Freshman Pierfrancesco Oliva makes impact in St. Joe's debut

sidelinephotosllc-pierfrancescooliva-stjoes.jpg

Freshman Pierfrancesco Oliva makes impact in St. Joe's debut

Saint Joseph’s freshman Pierfrancesco Oliva's journey to becoming a college athlete is an unusual one.

In fact, just two short years ago, the true freshman was living in his hometown of Taranto, Italy.

And on Friday night, in his first-ever collegiate game, the 6-foot-8 forward earned a surprise start.

“When I told him the other night that he was starting, he was non-pulsed,” St. Joe’s head coach Phil Martelli said. “He just looked at me.”

Oliva sure didn’t waste any time proving that he belongs on the court.

On the Hawks' second possession of the game, Oliva, who goes by "Checco," touched the ball for the first time. While some might freeze up, being thrown into a big situation like that, Oliva didn’t hesitate to fire a three-pointer to give the Hawks a 5-0 lead. That’s confidence that can’t be taught.

But it wasn’t all about offense on Friday night for Oliva. He more than held his own on the defensive end of the floor.

To start the game, Oliva was on Drexel senior Tavon Allen. Allen is expected to play a large role for the Dragons this season, with last year’s leading-scorer, Damion Lee, now at Louisville. Oliva held the big man to just two points in St. Joe's 82-81 win over Drexel at Hagan Arena (see story).

Oliva earned the start over junior Javon Baumann, from Germany, and red-shirt freshman Markell Lodge. That’s some serious talent and experience playing behind Oliva.

Martelli had the confidence to put Oliva back on the court in crunch time. With just seven minutes remaining in the game, and the Hawks clinging to a five-point lead, Oliva returned to the floor.

And Oliva rewarded Martelli’s decision by immediately turning the tide of the game. Oliva had a huge block on on a Drexel dunk attempt that would have brought the Dragons within three points. He then hustled down the floor and made a nice bounce pass to All-American DeAndre’ Bembry for the finish.

Bembry, a future NBA prospect, knows a thing or two about talent. He praised Oliva’s prowess.

“He did really well tonight,” Bembry said of his teammate. “That definitely helped him gain some confidence. He really has a very high basketball IQ. When I tell him things, he really understands.”

On the next Hawks possession, the freshman got an offensive rebound and capped it off with an easy layup to put the Hawks up by seven.

Oliva wasn’t done there, however. With the Hawks up by nine, Oliva drained a three-pointer to put the game away with two and half minutes to go.

“That last three, the one that kind of put the dagger on it, was extraordinary,” Martellli said.

Drexel immediately called a timeout and Oliva pumped his fists and let out a yell at half court.

In that 30-second sequence, Oliva showed exactly what makes him such an intriguing option for the Hawks going forward.

Oliva gave the Hawks the spark they needed to finish off the Dragons. From his huge block that got it all started, the Hawks went on a 15-8 run that ended with his three-pointer.

Oliva finished with 12 points, four assists, four rebounds and three blocks. He never looked out of place.

When Martelli first told Oliva he would be starting, he didn’t think that he had earned it.

“He said that he didn’t think that he played that well in the preseason and that he would play better,” Martelli said.

He sure showed it on Friday.

Drexel's Chris Crawford soaks up tradition at U.S. Open

usa-chris-crawford-drexel-golf.jpg
USA Today Images

Drexel's Chris Crawford soaks up tradition at U.S. Open

ERIN, Wis. — The U.S. Open is all about tradition. This week is the 117th playing of golf's national championship and this event more than most celebrates those golfers who play the game as amateurs. 

Soon-to-be Drexel graduate Chris Crawford has been soaking up all the traditions this week at Erin Hills. Playing in his second U.S. Open after qualifying through both local and sectional competition for the second straight year, an extremely difficult feat, the 23-year-old fifth-year senior enjoyed the amateur dinner put on by the tournament organizers with the USGA. Crawford and his fellow amateurs, a stout list including Texas' Scottie Scheffler, who shot 3-under Thursday to seize the early low amateur lead, were celebrated the entire evening — one of Crawford's early highlights in a long week here in Wisconsin. 

