Jan. 31, 2005
By Brian W. Ferrie '98
Growing up in Aurora, NY, outside Buffalo, Dave Mallon had never heard of the Saint Joseph's University basketball program. But Hawks fans shouldn't feel slighted. Truth is, Mallon hardly followed college basketball at all until his freshman year in high school, and even then he mostly paid attention to local schools like Canisius, University of Buffalo, Niagara and St. Bonaventure.
It wasn't until his sophomore year that he first became aware of St. Joe's, thanks to some recruiting mail from the school. That same year, former assistant coach Matt Brady made the trip to western New York to watch Mallon play and introduce himself to the developing hoopster. For the second game of Mallon's junior year, coach Phil Martelli himself paid a visit and informed Mallon that he would be recruiting him directly from that point onward.
In November of his senior year (2000-01), Mallon formally committed to SJU. A highly regarded recruit, he also received scholarship offers from the University of Pittsburgh, Canisius and the University of Rhode Island.
In recalling the factors in his decision, Mallon said, "I just felt most comfortable with the coaching staff at St. Joe's; they seemed like really trustworthy people. Some of the other colleges I talked to, I felt like they put on a fake personality to get you to go to their school. Plus, St. Joe's had been following me longer than a lot of those other places."
Mallon's high school career was dominant. As a senior, he averaged 21 points, 11 rebounds and 7.3 blocks per game at East Aurora High School, setting school records for most points, rebounds, blocked shots as well as single-season field goal percentage. Even as a junior, he had tallied 17 points and 12 rebounds per game while leading East Aurora High to the New York State sectional championship.
Upon arriving on Hawk Hill for the 2002-03 season, the 6-10 forward had a little difficulty adjusting to division 1 college ball. He did start 29 out of 30 games his freshman year at St. Joe's, but averaged only 1.6 points and 1.9 rebounds in 10.5 minutes per game.
"The toughest adjustment for me was definitely the speed of the game and the way that you're defended," he said. "In high school, I think a lot of guys played off of me, but at this level there's somebody right on you as soon as you get the ball."
In addition, Mallon was playing through pain that year and would eventually be diagnosed with a stress fracture in the third metatarsal of his right foot prior to his sophomore season (2003-04), which caused him to miss the first seven games of that campaign.
After making his first appearance of the year against California on Dec. 20, 2003, Mallon would play in the next 16 games before suffering a partial tear of the Achilles tendon in his right foot against Fordham that would result in him missing another 3 games. For the year, he played in 20 games, starting two, and averaged 2.2 points and 1.6 rebounds in 9.2 minutes per game.
As the team reached dizzying heights, completing an undefeated regular season and then reaching the Elite 8 of the NCAA tournament, Mallon felt both the elation of the Hawks' accomplishments and the frustration of not being able to contribute more due to his injuries.
"It was difficult being out last year," he related. "But at the same time it was such an incredible feeling to step on the court and know that somehow my team would find a way to win every time. A lot of hard work went into it for all of us, and I think we represented the true aspect of being a team."
Entering this 2004-05 season, Mallon said he and his teammates had high goals for the Hawks, despite losing National Player of the Year Jameer Nelson and defensive stopper Tyrone Barley to graduation, and 1st-team All-Atlantic 10 selection Delonte West as an early entrant to the NBA draft.
"We all wanted to pick up right where we left off," Mallon related. "We lost three great players from last year, but the core of that team is still here, and we know what it's like to win." With an overall record of 7-7 and an A-10 mark of 4-1 after last Wednesday's 58-54 road loss to Dayton, the Hawks are in position to both make a strong run in the conference and post a solid overall won-loss tally. They would likely need to win the A-10 tourney and earn the conference's automatic bid to make it back to the NCAA tournament, however. Mallon is confident the Hawks can do just that.
"I think it's a very realistic goal," he said. "The league is so even this year. It's going to come down to road wins [for tournament seeding], and even though we gave one away at Dayton, there's no reason it shouldn't be us [that wins the conference tournament]." Mallon also had some specific goals for himself coming into the season.
"I wanted to be a little bit more of a team leader. My first couple years, obviously I had to wait my turn. Now, both offensively and defensively, I want to try to set an example for the younger guys. I feel like I can really help run our plays with experience. I'm not the first threat on offense so I focus on working high-lows with [center Dwayne Jones], setting screens and passing."
Unfortunately, Mallon again dealt with injury prior to this season - a stress fracture in the second metatarsal of his right foot that caused him to miss the first six games. In the eight games since he returned to the floor, Mallon has started seven and averaged 13.8 minutes overall, with 3.1 points and 2.6 rebounds per game. He continues to have some lingering pain in his foot, however.
"I'm still in and out of practices because of it," he commented. "But it's getting better." When asked if there was an aspect of his game he would most like to improve, Mallon answered rebounding.
"And just being more physical in general," he added. "I've put on 40 pounds since high school and my playing weight is now 235, but I still think that I can be more aggressive [and use the added bulk better on the court]."
As a team, he noted the Hawks have bounced back strong from their 3-6 start to the season.
"We're definitely coming along," he said. "We had some trouble early on but we've really picked it up since then. We just need to sharpen up on the little things [to reach our potential]."
And despite the frustrating injuries he has had to deal with during his Hawks playing career, Mallon effusively praised his overall college experience since arriving at St. Joe's from western New York two-and-a-half years ago.
"It's really been more than anything I thought it would be," he concluded. "Accomplishing what we have the last two seasons, and the people I've met just have so much respect for each other."