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.”