La Salle, Villanova happy to share Big Dance

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La Salle, Villanova happy to share Big Dance

KANSAS CITY –- You know that old adage about rising water lifting all boats? Villanova coach Jay Wright figures it applies to La Salle’s win over Boise State Wednesday night.
 
A win for the Explorers was a win for everybody.

“We really believe if the Big 5 schools are doing well, kids in Philadelphia are going to stay home to play there, games are going to be important, Philadelphia basketball is going to be important,” Wright said Thursday at the Sprint Center, where both Villanova and La Salle will play on Friday.
 
So the better La Salle does, the better Villanova and Temple do, the better all of them do.
 
Although Villanova and La Salle are in different regions, they’re in the same building this week, 1,100 miles from home.
 
Wright and La Salle coach John Giannini exchanged texts Wednesday night and will see each other Friday, when their teams try to reach the Round of 32 a few hours apart.
 
At 3:10 p.m. Friday, No. 13 seed La Salle faces No. 4 Kansas State in a West Region second-round game, and at 7:20 p.m. No. 8 Villanova plays No. 9 North Carolina in a South Region second-round game.
 
“Someone mentioned that the state of Texas had zero NCAA teams, and the city of Philadelphia had three,” Giannini said. “I'm a Chicago native, but there's no person who appreciates the Big 5 more than I do. I think we should play them all in the Palestra. I think we should emphasize it. We have five Final Four teams in our history. No other city has more than two. It's a totally unique thing. No city has anything like what we have.”
 
It wasn’t just Wright. Drexel coach Bruiser Flint tweeted congratulations to La Salle after its first NCAA win in 23 years, and Temple coach Fran Dunphy, whose team arrived in Dayton in time for La Salle’s win, also made it a point to congratulate Giannini and the La Salle program.
 
“I’m not surprised those guys support us,” Giannini said in the La Salle locker room Thursday. “And I support them. The coaches are great guys, and they care about more than basketball.
 
“The coaches like each other. The players like each other. We respect each other. We're proud of Philadelphia basketball. No other city has what we have in college basketball.”
 
La Salle’s 80-71 win Wednesday night in a play-in game was the program’s first in the NCAA tournament since Lionel Simmons, Randy Woods and Doug Overton and company beat Clarence Weatherspoon and Southern Mississippi, 79-63, in Hartford in 1990.
 
In an odd quirk of scheduling, La Salle overlapped with Temple in Dayton and then with Villanova in Kansas City.
 
It’s almost as if Dunphy handed Giannini off to Wright.
 
“It's really cool to have La Salle here,” Wright said. “As you know, in Philadelphia, we take great pride in Philadelphia basketball. When we're playing each other, we want to beat each other bad. But anything else … we work together on Coaches vs. Cancer, we're friends throughout the year, and we like to see each other do well.
 
“They played great last night. They really looked good. They look like a team that can win some games in this tournament.”

Big 5 Hall of Fame inducts 'maybe the greatest class we've ever put together'

Big 5 Hall of Fame inducts 'maybe the greatest class we've ever put together'

About midway through Monday night's Big 5 Hall of Fame ceremony, the oldest inductee of this year's class paid homage to the youngest.

That's how much hoops legend George Raveling, a 1960 Villanova graduate, was blown away by Penn alum Ibrahim Jaaber's impassioned speech that ended with a powerful poem about how basketball saved him.

"It kept running through my mind that you represent everything good about sports," Raveling said to Jaaber. "And I hope you'll continue to use your wisdom, your influence, to make the game better, to make the world better. As a 79-year-old-man, soon to be 80 in June, I want to tell you that if I come back in the next life, I want to be like you."

That touching moment, in many ways, was a perfect encapsulation of the ties that bind the Big 5, from one generation to the next. But aside from Raveling and longtime Philadelphia Inquirer sportswriter Bill Lyon -- who, despite battling Alzheimer's, courageously gave an acceptance speech to a standing ovation at the Palestra -- this year's class was filled with contemporary guards who clashed in some great Big 5 games not too long ago.

Among them were two current NBA players in Saint Joseph's icon Jameer Nelson (class of 2004) and former 'Nova star Randy Foye (2006), as well as Temple's Lynn Greer (2002) and Jaaber (2007). La Salle women's player Carlene Hightower (2008) was the other member of the star-studded class defined by tough, gritty Philadelphia guards.

