St. Joe's Outlook: Time for Hawks to put up

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St. Joe's Outlook: Time for Hawks to put up

Enough with the projections and proclamations. Phil Martelli wants results.

“We’re not selling anything to the fans,” the Saint Joseph’s head coach said recently during the team’s annual media day. “We have to be about it, not talk about it.”

St. Joe’s was picked first in last season’s Atlantic 10 preseason poll only to finish 10th in the conference and stumble to an 18-14 record. The Hawks were denied an NCAA tournament berth for the fifth straight year and ended their campaign with a first-round exit in the NIT.

With last season’s disappointment in the rearview, St. Joe’s has its sights set on some familiar achievements for 2013-14.

“The first goal is that we want to win the A-10, too,” forward Halil Kanacevic said. “We’ve been here four years. We haven’t won the A-10 either. Got picked first last year and it didn’t turn out that way at the end. I think our first goal should be for the A-10, but the NCAA tournament, that’s something you really want to say that we obviously want to make it.”

Perhaps not what you might expect to hear from a squad that lost two veteran starters from a year ago. However, the Hawks appear to be in a rare situation when they might see some addition by subtraction.

The departures of trigger-happy point guard Carl Jones and passive big man C.J. Aiken could actually be a benefit on the court. The Hawks still return starters Langston Galloway (13.8 points per game last season) along with Ronald Roberts Jr. (11.2 points, 8.3 rebounds) and Kanacevic (8.5 points, 7.2 rebounds) in the frontcourt. Also back are spot starter Chris Wilson, and contributors Daryus Quarles, Papa Ndao and Isaiah Miles.

Throw in redshirt freshmen Javon Baumann and Kyle Molock with expected impact true freshmen DeAndre Bembry (6-6, 195) on the wing and Jai Williams (6-9, 275) down low, and the Hawks not only have a solid roster but also what they say is even better chemistry.

“This team has a sense of purpose and that purpose is to leave a mark,” Martelli said.

“We have a good group,” Kanacevic said. “Most coaches will say we’ve got a good group of kids. But, honestly, this is my fifth year of college and I haven’t been with a team like this with a group of guys that get along so well and actually like each other genuinely. It’s a genuine feel.

Some of that bond can be traced back to how the Hawks stood by Martelli during a trying offseason. The Atlantic 10’s longest-tenured head coach lost his sister to heart failure, his sister-in-law to cancer and watched his mother suffer a broken hip during a fall.

Not to mention his son Jimmy Martelli resigned from his job as an assistant at Rutgers for involvement in the Mike Rice scandal of verbally and physically abusing players.

All of that is certainly enough to break a man, but Martelli had the support of his SJU family.

“Really, the body blows that came after that in my personal life never gave me cause to say, ‘Oh well. This is harder to deal with than basketball.’ I don’t deal with it that way,” Martelli said. “In the spring I let the coaches do a lot of the individual instruction and kind of focused myself in recruiting.

“I go back to the quality of people that we have on this team. They picked me up. They got me going again.”

“Not giving him much headaches,” Kanacevic said of how the Hawks helped Martelli. “We knew he had a tough loss. Time to try to make it easy on him.”

The Hawks made things easy on Martelli by keeping their focus in the gym. Thanks to an exhibition tour in Italy during August, St. Joe’s got in 10 full offseason practices before heading for its first overseas trip since 1999. The Hawks went a perfect 4-0 on the trip.

“It was good. We definitely went over there and did what our expectations were as far as winning the games,” Galloway said. “We played good.”

“Italy was definitely a great experience,” Roberts said. “The young guys got a chance to play against older people, against grown men. So it gives them kind of a head start.”

“It definitely helped,” Kanacevic said. “You see a different culture, you bond, you meet new people.”

The trip also served as a testing ground for SJU’s new style of play. After averaging just 67.4 points per game (12th out of 16 A-10 schools), the Hawks are looking to run, run and run some more this season.

“Just up-tempo this year, more up-tempo. Getting up and down [the court],” Galloway said of the Hawks, who averaged 95.2 points per game during their four games in Italy.

St. Joe’s knows it must get its offensive attack together before it embarks on a challenging nonconference schedule and tough A-10 slate.

“Our schedule measures up again if you want to take the experts and the Atlantic 10 numbers. They based it on last year’s RPI. We have the No. 2 strength of schedule,” Martelli said. “ESPN ranks it the No. 2 schedule in the Atlantic 10 and I’m proud of that fact.”

