DEFENSE KEYS HAWKS' FAST START
Courtesy: SJU Athletic Communications
by Kevin Bonner, Sports Media Relations Assistant Basketball, broken down to its simplest form, is a fairly easy sport. You advance the ball through dribbling or passing. You can score by any number of methods, including lay-ups, jumpers and foul shots. If it is so simple, why has it been so tough for Hawk opponents to find the bottom of the net this season? Defense is the answer. In-your-face, pressure the ball, your opponent smells your breath kind of defense. The Saint Joseph's men's basketball team has employed this brand of defense so far and is a key reason why the Hawks are off to a 6-0 start, their best since the 1980-81 season. It's not a combination of different sets that opponents cannot figure out. It's not a gimmicky triangle-and-two or box-and-one formation that is causing offensive frustration. It is 16 guys who come out to practice each and every day and take defense personally. "Everybody's coming out with bruises every day," sophomore guard Delonte West said. "Everybody has ice on. It's been like that since the first day of preseason. We push each other so hard that the games seem easy." Head coach Phil Martelli agrees. "The defense has been like that since October 12," Martelli said. "This group has a real ability to pressure the basketball." For the guards, it is a personal thing. "Everybody believes that nobody should score on us," junior guard Tyrone Barley said. "We take it personally. Last year, we didn't take it personally. We were thinking too much offense last year." For West, it's how he grew up playing on the courts of Greenbelt, Md. "It's just how I grew up playing out on the outdoor courts. Everything was personal," he said. The pressure play of the guards has been relentless. Junior Jameer Nelson, known more for his offensive prowess, has resumed the stellar defensive play from his rookie campaign and is fifth in the Atlantic 10 in steals. His backcourt mate West held Old Dominion's leading scorer, Rasheed Wright, to a frigid 1-of-12 shooting in early December. If by some chance a guard gets by one of these two, they have to contend with any one of the big men that occupy the paint for the Crimson and Gray including redshirt freshman Dwayne Jones who is second in the Atlantic 10 in blocks with ten. And when the starting guards head to the bench, the opposition is greeted by the duo of freshman Dwayne Lee and Barley. "It's significant that when you take guys in and out of the game and get the same defensive level," Martelli said. "So I was really happy with that." It's no surprise that Lee prides himself with his defense. According to Martelli, he has a "PhD. in basketball" after playing under Bob Hurley, Sr., at St. Anthony's High School in Jersey City. The numbers don't lie about how good this edition of the Hawks' defense has been. They held opponents under 50 points in three straight games for the first time since 1951. Opponents are shooting just 33.8% (third in the nation) from the floor and 29.5% from three-point range. Both categories lead the Atlantic 10. As for scoring defense, SJU is limiting the opposition to just 52.2 points per game. That also leads the Atlantic 10 and is second nationally. Basketball isn't as simple as it looks with the Hawks tenacious defense breathing down your neck. Just ask Boston College, Canisius, Old Dominion, Boston University, Drexel, or Delaware.