The picture of next year’s Saint Joseph’s men’s basketball team is becoming more clear as the team approaches summer, with just two players who haven’t fully committed their futures to the school.
According to head coach Phil Martelli, there are just two players left who in his words “need to have discussions with their families,” but that’s as far along as they are in the process.
Right now, there are six returning letterwinners who are “solid” in their intentions to return next year, including all three members of the freshman class. Speculation had been rife that there could be departures from that group, most notably by Carl Jones, but all three of the youngest Hawks will be staying put.
“They’re not in the mix of going home to talk to everybody [about their future],” Martelli said of his freshman class. “They’re going to go home to tell everybody they have to be back on May 17 for summer school.”
The other two players, who are almost certainly Chris Prescott and Bryant Irwin, have gone back and forth on the decision since the end of the season, and Martelli still isn’t sure of what the outcome of this process will be.
“It’s 12 o’clock, I think there will be changes. At 1 o’clock, that could change. It has changed that fast. At the end of the year, there were rumors. At the end of the wrap up meetings at the end of the year, one situation changed five days in a row. Everybody had to catch their breath,” Martelli said, adding that the players and his office have put a moratorium on the conversation for the time being while athletes wrap up the semester and exams.
It’s been a busy week for the Hawks after announcing the release of A.J. Rogers and Temi Adebayo last Friday. Adebayo has already been signed by Philadelphia University, while Rogers is hoping to be headed for Norfolk State pending the completion of academic requirements over the summer.
An official from Norfolk State declined to comment, citing school policy to wait until the student is enrolled.
One of those released scholarships was turned around over the weekend into Pat Swilling, Jr., a 6-foot-3 guard from Brother Martin in Louisiana.
He joins guard Langston Galloway, 6-foot-7 swing man Daryus Quarles, and 6-foot-9 power forward C.J. Aiken in what has become a deep class.
The Hawks also added Hilal Kanacevic, a 6-foot-8 transfer from Hofstra who averaged 8.6 points and 7.6 rebounds, earning a spot on the Colonial Athletic Association’s All-Rookie Team. He’ll be eligible to play starting in 2011-12 after sitting out this season per NCAA transfer rules.
The class may get an added boost from one of two places this weekend, as the Hawks are thought to be the leaders for Ron Roberts, a 6-foot-7 forward who originally signed with St. John’s but doesn’t figure into new coach Steve Lavin’s plans. He may decide between Georgia Tech, St. Joe’s, and Virginia this weekend.
The Hawks are also in the mix for Papa Samba Ndao, a 6-foot-8 big who originally signed with Boston College, but re-opened his recruiting after the firing of head coach Al Skinner.
The transferring of players away from the program is a complicated process for Martelli, who offers the players as much guidance as he can. In the case of Rogers and Adebayo, most of the leg work was done by assistant coach Dave Duda in trying to find them a suitor that met their desires.
“I take the responsibility to the players and to their families to say, ‘What are you looking for?’ And it’s interesting because people will get very specific in those kinds of meetings,” Martelli said. “The player may give me a number of schools and I’ll comment…I’ll even extend myself for their first list and I’ll make a call if they’re interested.
“And it’s not shopping them and it’s not like we’ve got to get rid of this guy; it’s ‘would you take him?’” Martelli said. “We tell them, ‘he hasn’t played, he’s an undersized forward, in AJ’s case, and he really wants to play. He’s not being a problem off the court.’ I want to believe we’ll guide as far as they want us to guide. And we’ll take calls afterwards to fill in the blanks.”
Since 2005, there have been seven players who have transferred out of the program; Martelli unsurprisingly points to playing time as the issue behind each decision. A part is the influx is just the nature of college basketball today. Some 65 coaching changes have been made across the Division I this offseason along, paving the way for almost some 200 transfers, excluding incoming freshmen released from their letters.
It’s been something that has plagued programs large and small, including teams like Duke and Villanova who have had comparable numbers of transfers over the same period.
“I don’t want to be cavalier to say it’s the price of doing business at this level,” said Martelli. “It’s that players view things through a narrow spectrum. They’ll zero in on their wants, and what you have to do now in my opinion is match your needs as a program or a team with their wants. What it has done for me is it has made me more aggressive in recruiting to say, ‘What is it that you really want?’ For a long time, it was, ‘I want to be Division I and I want to take on the challenge and I know everyone on the team is going to be the best player from their high school team and I want to get what I could earn’. It’s changed a little bit. There’s more of an entitlement. It’s what am I going to get, not what am I going to earn.”
The fact that former players have left St. Joe’s for less glamorous destinations may be telling of the recruiting process, but Martelli believes it’s just human nature.
“Most kids in recruiting probably look upwards, they’re probably a level, a level and a half higher than they should be, and when they’re looking to fulfill their wants [for a transfer], they’re going to go downwards,” he said. “They’re viewing recruiting as bigger is better, and when they realize how much of a challenge college basketball is, they look downwards.”
The recent turnover of recruits has caused Martelli to re-evaluate his processes, both in how he evaluates talent and in how the strides they make while they are here.
“I think in recruiting, there’s a soft sell that goes on that maybe a lot of times you don’t ask the most difficult questions,” Martelli said. “All of this has been a good experience for me because now I’ll ask the tougher questions. Maybe it’s tougher, and I don’t even think it has to be more thorough, it just has to be tougher questions to a guidance counselor, tougher questions to a coach. I’ve been doing this for 25 years, and I’ve never had a coach tell me a player is anything other than a good kid.”
Martelli also admitted that overvaluing the improvement of players at St. Joe’s may be on of the things he has missed on the recruiting trail.
“When you go through a year that we just went through, to me, you go back to our foundations and say, what is this built on?,” he said “This is built on daily improvement, individual relationships, communication, respect for the game, respect of where you’ve been. And I believe that here to be successful, I have to see something in you that maybe somebody in the Atlantic 10 didn’t see, maybe that somebody at the bottom of the Big East didn’t see…It’s not just a Xerox machine to say, ‘well it worked for Jameer, it worked for Bill Phillips, it worked for this guy’. What is it about you and how can I get you to improve?…How do I tweak it?”
– Matthew De George ’10