Feb. 8, 2006
By Brian W. Ferrie '98 - The 2005-06 Saint Joseph's season has had plenty of twists and turns, with inconsistency perhaps being the team's most notable trait.
Highs such as the thrilling 60-57 victory over perennial national power Kansas at Madison Square Garden have been offset by lows such as going scoreless for a seemingly interminable nine-minute stretch at Alumni Memorial Fieldhouse as the team let a seven-point halftime lead against Charlotte slip away in a 57-50 home defeat. There was a close home win over Big 5 and A-10 rival Temple at the Palestra, balanced by a close home loss to A-10 rival Xavier at the Fieldhouse. Such has the season gone, when the team's unpredictable offense can put up a dumbfounding 16 points in the first half against La Salle, then explode for 50 in the second half to earn a 66-54 victory at the Palestra.
That win, coupled with one at Saint Louis and one over city rival Penn gave the Hawks a season-best three-game winning streak as Phil Martelli sat down to talk about the state of the program, its present and future.
When asked how the team's performance to that point compared with his expectations coming into the season, Martelli said, "My expectations are the same every year - to see daily improvement, both individually and collectively. We have not had near enough individual improvement this season. We've improved as a team, but individually the level of improvement has not been to my liking or expectations."
That said, he noted that redshirt sophomore forward Rob Ferguson, sophomore wing Pat Calathes and freshman forward Alvin Mofunanya stood out for having shown at least some individual improvement this season.
"But it's mostly been in inches, when I'd like to see it be in leaps," added Martelli. When asked to assess the impact of this year's freshman class as a whole, which came on campus with significant accolades, the coach commented, "Ahmad Nivins has certainly been solid, averaging about 8 points and 6 rebounds per game. My secret hope was that he'd be the best freshman in the A-10 this year, and there have been flashes of that. Edwin Lashley has battled illness since the start of the season and struggled to catch up. In Alvin's case, most of the games we've played have been so tight that I haven't had the chance to experiment, so to speak, and get him on the floor more."
At the other end of the experience spectrum, this team is defined by its senior leaders - Chet Stachitas, Dwayne Lee and Dave Mallon. All of them have been at Saint Joseph's since they were freshmen, and all have seen their playing time and impact on the program grow as their careers have progressed on Hawk Hill.
On the the contributions and leadership of this year's seniors, Martelli said, "I think the biggest adjustment for Dwayne and Dave is that they've had to step outside of who they really are. I think both would much rather lead by example than be really vocal, but their demonstration of fire has been terrific. Along with Chet, I couldn't ask for better seniors. They've clearly shown the younger guys what it means to be a senior in this program."
After the graduation of Atlantic 10 Co-Player of the Year Pat Carroll last May, many program observers expected Stachitas (the team's second-leading scorer in 2004-05 with 10.8 ppg) to assume the role of go-to-guy on offense this season. He has certainly increased his scoring (up to 14.6 ppg), but fortunately sophomore guard Abdulai Jalloh has also stepped up in that department and leads the team with a 15.5 per game average.
Like the rest of his team, Stachitas has had his offensive ups and downs this year, from drilling six three-pointers and scoring a career-high 27 points against Kansas, to struggling through a frustrating 6-for-19 shooting performance in the home loss to Charlotte. Overall, Stachitas' 40.0 field goal percentage this year could be higher, but his 41.2 percentage from 3-point range ranks him among the top in the conference.
"It's been a real challenge for us to find open shots for Chet this year," Martelli said. "And that's our responsibility as a coaching staff. We need to get shots for him, because it's not really his game to go out seeking shots. His movement without the ball is remarkable, his willingness to take big shots is second to nobody that we've had here, and we need to get him open looks, not contested looks."
So what does the future hold for these Hawks? The 47-44 win over Pennsylvania on Jan. 28 began a stretch of 11 games prior to the conference tournament in which St. Joe's will play only A-10 and Big 5 opponents. Included in that stretch is a brutal back-to-back on Feb. 7 and Feb. 11 against a pair of Top 15 teams, archrival Villanova and conference favorite George Washington. On the line as the Hawks stare down this slate of games are five straight winning seasons and postseason berths.
Has Martelli thought about whether this team will be able to extend those streaks?
"It doesn't enter into my thinking or summer planning what our overall record should be at the end of the regular season or whether we should be able to make it to the postseason," he said. "What I would like is for us to just be playing our best basketball in March."
However this year turns out, many avid Hawks fans are salivating at the potential for next year and beyond, with the arrival in September of one of the most heralded recruiting classes in school history. Thanks in large part to the phenomenal success of the 2003-04 team and the accompanying national publicity, SJU was able to land a group of four high school players for 2006-07 whose depth and quality rank among the best in the country. They are 6-1 guard Darrin Govens from Chester (PA) High School; 6-0 guard Jawan Carter from the Tattnall School in Wilmington, DE; 6-1 guard Derrick "D.J." Rivera from Neumann-Gorretti High School in Philadelphia; and 6-10 forward/center Rockwell Moody from Bishop O'Connell High School in Fairfax, VA.
"I'm delighted they all want to be here, that they all come from winning programs and have played in big games," Martelli said of the celebrated recruiting class. "But they still need to get stronger physically, develop the ability to practice the way that we practice and take on the challenges of playing in the Atlantic 10. The competition in this league is not going to get any easier next year. I think it's great that recruiting gets fans excited about the future, but that needs to be tempered by recognizing that these players have to get better before they can make a real impact at this level."
Martelli then discussed the new recruits individually, describing what he liked about them and thought each would bring to the program.
"Darrin Govens is a winner. You don't win the state championship as a junior point guard at Chester High unless you have a winning mentality yourself," said the SJU coach. "He's a good shooter and ballhandler who I think can become a very good shooter and ballhandler. He's an average defender at this point and I'd like to see that aspect of his game improve so he's a very good defender."
On Jawan Carter, he said, "I love his leadership, and I really like that he also played football in high school. I think that helps his mentality as an athlete. I like his shooting range and his ability to run a team. I think that both Darrin and Jawan are natural point guards, but I also think they'll be able to play well together in the same backcourt."
"D.J. Rivera is a ferocious defender and a good athlete who I think can develop his athletic skills even more. We're going to have to reconstruct his jumpshot, but I'm anxious to unleash him defensively as soon as possible," said Martelli.
"Rockwell Moody has a basketball body. His knowledge defensively is already at this level. We need to work with him on his offensive game. But every good team has a guy like Rockwell Moody," Martelli stated.
Basketball-crazy students all across the SJU campus are giddy at the thought of these heralded newcomers teaming in future seasons with the young talent already in the program. Looking at the homestretch of this season in which the team has struggled somewhat to consistently win games, Martelli wanted to thank those same students.
"One of the most encouraging things to me this season has actually been off the court," he concluded. "The student support has just been incredible. And one of my disappointments is that we weren't able to reward them with victories in the Charlotte, Xavier and Ohio State games. It means a lot to the future of the program to have that kind of support. There are potential recruits at every game, and it really makes an impression on them to see the students show that passion and support even when things aren't going great. The students have just been sensational."