Oct. 16, 2004
By DAN GELSTON
AP Sports Writer
PHILADELPHIA (AP) - Saint Joseph's coach Phil Martelli was running drills like he always does, offering encouragement and barking at a few flustered players who dared sit down.
The Hawks players went about the business of basketball, working on left-handed layups or dropping down for 10 push-ups each time one lost a free throw drill.
It felt like, well, a normal practice.
No fans, no swarms of cameras, no relentless memorabilia collectors awaited the Hawks, who resumed the life of an ordinary team Saturday, a season after being college basketball's darlings. The Hawks were even booted from their home court because of an admissions open house, practicing instead at an auxiliary gym tucked inside Alumni Fieldhouse where college students regularly convene for an intramural basketball league.
Talk of last season was officially over.
"At 9 o'clock this morning last season ended," Martelli said. "It belongs in a nice case, it's on the shelf and it's over."
But who can forget it?
There were 27 straight wins to open the season, the first No. 1 ranking and first No. 1 NCAA tournament seed in team history, a 30-win season, a trip to the regional final for the first time since 1981, and the first All-America nod (Jameer Nelson) in team history.
Now all the hoopla is gone, and so are Nelson and Delonte West, the two NBA first-round picks who formed perhaps the best backcourt in the nation last season. This year, the Hawks don't have anyone nearly as talented and talk of national rankings and long winning streaks has been muted for now.
Practices are still open. However, this year, there are plenty of good seats available.
Last year, everyone from fans to the media to NBA personnel stopped by Hawk Hill. Security even had to be called during one practice when some autograph dealers harassed the players on their way to the locker room and Nelson was crushed in a mob of fans outside the locker room.
"There's not going to be 20 cameras at the beginning and after every single practice we have this year," forward Pat Carroll said. "It's not going to be as crazy as it was, but we want to keep Saint Joe's at a competitive level among all the top schools in the nation."
Not that it's easy to completely erase last year, especially when Nelson's freshly raised No. 14 banner hangs on the wall and newspaper clippings with bold-print headlines about perfection are tacked outside the basketball office.
Inside, there are the framed magazine covers, a poster with championship rings touting "The Perfect Season," and a slender Top 25 poll with the Hawks planted firmly at the top.
"Last year was magical, but it's over. We've got to forget it," forward John Bryant said. "It's not going to help us win any games. We can remember what we did and move forward."
For the Hawks, moving forward starts with the Nov. 23 opener at Kansas.
Perhaps reliving last season can help ease an otherwise bleak summer for the Big 5.
La Salle was rocked by a scandal that saw three basketball players charged with rape and the resignation of its men's and women's basketball coaches.
Villanova was smacked with two years of probation for recruiting and benefits violations, though it will not be subject to a postseason ban or the loss of any scholarships.
Temple hasn't been to the NCAA tournament since 2001 and will be hard-pressed to get there this year with a schedule (Alabama, Duke, Maryland, Wake Forest) that's brutal even by John Chaney's standards.
Penn will be in contention for another Ivy League title, after keeping coach Fran Dunphy from defecting to La Salle, his alma mater.
Martelli said he was asked about the La Salle situation seemingly everywhere he went this summer and that's a lot of questions, considering there were few Kiwanis Club meetings or golf tournaments he missed. The coach had about 150 speaking engagements, mostly to say thank you to fans who were so moved and appreciative of the joy the team from the tiny Jesuit university brought them.
"It was a memory for a lifetime and that's all great," he said, "but these young guys now are a different team."