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."

Villanova nearly sweeps 2016-17 Big 5 awards

Villanova nearly sweeps 2016-17 Big 5 awards

Villanova was unsurprisingly well-represented in the Big 5 awards released Tuesday, taking four of the five major awards and claiming three of five spots on the All-Big 5 First Team.

Josh Hart was named Player of the Year, Donte DiVincenzo Rookie of the Year, Jay Wright was Coach of the Year and Jalen Brunson was Scholar Athlete of the Year.

Hart averaged 18.7 points, 6.4 rebounds, 2.9 assists and 1.6 steals during his senior season. He shot 51 percent from the field -- his fourth straight season over 50 percent -- and was much better from three than he was last season, raising his percentage from 35.7 to 40.4.

DiVincenzo's emergence bodes well for Villanova's future now that Hart and Kris Jenkins are done. 

The 6-foot-5 redshirt freshman averaged 8.8 points and 3.8 rebounds in 25.5 minutes per game. DiVincenzo played well in the NCAA Tournament, scoring 21 points with 13 rebounds in the first-round win over Mount St. Mary's and going for 15 points, six rebounds and three steals in the second-round loss to Wisconsin.

It was a bit surprising to see Jenkins make the Big 5 First Team over teammate Mikal Bridges, who was more consistent and effective down the stretch.

First Team
B.J. Johnson, La Salle
Shizz Alston, Jr., Temple
Jalen Brunson, Villanova
Josh Hart, Villanova
Kris Jenkins, Villanova

Second Team
Jordan Price, La Salle
Mikal Bridges, Villanova
AJ Brodeur, Penn
James Demery, Saint Joseph's
Obi Enechionyia, Temple
Matt Howard, Penn 

Jameer Nelson highlights 2017 Big 5 Hall of Fame class

Jameer Nelson highlights 2017 Big 5 Hall of Fame class

Former Saint Joseph’s star Jameer Nelson and six others were announced as the newest class to be inducted into the Big 5 Hall of Fame on Thursday. Nelson, who played from 2000-2004, is the Hawks' all-time leader in points (2,094, averaging 20.6 per game his senior year) and assists (713). The Chester, Pennsylvania native led the Hawks to a 30-2 record (best in school history) and an Elite Eight appearance in 2004.

Joining Nelson as the 2017 inductees are players Randy Foye (Villanova), Lynn Greer (Temple), Carlene Hightower (La Salle), Ibrahim Jaaber (Penn), George Raveling (Villanova), and sportswriter Bill Lyon.

"This is a fabulous group of inductees,” Big 5 executive director Steve Bilsky said in a release. “I, like all fans of college basketball in Philadelphia, look forward to welcoming our 2017 inductees on the floor of the Palestra on April 17."

Foye, who played for the Wildcats from 2002 to 2006, was named Big 5 and Big East Player of the Year his senior season, leading the Wildcats to the Elite Eight.

Greer, a Philadelphia native who played for the Owls from 1997 through 2002, earned all-conference and all-district honors, while also being named Big 5 MVP his senior year.

Hightower improved every season for the Explorers, as she increased her points per game output each year. As a senior, she was named the 2008 Big 5 Player of the Year after averaging 17.9 ppg.

Jaaber, the 2007 Big 5 Player of the Year, is considered one of the greatest guards in Penn history. He is on Penn’s all-time lists in scoring (sixth), assists (seventh) and steals (first).

Raveling is 12th in Villanova history in rebounding (835) and is a member of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame's class of 2015 for his basketball contributions as a coach and executive.

Lyon has been a sportswriter for over 30 years and was inducted into the Philadelphia Sports Hall of Fame in 2006.