Still, no matter who stands in their way, the Hawks feel they must accomplish their ultimate objective of getting back in the Big Dance.

“I’ve never been there, so I feel like we have to get there,” Roberts said. “There’s no other route. We have to get to the NCAA tournament.”

Penn, Villanova back for more championships at Penn Relays

Penn, Villanova back for more championships at Penn Relays

Like many people who come from nearby high schools, Penn senior Chris Hatler has been running at the Penn Relays since he was 15. But his initial experience at the famed meet did not go exactly as planned

“The first relay ever, I fell in the first 100 meters,” he said, “and made a fool of myself.”

Such can be the dangers of overwhelmed teenagers competing at a competition that also features college and professional stars — a three-day track & field carnival that is the oldest and largest of its kind in the country.

But last year, Hatler became one of those college stars himself, helping Penn to a dramatic win in the 4xmile — the host school’s first win in that event since 1950 and its first championship in any of the meet’s marquee distance relays since 1974.

Now, with the 123rd running of the Penn Relays set to kick off in full Thursday — the same day that the NFL draft begins across town — Hatler is ready to add another wheel before graduating, along with fellow senior Nick Tuck.

“Last year was exciting to win the 4xmile, but I kinda felt like for the seniors last year, it was their win, it was their wheel,” said Hatler, who also helped the Quakers set a school record in last year’s distance medley relay. “I know Nick and I kinda have a little grudge here. We want our own wheel for ourselves our senior year. So we’re gonna come out and see what we can do.”

Although the USA vs. the World races Saturday to highlight the meet, the college relays are often the most exciting with wild sprints to the finish line occurring in front of packed Franklin Field crowds. Last year, in between Team USA races, then-senior Thomas Awad chased down two other runners in the 4xmile to give Penn the victory on national TV, before being mobbed by Hatler, Tuck and Keaton Naff. 

Hatler couldn’t quite see the track from where he was standing but had a feeling that Awad — one of the most accomplished athletes in Penn’s track & field history — would come through on the final lap of his Penn Relays career.

“You never bet against Tom at the end of the race,” said Hatler, who earlier this year cracked the 4-minute-mile barrier. “We kinda knew it was gonna happen.”

Few other people expected it because the host school hasn’t always been competitive in the college championships at Penn Relays. But another local school always is — Villanova.

And the Wildcats are glad to get some more competition from their Big 5 rival.

“It was thrilling for me to see it happen,” Villanova men’s track coach Marcus O’Sullivan said. “This is really the home school. We’re happy to be sharing the stress of Penn [Relays] every year with the real home school.”

As for his own team, O’Sullivan said the Wildcats are dealing with injuries so it may not be in top form for the men’s distance medley relay (Friday, 5:30 p.m.), men’s 4xmile (Saturday, 1:15 p.m.) and the men’s 4x800 (Saturday, 4:40 p.m.), the first two of which will be broadcast on NBC Sports.

But he touted the talent of redshirt freshman Logan Wetzel, among others, and seems ready to throw some youngsters into the fire.

“I always say Penn is a defining arena for kids to grow up,” said O’Sullivan, who ran the Penn Relays as a student at Villanova. “You really start to learn. You prepare a year for Penn. 

“My junior year, we were annihilated, lost everything, and it one of the most humiliating moments of my life because so much is expected of you and you drop the ball. I spent a whole year just waiting for Penn, just training for Penn. The year I made the Olympic team, I kid you not, running at Penn, winning at Penn, was way more important for me at that time of my life. That’s how big it is.”

Villanova women’s coach Gina Procaccio also ran the Penn Relays in college and has similar feelings about the significance of the meet. And she’s ready to lead her powerhouse teams to more championships in the women’s distance medley relay (Thursday, 5:30 p.m.), the women’s 4x1500 (Friday, 1:20 p.m.) and the women’s 4x800 (Saturday, 4:10 p.m.).

Those relay teams will be led by Angel Piccirillo, a fifth-year senior who redshirted last year, and junior Siofra Cleirigh Buttner — two of the best distance runners in the NCAA. But it won’t be easy for them as this year’s field will be stacked with the likes of Oregon and Stanford.

But no one has done better at Penn Relays than the Villanova women, who have won 14 DMRs all time, including four straight from 2012-2015.

“I’m not one to shy away from the competition,” Procaccio said. “I like to earn those wins.”

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 paid 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."