Jan. 5, 2006
By Brian W. Ferrie '98- Coach Phil Martelli has stated on several occasions that his goal at Saint Joseph's is not simply to have a great team in any given season, but rather to build and maintain a great "program" year in and year out.
The dynamic backcourt tandem of Jameer Nelson and Delonte West went a long way towards establishing that great program, leading the Hawks to a terrific 26-7 record in the 2002-03 season when Nelson was a junior and West a sophomore. That campaign was of course followed up by the transcendent undefeated regular season in 2003-04, which led to a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, dream run to the Elite Eight and overall final record of 30-2.
The 2004-05 season loomed as a potential break in the string of success, which actually began with two straight A-10 regular season titles in 2000-01 and 2001-02. Last year's team struggled in the early going to adapt to the departures of NBA first-round draft picks Nelson and West, as well that of guard Tyrone Barley, a defensive specialist and clutch shooter who had played a big part in the team's success the previous two seasons.
However, led by eventual A-10 Co-Player of the Year Pat Carroll and A-10 Defensive Player of the Year Dwayne Jones, the Hawks righted the ship after a 3-6 start. As the season progressed, they stormed through A-10 play on the way to a 15-1 conference record and fifth consecutive A-10 regular season championship, then made a terrific run to the postseason NIT final and an impressive 24-12 overall record.
But what happens from there? The 2006-07 recruiting class is being hailed by some as the best in school history, featuring nationally-regarded talents Darrin Govens, Jawan Carter, Derrick Rivera and Rockwell Moody. This year's freshman class also has received great praise, including Jordan Fowler, Edwin Lashley, Alvin Mofunanya and talented big man Ahmad Nivins from renowned high school hoops powerhouse St. Anthony in Jersey City.
However, it will likely take a year or two before these classes truly put their stamp on the program. Furthermore, although juniors Arvydas Lidzius and Artur Surov are certainly solid role players. Given the circumstances, many team observers view this year's sophomore class as vital to bridging The gap between the great success of recent seasons and the significant accomplishments that incoming talent is expected to bring in future seasons.
So who are these sophomores? Robert Ferguson, a 6-8 forward, was Florida's Class 5A Player of the Year his senior season (2002-03) at Mariner High in Fort Myers, FL, and actually started on campus with Lidzius and Surov, but is a sophomore in terms of athletic eligibility because he redshirted his first year. Abdulai Jalloh, a high-flying 6-1 guard, was named All-Metropolitan First Team by Washington Post his senior season (2003-04) at National Christian Academy in District Heights, MD. Finally, Pat Calathes, a versatile 6-10 wing from Lake Howell High School in Casselberry, FL, is an intriguing talent because he began his high school career as a 5-10 point guard before hitting a tremendous growth spurt. An All-Central Florida First Team selection as a senior in 2003-04, he retains excellent ballhandling and passing abilities for his size.
All three players were highly recruited by several colleges during their high school years. Calathes and Ferguson both received interest from prominent Sunshine State schools such as Florida State, Miami and the Florida, while Jalloh earned considerable attention from several A-10 schools as well as North Carolina State. All the sophomores cited The family atmosphere at St. Joe's and their liking of Coach Martelli as primary reasons for choosing Hawk Hill.
In addition, all contributed to some degree last year. Jalloh received the most playing time, stepping on the court in all 36 games and averaging 14.3 minutes and 4.3 points. Ferguson also saw significant action, playing in all 36 games as well, and averaging 13.7 minutes, 2.8 points and 2.4 rebounds. Calathes, meanwhile, saw more limited time, mostly at backup point guard. He played in 28 of the 36 games, averaging 8.3 minutes.
The playing time of the three players has jumped significantly this season. Jalloh and Ferguson are in the startling lineup while Calathes has played in every game with one start.
Their combined play has helped the Hawks and certainly bodes well for the future.
When asked, however, the sophomores said they have not given much thought to what they would like to accomplish as a class during their time on Hawk Hill. Rather, their focus is on the team as a whole.
"We definitely have a team mindset, not so much in terms of our class specifically," said Calathes. "And our goal this year as a team is to make the NCAA Tournament."
"And to win the A-10 Tournament," added Jalloh.
What must the team do between now and then to make that a realistic goal? "Steady improvement all-around is the key," Jalloh said.
"The games we lost this year, we should have won," Ferguson added.
Most observers agree that the A-10 is significantly tougher this year than it was last season, when the Hawks dominated the conference regular season before losing a close game against GW in the A-10 Tournament final and just missing out on a return trip to the Dance.
This year, the nationally-ranked Colonials are the class of the conference. But unlike last season, there are a lot of other high-quality A-10 teams with legit NCAA tourney hopes. Calathes noted that Xavier would be a tough team to beat, while both Ferguson and Jalloh said that Temple presented a challenge.
All three players are determined to ensure their conference foes find any game against the Hawks to be challenging too.
"I just want to do anything and everything I can to help the team win," concluded Ferguson.
That kind of team-first attitude symbolizes Saint Joseph's basketball. In many years, the whole of the team has been greater than the sum of its parts, with teamwork and heady play earning several wins that the squad's individual talent did not merit. Now, with the penchant Martelli has shown in recent years for adding great talent to that team concept, the sky could be the limit for these Hawks. And this year's sophomores should play a big role in the building of a dominant program for years to come.