2001-2002 Men's Basketball Outlook
Courtesy: SJU Athletic Communications
Saint Joseph's University men's basketball coach Phil Martelli has a daunting task facing him as he begins to prepare for the 2002-03 season. Coming off a two-year run that included a trip to the second round of both the NCAA and NIT tournaments, Martelli opens his eighth season at the helm of the Hawk program with the challenge of replacing a senior class that compiled over 5000 points and 2200 rebounds. "People talk about 'How do you replace them?', explains Martelli on his departing seniors. "I do not think you replace them. I think the idea of replacing a player is not like 'I have a bad tire on my car and I am going to replace it.' To me the concept I believe in is that we are building a new team. "Last year's team was built, and now we are building another team. We have to take these parts and put them together into a terrific finished product." Martelli may not have the experience of graduated seniors Nai'im Crenshaw, Marvin O'Connor, Bill Phillips and Damian Reid, all of whom carved their niche in the SJU record books before moving on to careers in professional basketball. However, he does have a contingent of six newcomers that will join eight returnees, led by one of the nation's top point guards, junior Jameer Nelson. "Jameer needs to be the unquestioned leader of this group," states the two-time Atlantic 10 Conference Coach of the Year. "His play speaks for itself. There are some that think he had some kind of sophomore slump. That is silly. He led the league in assists and was first team all-league. He is an All-American point guard. He has not changed. He is among the best point guards in America." "Now what has to happen is he has to take over the locker room, our weight training sessions. In every way shape and form he has to be looked upon not just as the best player on the team, but as the leader of this team." The 6-0 Chester, Pa. native has put together arguably the best two seasons by any Saint Joseph's point guard in the 93-year history of the program. That says a lot when one considers the list of former floor leaders, most notably Bob McNeill (1957-6), Jim Lynam (1960-63), Jim O'Brien (1971-74), Rap Curry (1990-94) and Rashid Bey (1994-98), that have worn the Crimson and Gray. In his first season, Nelson earned National Freshmen of the Year accolades by numerous publications. He shattered the SJU record for assists in a season as well as the A-10 mark for assists by a freshman, dishing 213 in helping lead SJU to the second round of the NCAA Tournament and a Top 25 national ranking at season's end. Named the nation's best passer by The Sporting News at the outset of his sophomore season, Nelson continued his mastery on the court, distributing 188 assists, while also upping his scoring average to 14.1 points per game, second on the team. He earned first team all-Atlantic 10 and Philadelphia Big Five honors for his efforts. Now a veteran, Nelson will look to become the first player in Atlantic 10 history to lead the league in assists in three different seasons, albeit with a group of returnees that accounted for just 15 percent of the team's offense last season. Returning with Nelson in the Hawk back court is 6-1 junior Tyrone Barley. Used mainly as Nelson's backup at the point for most of his first two seasons, Barley will be given the opportunity to earn a spot in the starting rotation. Known more for his defensive skill and hard-nosed play, Barley, who averaged just 1.6 points while playing a little under 10 minutes per contest, has worked on his offensive game in the off-season. "Tyrone is going to be given his rightful spot, on the wing, to try and earn maximum minutes in the rotation," says Martelli. Sophomore Delonte West, a 6-4 guard, is slated to fill a wing spot in the Hawk starting five. Second in scoring to Nelson among SJU returnees, West tallied 5.9 points and 3.0 rebounds per game despite playing just 17 minutes per contest. "Delonte West was one of the best freshmen in the Atlantic10. He just did not get the minutes that some of the other kids got," explains Martelli. "He is a guy who has proven he can score the ball at this level." Rounding out the returnees in the back court are 6-5 sophomore Pat Carroll and seniors Mike Farrelly and Phil Martelli, Jr. Carroll, a heady player, did not see much action last season due to the team's veteran lineup. He averaged 6.1 minutes per contest, making two starts, including one in the team's NIT win at George Mason. Farrelly and Martelli. Jr., both walk-ons, will be counted on more than ever for leadership. "Pat Carroll is a sound player, who is not going to hurt himself or the team," states Martelli. "He is only going to do what he can do and he is going to do that to a very high level." "They are invaluable," extols the Hawk coach on his senior walk-ons. "They are everything that is good about Saint Joseph's basketball." Two incoming freshmen will join the SJU back court, 6-0 Dwayne Lee, and 6-5 Chet Stachitas. Lee, a point guard who has the ability to play a wing, hails from national high school power St. Anthony's Prep in Jersey City, N.J. As a senior, he averaged 12.6 points and four assists in helping lead St. Anthony's to a #2 National Ranking. Stachitas, a wing player, averaged 24 points, eight rebounds and hit 56 percent from the field as a senior. He also