"The inductees here for the Hall of Fame have got to be maybe the greatest class we've ever put together," said Villanova head coach Jay Wright, who closed the night by accepting the Big 5 Coach of the Year award right after Josh Hart took home Player of the Year honors. "I grew up in Philadelphia and we always talk about what a great place the Palestra is -- and it is. But when you listen to Lynn, Randy, Coach Rav, Ibby, Jameer, you know why this is a great place. It's because of all the great man that have played here -- outstanding, humble, articulate, intelligent men that understand they're part of something that's bigger than themselves. That's what makes the Big 5. That's what makes the Palestra."

Nelson, the National Player of the Year during St. Joe’s historic 2003-04 season, certainly showed what kind of person he is, inviting all of his old Hawks teammates who were in attendance to stand behind him as he accepted his Hall of Fame award. And he even choked up at one point as he described what those teammates, coach Phil Martelli and Saint Joseph's University have meant to him as he's forged a long and fruitful NBA career.

"Without them, none of this would be possible," said Nelson, the Hawks' all-time leader in points (2,094) and assists (713). "These guys mean the world to me."

Nelson, now with the Denver Nuggets, just wrapped up his 13th season in the NBA, calling it an "unbelievable ride" for a 5-foot-11 kid from Chester. That's two more years spent in the league than Foye, who Nelson thanked for forcing him to be better back in their college days. He also called Greer one of his "great friends" and said that Jaaber's speech "touched me in so many different ways, I wish more young kids could hear it."

"I'm very grateful to be inducted with you guys," Nelson said, although he did point out that when he was at St. Joe's, the Hawks had Villanova down 43-9 at halftime one year. 

"But those next couple years, we payed y'all back," said Foye, now with the Brooklyn Nets, during his own speech.

Those rivalries were especially meaningful to Foye, who also played against Jaaber in both high school and college.

"Being from North Jersey, you never hear about the Big 5," said Foye, a first-team All-American and Big 5 Player of the Year in 2006. "For me coming here and witnessing it up close and personal, it's just something truly amazing."

Foye added that everywhere he goes, he tries to embody what a Philly guard is -- "small but play big," as he put it -- while reminding people that he's proud to be a Villanova alum. The same can be said of Raveling, a longtime college coach and executive who was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2015.

"I'm so proud to say I'm a Big 5 product -- and a proud graduate of Villanova University," Raveling said. "I look back many times and realize the wisest decision I ever made in my lifetime was to enroll at Villanova University."

Just as he opened his speech, Raveling also closed it by saying he was "proud" to enter the Big 5 Hall of Fame the same year as Jaaber, whose remarks touched on spirituality, family and a unique journey from Morocco to New Jersey to Penn.

Jaaber also made sure to thank the person who perhaps embodies the Big 5 more than anyone else: former La Salle player, former Penn coach and current Temple coach Fran Dunphy.

"I don't think I could have had a better coach for me in my situation than my Coach Dunphy," said Jaaber, the 2006-07 Big 5 Player of the Year and the all-time Ivy League leader in steals (303). "I'm almost embarrassed to be inducted into the Hall of Fame before Coach Dunphy."

Archbishop Wood basketball star Collin Gillespie signs with Villanova

Archbishop Wood basketball star Collin Gillespie signs with Villanova

Archbishop Wood's Collin Gillespie, the Philadelphia Catholic League's MVP, has signed a national letter of intent to attend Villanova and play for Jay Wright.

Gillespie, during his senior year, averaged 24.1 points per game. The 6-foot-2 guard lead Archbishop Wood to their first Catholic League title in school history and followed that up with a PIAA State Championship game victory -- also a first for the school. Along with the league MVP, Gillespie was named Player of the Year by the Philadelphia Daily News.

"We are excited to have Collin and his family join the Nova Nation," Villanova coach Jay Wright said in a statement. "Collin comes from a great program at Archbishop Wood and has been well prepared by John Mosco. His guard skills, basketball IQ and winning instincts will be a welcome addition to our program."

Gillespie will join previously announced signees Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree (Neumann-Goretti High School in Philadelphia) and Jermaine Samuels (Rivers School, Weston, Mass.) in Villanova's class of 2021.