O'Connor, Jasner headline Big 5 HOF class

O'Connor, Jasner headline Big 5 HOF class
January 25, 2013, 7:45 pm
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Marvin O'Connor, Angela Zampella, Jen Ricco, Trish Juhline and Phil Jasner were inducted into the Big 5 Hall of Fame on Friday with Jasner's son Andy (right) in attendance in his late father's honor. (Dave Zeitlin)

Marvin O’Connor didn’t really grasp what he accomplished then, and he still has a hard time wrapping his head around it now.

Eighteen points in the final 59 seconds of a basketball game?

For one person?


“It’s something that, while you’re playing, you didn’t realize history was taking place,” said O’Connor, a former star guard for Saint Joseph’s from 1999-2002. “It’s just amazing.”

As it turned out, scoring 18 points in the last minute of the Hawks’ Atlantic 10 tournament loss to La Salle in 2001 was only an appetizer to an equally remarkable feat: a 37-point performance against Stanford in the second round of the NCAA tournament just two weeks later.

The Hawks also lost that game but O’Connor’s individual brilliance never got lost. After setting the St. Joe’s record for scoring that season – which remains a record to this day – the electrifying guard won the Geasey Award as the 2000-01 Big 5 Player of the Year.

And on Friday, more than a decade after leaving Hawk Hill, he received an even bigger honor as he was inducted into the Big 5 Hall of Fame, along with the late, famed journalist Phil Jasner and three stars of the women’s game: Trish Juhline (Villanova), Jen Ricco (Temple) and Angela Zampella (Saint Joseph’s).

“I’m a Philly man,” O’Connor said. “I put a lot of effort and hard work into playing this game. And just to see someone step back and say, ‘You know what, I appreciate what you’ve done’ is a special feeling. It’s hard to explain.”

O’Connor said he’s fine if his prolific scoring games define his legacy – “Guys always bring that up because it’s unheard of,” he said – but he’s also proud that he helped younger players on his team like Jameer Nelson and Delonte West develop into stars.

Three years after O’Connor nearly singlehandedly sent home top-seeded Stanford, Nelson and West led the Hawks to a perfect regular season in 2003-04 and a trip to the Elite Eight – one of the most historic seasons in Big 5 history.

“I really wanted to pull through for all of the Hawks fans,” O’Connor said of that 2001 NCAA tourney loss. “We just fell a little bit short. But that’s one of the things that set the standard for Hawks basketball.”

Most of all, O’Connor said he was proud of the person that the Saint Joseph’s basketball program helped him become, dishing special praise to head coach Phil Martelli, who presented him with his plaque during Friday’s banquet at the Palestra.

O’Connor, who played a couple of seasons overseas before getting homesick, said he now owns a takeout restaurant in his native South Philly and a medical transport company in East Falls. He has plans to build a multi-purpose recreation facility in Germantown to “give back to people that came from areas like myself.”

“One of the things that stands out in my career as a Hawk wouldn’t be on the floor,” O’Connor said. “It would be off the floor and how Phil Martelli preached how to be a better person, which took me a lot farther than being able to make a backdoor layup.”

Even if O’Connor remembers his off-court lessons most, one of his St. Joe’s classmates remembers just how much fun it was watching him on the court.

“Once he got on fire, there was no stopping him,” said Zampella, who played for the St. Joe’s women’s team from 1997-2001. “That was definitely fun, especially for an athlete and a basketball player. You feed off that energy.”

Zampella had similar success during her time at St. Joe’s, leading the Hawks to three Big 5 titles and a pair of NCAA tournament appearances. The former guard, who is the programs’ all-time leader in assists (778) and sixth all-time in scoring (1,509 points), said it meant even more to enter the Big 5 Hall of Fame with a fellow St. Joe’s alum.

“If you look at all the past Hall of Famers, there are a lot of Hawks,” said Zampella, who recently decided to stop playing professionally after a nine-year career overseas. “It means a lot to come from that tradition. I know it’s corny but you see it all the time – the Hawk will never die.”

Juhline, another one of the 2013 inductees, didn’t play at St. Joe’s but remembers playing in the same game as Zampella. The former Villanova star also remembers it not going particularly well.

“I actually guarded [Zampella],” Juhline recalled during her acceptance speech. “I might have put up a donut and she scored 30. I think she might have even dunked on me.”

Playful joking aside, Juhline was a phenomenal player for the Wildcats, scoring 1,659 career points, third all-time in program history. And she was there during a special time in Villanova basketball, leading the ’Cats to three NCAA tournament appearances, including a trip to the Elite Eight in 2003. Perhaps the most memorable part of that '03 season was Villanova’s win over UConn in the Big East championship game, which snapped the top-ranked Huskies’ 70-game winning streak.

Temple’s Ricco played before Zampella and Juhline but enjoyed her own success. She ranks 11th on Temple’s all-time scoring list (1,236 points), second in steals per game (2.4), fifth in career steals (221) and fifth in free throw percentage (76.6).

Despite those gaudy stats, she said she was shocked when she found out she was being inducted into the Big 5 Hall of Fame – and didn’t believe it until she found proof in the newspaper.

“At first, I was shocked,” said Ricco, who grew up – and still lives – in Philadelphia. “I was like, ‘Really, me?’ Then, I got really excited. This is a really big deal.”

The most touching part of Friday’s ceremony came when sportswriter Andy Jasner gave a stirring acceptance speech on behalf of his dad Phil, the former Philadelphia Daily News writer who died in 2010 after a two-year battle with cancer.

Phil Jasner was best known for his work covering the 76ers, but for about 20 years before that, he covered the Big 5 for a variety of different newspapers. Andy often tagged along with his father on trips to the Palestra, which he called his “second home.”

“I sat right here,” the younger Jasner said from the Palestra chairbacks, shortly before giving his speech. “I did my homework here. I watched tripleheaders here. I knew all the guards. I shot baskets in between games. I ran around here like it was home.

“I get a chill right now walking into this building. It’s hard to explain that to some people but it’s the truth.”

According to Andy, one of his dad’s favorite memories was covering the 1978-79 Penn team that shocked everybody by making a run to the Final Four. Andy said he still remembers crying when Phil told him he couldn’t accompany him to Salt Lake City for the Final Four because he had to go to school.

But Andy managed to hold back tears as he told everyone in the Palestra on Friday just how much his father cared about his craft.

“He blanketed the Big 5,” Andy said. “Covering five schools is not easy. And he did it with just incredible, incredible energy.”

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