Dec. 22, 2008
by Joe Greenwich
If you don't have it, you need it. If you need it, you can't just go and get it off the shelf. If you can't get it, you want it. And if you want it...well, obviously you don't have it.
"It" is senior leadership, and fortunately, the Hawks have it.
The Saint Joseph's men's and women's basketball teams are led by a pair of senior captains in Mary Kate McDade and Ahmad Nivins. Both players have seen a lot in their three-plus seasons on Hawk Hill, and while their experiences may be different, they also share a lot in common.
A 5-foot-8 guard from Nazareth Academy, McDade pilots the Hawk offense as the starting point guard for the women's basketball team. She leads the team with 5.3 assists per game and has also contributed 6.0 points and 4.2 rebounds per contest. McDade is a born-and-bred Philadelphian who enjoys playing at home in front of family and friends.
"That was one of the main things when I was being recruited," she said. "I wanted to stay local. I'm a homebody."
McDade understands the importance of having her family in attendance, as a young Mary Kate used to join her parents in the crowd when her sister Shannon played for La Salle. Now, as the youngest member of the family, she understands the value of that support. In fact, had she chose not to stay close to home, the McDade family may have had a tough decision to make.
"I can't imagine [playing outside the Philadelphia area]...I think they would have moved or made the family relocate or something," she chuckled. "It's nice. You learn not to take it for granted."
Nivins began his senior season with great expectations and has done a phenomenal job thus far, averaging a double-double as SJU's leading scorer and rebounder (18.8 points and 11.0 rebounds per game). After struggling at times during his junior year, Nivins feels like he has a better handle on the pressures associated with being touted as one of the top players in the Atlantic 10.
"It's something that I've learned to live with," the 6-foot-9 forward from Jersey City, N.J. said. "[Last season] I tried my best not to let it get to me, but the more the season went on, the more I realized I was pressuring myself, and a lot of times I was bringing myself down. You can't have added pressure like that if you want to be successful."
Success has come once again for Nivins, as he has already recorded five double-doubles and notched a pair of 25-point performances (against Rider and Towson). He also went for 20 points and a career-high 17 rebounds in the win at Lehigh.
Both McDade and Nivins have seen their share of memorable moments since their arrival on campus in the fall of 2005. Growing up in Philadelphia, McDade has a fondness for important Big 5 games. When asked, she counts two in particular among her best memories.
"The Villanova triple-overtime game (won by the Hawks, 66-57, on December 4), definitely, is a game that sticks out," she said. "To take it back further, freshman year, when we beat Temple (in 2006)" is another game she recalls fondly.
Nivins agreed, but also had a memory of his own to share.
"The Big 5 games definitely stand out, but the most memorable I would have to say is beating Xavier at home last year (a 71-66 SJU win on March 6)," he said. "They came in nationally ranked, it was the last game at the Fieldhouse...it was just a memorable night."
Speaking of Alumni Memorial Fieldhouse, both players expressed a tinge of regret that they won't be playing their final collegiate seasons in their home gym, but both seniors understand the importance of the improvements to the facilities at Saint Joseph's.
"For Ahmad and I and the rest of the seniors, it's kind of hard," McDade admitted. "It's bittersweet because you get to see what your teammates and the people that come in after you are going to benefit from, but at the same time, you're not playing on your home court as a senior."
"I feel the same way," Nivins agreed. "You kind of want to see what the Fieldhouse is going to look like, but then again you're happy for your teammates."
"I think it's a great chance to bring a lot more recruits in," said McDade.
Because of the expansion and renovation of Alumni Memorial Fieldhouse, both teams are playing their home games off-campus this season. The women will play a majority of their games at Philadelphia University's Gallagher Center, while the men will play at The Palestra. The women will also play a pair of home games at the venerable "Cathedral of Basketball," including tonight's contest with Seton Hall. Both Nivins and McDade have played in the building a number of times and can appreciate the privilege of taking the floor in such a historic arena.
"I really enjoy the atmosphere," said Nivins. "It's one of a kind, and I'm going to try my best not to take it for granted that this is just another home court because there's so much history."
"Just knowing all the history and the players that have played there before" makes McDade proud to take the floor at The Palestra. "It's a great opportunity. I've been going to games at The Palestra since I was little."
Both players acknowledged the differences between the two arenas, but also noted some similarities between The Palestra and Alumni Memorial Fieldhouse.
"It's similar to the Fieldhouse in terms of the passion of the fans. I definitely look forward to playing there," Nivins said.
"It's like the Fieldhouse - obviously it's a lot bigger - but it still has that homey feel," McDade shared. "It's not high-tech or anything. It's old-fashioned."
As senior co-captains, McDade and Nivins know that they will be relied on to provide a good example for the underclassmen on their respective squads. They both know what is required of them when it comes to providing leadership and guidance to younger players. Their coaches believe in them as well, as both Cindy Griffin and Phil Martelli rely on their seniors to lead, no questions asked.
"There's not a whole lot of pressure because our team works well together," McDade said. "Everybody's working together and helping each other out. We have a `Big Sister, Little Sister' thing going on, where the seniors get a freshman and the juniors get a sophomore and we just look out for each other. And it goes both ways; the freshmen also look out for the seniors."
"For one of the first times since I've been here, with this group, there's a real sense of togetherness," Nivins revealed. "We always do things together, and I think that's important, especially if you want to build a strong team. I think it's something that you want to have, moving forward, and only good things can come from it."
Despite their conflicting schedules, the members of the men's and women's teams do their best to support one another throughout the season. However, there is one sore spot for Nivins and his teammates when it comes to dealing with their counterparts on the women's team.
"They beat Villanova," he said, shaking his head.
McDade laughed off the notion that any rivalry exists between the two squads, saying, "If there is [a rivalry], it's just for fun."
"Ahmad mentioned the Villanova game, we were on the bus [to Norfolk, Va.] getting up-to-the-second updates," she said, offering a glimpse into the relationship of support that the two teams share.
"We're friendly," she said.
With the holiday season upon us, both players shared a little portion of their Christmas lists.
"My parents gave me a bracelet for my 21st birthday, and I lost it," McDade confessed. "I hope I get a new one." She also hopes that "everybody has a safe and healthy Christmas."
Lest you think Nivins has his mind anywhere else but the hardwood, his wish list should clear that up quickly. His only request is one near and dear to the heart of any basketball player at any level.
"I want some new kicks," he said.
No doubt Mary Kate and Ahmad will do their best to help provide Hawk fans with a few kicks of their own this season.