Crawford produced a 3-over par 75 Thursday during the first round to tie for 102nd out of a field of 156 players.

"I played OK (Thursday)," Crawford said. "I'm going to take more positives than negatives out of the round. I played really well for 14 holes and just had a few bad swings on the other four holes."

Indeed, Thursday morning started nervously for the former Drexel golf standout. On the opening par-5 first hole, he snap-hooked his drive into the weeds out of bounds to the left, resulting in a double bogey. Three holes later, he chipped one shot over the back of the fourth green and took another double-bogey, placing him 4-over through four holes. 

Although bogeys might keep many of us alive in our weekend matches, it doesn't cut it in a U.S. Open. Crawford responded well in the ensuing 14 holes, going 1-under in that stretch.

Crawford's coach Mike Dynda, who teaches him at LuLu Country Club in Glenside, Pennsylvania, said he makes a big point to prepare Crawford's mind for his big rounds.

"I texted him last night and said, 'When you got to sleep, imagine that you're on the 18th hole and you have a putt for 9-under,'" Dynda said. "It's important to go to sleep and dream like that."

On the other side, Dynda — who taught the golf team at Drexel from 2003-2015 — also told his pupil to stay away from expectations. When you're 23 and you're playing in your second consecutive U.S. Open, one might think it would be easy to get ahead of yourself. Not so with Crawford, according to Dynda.

"I've taught him to not have any expectations for the five years we've been together," Dynda said. 

Crawford had a superstar practice round on Monday, playing with Jordan Spieth, Jim Furyk and Wisconsin's own Steve Stricker.

"It was a lot of fun playing with those guys and just watching them strategize about learning a brand new U.S. Open course," Crawford said. "I think that's the biggest thing I was impressed with, was the way they talked about strategy on this golf course.

"They were all very nice with me and were very specific to ask about me and they wanted to learn a little bit about my life, so I appreciated that."

For Dynda, talking with Furyk brought back a fond memory. Furyk's father, Mike, actually sold Dynda his first set of golf clubs, Tommy Armor 845s, back in Philadelphia years ago. 

With one round in the books and the forecast calling for rain this weekend, Crawford was looking forward to having the proper mentality as he headed into Friday's second round.

"I want to go out there and just not get ahead of myself," Crawford said. "I'm going to think positively and appreciate that I'm playing in the national open."

Crawford teed off at 2:31 p.m. local time off of the 10th hole.

"This week is so cool because I never do something like this," Crawford said. "Playing in front of such large crowds is a treat and I just love the interaction with the fans before and after the rounds as well."

Last year at Oakmont, dozens of friends and family made the drive down the turnpike to see him play in his first U.S. Open. This year, Crawford estimates that he has around 15 friends and family out in the galleries cheering him on. Though coach Dynda caddied last year, those duties have gone to current Drexel golf coach Ben Feld.

It's a party this week of Drexel golf proportions.

Atlantic 10 reveals 2017-18 schedule pairings

Atlantic 10 reveals 2017-18 schedule pairings

Philadelphia basketball fans will be getting a double dip of one of the Atlantic 10 conference's best rivalries once again next season.

With the league's 18-game regular season format in place for a fourth straight year, it was revealed Wednesday afternoon that Saint Joseph's and La Salle will battle twice — once in North Philly at Tom Gola Arena and a second time at the Hawks' home just off City Line Avenue. Each team in the 14-member conference will play eight teams once and five teams twice.

The full pairings for the Explorers and Saint Joe's are listed here:

La Salle
Home: Dayton, George Mason, St. Bonaventure, VCU, Fordham, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Saint Joseph’s, Saint Louis
Away: Davidson, Duquesne, George Washington, Richmond, Fordham, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Saint Joseph’s, Saint Louis

Saint Joseph’s
Home: Dayton, Duquesne, Saint Louis, VCU, Fordham, George Mason, La Salle, Massachusetts, St. Bonaventure
Away: Davidson, George Washington, Rhode Island, Richmond, Fordham, George Mason, La Salle, Massachusetts, St. Bonaventure

It was also rumored earlier in the day that the Hawks have added a Big Five matchup at Temple for Dec. 9.