galloway averaged 26.2 points per game, won a state championship, and was named Class 1A First-Team All-State at Christian Life Academy, Galloway would help improve the Hawks before suiting up in Hagan Arena for the first time.

Galloway reached out to his AAU teammate and close friend, Pat Swilling Jr., the son of the former Georgia Tech and New Orleans Saints great, who many felt would opt to play football collegiately despite his talents on the hardwood. Swilling was still undecided after winning the Class 5A state championship and pouring in 18.1 points per game at Brother Martin as a senior. The 6-foot-2 guard from New Orleans soon warmed to the idea of spending his college days in the backcourt with Galloway.

After Arnold reached out to the two-sport star, Swilling sent Saint Joseph's his game tape. Impressed with what he saw, Martelli booked a flight for the Bayou and reeled in a second Louisiana star -- not only stealing a guard from the big Southern schools, but this time, he beat out football programs in search of a shutdown defensive back, too.

"I saw who we had coming in, three at the time that were already signed, and we were also looking at Ron Roberts," said Swilling, who committed in April of 2010. "I just thought if I came here it would be a perfect fit."

The four-man class was a dream come true for Saint Joseph's. But with a center, a small forward and two guards committed, the Hawks were not giving up on their pursuit of Roberts, a tough, athletic New Jersey forward, and, in the eyes of Martelli's staff, the icing on the cake for their 2010 recruiting class.

First committed to St. John's, Roberts, a native of Bayonne, N.J., reopened his commitment when Norm Roberts (no relation) was dismissed as head coach of the Red Storm.

Given a second chance to recruit Roberts, Martelli pursued him hard, knowing that the power forward from St. Peter's Prep was the perfect fit to play alongside Aiken and Quarles. After speaking with his father, Roberts realized Martelli was the coach he wanted to play for and became the fifth player to commit to Saint Joseph's.

The 6-foot-8 Roberts brings ferocity to the power forward spot. He's not a player that prefers pull-up jump shots or someone who shies away from contact. Roberts will dunk on you. And just when you think you've come down with a rebound, he'll rip it away from you.

"My approach is get rebounds and finish strong. That's just what I do," Roberts asserted.

Together, the five players make an exceptional group, each bringing unique skills to the table. They understand what's expected of them, and they want to fulfill those expectations. But they are realistic, too. They know they will take their lumps. They know they have a lot to learn.

"The expectations are high, but we're still freshmen, we're still learning." Roberts remarked. "We're taking it one step at a time. We're going to grow together. We're going to be together for a long time."

With hard work, Swilling feels they can put themselves in a good position to succeed as they mature as a group.

"I think over the years, when we get bigger, stronger and faster, we're going to be a really good team," said Swilling. "We just need to keep making strides."

Every day the goal is to learn and to get better. If they can do that, these young Hawks anticipate playing for championships one day.

That afternoon in Hagan Arena, their new home, the five young Hawks allowed themselves to look down the road for a moment. What could they accomplish in the next four years, they wondered.

Quarles, once the centerpiece of the recruiting class, now had his four teammates surrounding him when he looked up to the arena's ceiling.

"Hopefully we'll be able to hang a banner in here."

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