earned MVP honors in leading Nease High to the Florida State AAA Championship. "Dwayne Lee is a wonderful point guard so he will be in a position to back up Jameer," comments Martelli. He can also play with him as well, which gives us plenty of flexibility at the guard position." "Chet is a kid who is used to winning," Martelli adds. "He has played a lot of basketball. He is a scorer right now, not a shooter, so we will have to improve his shooting." Senior Alexandre Sazonov, plagued by injuries before (compartment syndrome) and during (stress fracture) during last season, is healthy and eager to prove that he can be a dominant post player in the Atlantic 10 in his final season on Hawk Hill. Currently fourth on the school's career blocked shot list with114 rejections, the 7-1 Moscow, Russia native averaged 4.9 points and 3.5 rebounds as a sophomore in 2000-01 despite playing just 15.2 minutes per outing. "Alex had a terrific spring," says Martelli on the tallest player in SJU history. "He was fit, healthy and focused on the challenge at hand. The key for Alex is now. Is he going to prepare every single day to become a legitimate Atlantic 10 high-level player? That is on him. I am confident he will do it." Sophomore John Bryant, a 6-7 forward, is the only other returnee in the front court. In his first year on the court, his second with the program as he red-shirted in 2000-01, Bryant provided a spark off the bench with his aggressive play on the defensive end, blocking 18 shots to rank him third on the squad. "John gives you a lot of high energy, but is not a great scorer," Martelli states. "But his high energy and ranginess (on defense) is a valuable asset." The newcomer likely to make the most impact next season is 6-10 power forward Dave Mallon. A product of East Aurora ( NY) High, Mallon is seen as a clone of Bill Phillips, with the ability to score from inside as well as from long-range. As a senior, he averaged 21 points, 11 rebounds and 7.3 blocked shots per game. "He is a guy (Mallon) who I am expecting big things from," says Martelli. "He is along the lines of Bill Phillips in terms of his skill, but he has to find his own way. He has never played against this level of competition and probably never has competed as intensely as you need to on a daily basis. But I am comfortable that he can find a niche as a very special type of player." Three other newcomers will also vie for time in the Hawk front court, 6-11 red-shirt freshman Dwayne Jones, 6-11 junior Chris Cologer, and 6-5 freshman Mike Williams. Jones, a three-time first team all-conference selection for American Christian Academy, has excellent defensive skill and should split time in the post with Sazonov and Cologer. A junior college transfer (Globe Techncial Institute), Cologer has a lanky frame for a big-man (210 pounds), in the mode of former Hawk Harold Rasul (1996-97 through 1997-98). The Poissy, France native averaged 9.4 points and 5.6 rebounds while playing 20 minutes per game at the New York City junior college last year. Williams, who sports a Barkley-esque frame (260 pounds), is a scorer who can play both small and power forward. The 2002 USA Today/Gatorade State Player of the Year from Rhode Island averaged 19 points, 10 rebounds and five assists for St. Raphael's where he led his team to four straight state titles. "Dwayne had a terrific spring in terms of preparation," states Martelli. "He can alter shots and is improving daily offensively." "Chris is another long lanky kid," adds the Hawk coach. "I do not have enough of a feel for him. He is one of those guys that I have to get in the gym and see how he works. We recruited him based on evaluations by our assistant coaches and I am very confident in their abilities to evaluate him." "Mike will get a spot in a hybrid kind of position," says Martelli. "He is a big-bodied kid and can score the ball . I am confident that he will score against the Atlantic 10 and our non-conference schedule." The talented Hawks will face another challenging schedule in 2002-03. Saint Joseph's will open the season at Boston College on November 23, marking the first regular season games between the Jesuit institutions since January 4, 1978. The Hawks then travel to another Jesuit school, Canisius, for a November 26 date before returning to Philadelphia for games with Old Dominion (Dec. 1), Boston University (12/5), Drexel (12/7, part of the Big Five Classic), Delaware (12/9) and DePaul (12/21). Drexel and DePaul will be played at the Palestra with the other games being held in the friendly confines of Alumni Memorial Fieldhouse. SJU then heads west for a two-game swing. The Hawks play at Pacific, a team they defeated in the first round of the 1997 NCAA Tournament, on December 28. Then, it will be a New Year's Eve rematch at Gonzaga. The Bulldogs downed the Hawks, 83-80, last New Year's Eve on All-American Dan Dickau's three-pointer at the buzzer. Two other Philadelphia Big Five opponents, Pennsylvania and Villanova, round out the non-conference part of the schedule. The highly-competitive Atlantic 10 Conference schedule features Saint Joseph's facing East Division rivals Fordham, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, St. Bonaventure and Temple twice each. The Hawks will host West Division rivals Duquesne, Richmond and Xavier while also traveling to Dayton, George Washington and La Salle.