Nov. 23, 2004
By DAN GELSTON
AP Sports Writer
PHILADELPHIA (AP) - Put away that highlight video. Put down the scrapbook. Learn how to pronounce Abdulai Jalloh.
A whole lot has changed on Hawk Hill since last season, when Saint Joseph's was the talk of the college basketball world. No more Jameer Nelson. See you later Delonte West. Twenty-seven straight wins to open the season? Probably not.
The wins and achievements might not be as numerous as last year's 30-2 season that ended in the NCAA regional final, but coach Phil Martelli still feels he has a tournament team.
"We're still playing basketball here. We haven't packed up the balls," said Martelli, starting his 10th season. "What we did last year may never be seen in this city again, but I like our team. We won't be compared to what we did last year."
Nelson and West have moved on to the NBA, but the talent cupboard certainly isn't bare. The Hawks return enough tourney-tested players to fatten their record against a lackluster non-conference schedule - not including Tuesday's opener at No. 2 Kansas.
Saint Joe's was picked to win the East Division in the Atlantic 10.
"I don't see it as a challenge, I see it as an opportunity," Martelli said.
There's opportunity for the Hawks to make more history, also. They could become only the second team in A-10 history to win five straight conference titles. Another tournament bid would make it the second time Saint Joe's played in three straight NCAA tournaments.
"We'd like to be part of that history," Martelli said.
Saint Joe's will begin its season without Pat Carroll, a senior guard and the lone returning starter who averaged double digits in scoring. Carroll has been bothered by a shoulder injury sustained last month in practice.
The other returning starters are both in the frontcourt, 6-foot-11 center Dwayne Jones (6.4 ppg, 7.2 rpg) and 6-7 forward John Bryant (3.0 ppg, 3.7 rpg). While Saint Joe's big-men combo was not asked to do much offensively last year, the players will have to improve to take some of the pressure off an inexperienced backcourt.
The soft and undersized frontcourt really stood out against Oklahoma State in the NCAA regional final, when the Hawks were outrebounded 42-24. No surprise, considering the opposition outrebounded the Hawks by over 100 during the season.
After a two-year stint as Nelson's backup, Dwayne Lee will run the offense and freshman Jalloh - that's AB-doo-LIE JALL-oh - takes over West's spot at shooting guard.
Lee has played 60 games the last two years, but started none and averaged only 1.6 points in 7.8 minutes. Lee knows there will be obvious comparisons to Nelson, but insists he can't worry about putting up All-America numbers.
"It's important for me to go out there and not try to live up to any standards because I'm my own player," Lee said. "It's important for me to go out there and lead this team. There's a little pressure, but I try not to think about it. I just want to go out there and do the things I know I'm capable of doing."
Jalloh, recruited as a point guard, was hooked on the Hawks even before last year's incredible season. Jalloh said he's working on playing with a "humble confidence" and the Hawks are a perfect fit.
"This is a humbling school," Jalloh said. "We don't have anything that's flashy or high tech. That's one thing a lot of us overlook - humility. I saw the gym and said this is the place I've got to be."
So far, the Hawks have practiced in relative anonymity. The national attention, the magazine covers and debate over where this team fits with the basketball powerhouses will likely be gone.
That's OK with Martelli, who's quick to mention his program was pretty successful, even before people caught on to what was happening at Hawk Hill.
"What drives us is what drives every one of my teams, maximize today's opportunity and let's see where we are at the end of the year," he said.