By Ron Chimelis, Special to CNNSI.com
|Marvin O'Connor and the Hawks won't sneak up on anyone.
The number of coaching victories recorded by John Chaney since joining
the Atlantic 10 with Temple in 1982. The total number of victories by the conference's other 11 coaches, with programs that belonged to the A-10, is 375.
"You look at Duke, Maryland, Florida, Kansas, and then you see us. Those
schools have more people going to spring tryouts than we have going to our
-- Phil Martelli, St. Joseph's coach, on the presence of the Hawks --
who play in a 3,200-seat home gym -- in most Top 10 rankings.
Always comfortable in its role of scrappy underdog, St. Joseph's
University rolls into the 2001-02 season as the logical favorite in a
reshaped Atlantic 10.
And why not? The Hawks return just about everyone from last year's 26-7
team, with guards Marvin O'Connor and Jameer Nelson providing the scoring,
passing, brains and heart to a team that's been popping up in some Top 10
Besides, St. Joseph's is one of the few recognizable programs in a
league that greets former Colonial Athletic Association member Richmond and
will feature new coaches at all but four schools.
Only a couple of obstacles would seem to threaten the Hawks' path --
Temple's traditional tenacity, and overconfidence on their part, which has
never been a problem on Hawk Hill.
St. Joseph's coach Phil Martelli isn't losing sleep over that problem,
largely because he knows he has real leaders in O'Connor, Nelson, A-10
Sixth Man of the Year Na'im Crenshaw and forward Bill Phillips.
"Marvin and Jameer have a burning desire to succeed, both individually
and collectively," Martelli said. "Bill is an all-Atlantic 10 caliber
player. And I thought Na'im's acceptance of the sixth-man role was a big
key for last year's team."
With all that talent and more at St. Joseph's, can Temple keep up? You
can never count the Owls out.
Temple features guard Lynn Greer, who played 1,465 of a possible 1,490
minutes last year and the eligibility of highly-touted sophomore guard
Brian Polk should ease some pressure on Greer. The Owls also still have
that suffocating zone, with 6-9 Kevin Lyde in the middle.
UMass brings back last year's A-10 Defensive Player of the Year (center
Kit Rhymer ) and adds two point guards (sophomore Anthony Anderson and
freshman Kyle Wilson ) to a program that's rarely had a pure point guard in
In the West Division, Xavier is blessed with the best player in the
A-10 (and one of the best in America) in 6-8 David West, who was in the
nation with 10.9 rpg. A wondrous junior who will be tempted by NBA interest
after this year, West is also a gifted passer who will be helped because
power forward Kevin Frey is back to do a lot of the physical work inside.
"West is like a point center," Martelli of St. Joseph's said. "A lot
of big guys throw it only to the guy who passed it to them, but David finds
guys all over the floor."
A real find for the Musketeers could be 6-5 sophomore guard Romain
Sato, who showed flashes of star quality last year.
A wild card in the West Division is Richmond, which was 22-7 as a CAA
team last year. This is the same program that walloped West Virginia 79-56
in last year's NIT.
Guard Reggie Brown (10.1 ppg. last year), 6-11 center Tim Faulconer,
and 6-7 swingman Scott Ungerer are among several reliable veterans. The
Spiders were also fourth in the country is avoiding turnovers (only 10.9
per game) and 10th in scoring defense.
Those qualities won't disappear in a new league, and Richmond could
join Xavier and Dayton in the first division of the West. On paper, they
seem ahead of George Washington, La Salle and Duquesne, all of which are
rebuilding with new coaches.
This will be an unusual seasonn for a league in which returning star
players outnumber returning coaches. For St. Joseph's to be the expected
power is just one of many different twists.
"It puts a target on you," Martelli said. "Thankfully, we have a lot
of guys who have played a lot of college basketball."
Not to mention a
coach who stayed put.
Last year as a freshman, Dayton's Keith Waleskowski scored
11.3 points with 7.7 rebounds per game, and shot 55.2 percent from the
The 6-8 forward then averaged 18.6 points and 7.8 rebounds per game in a tour of
Australia in May.
Almost singlehandedly changing Dayton's recent reputation
as a perimeter-based team with a soft middle, his game is as advanced or
more for his age and experience as anyone's in the Atlantic 10.
HOT: Dayton's David Morris
The 5-10 senior point guard had 76 points, 39 assists and only 11 turnovers in his last 9 games. He'll be expected to do even more this season, but his steady improvement from a year ago shows he's up to it.
NOT: George Washington
GW returnees had only 32 of a possible 160 starts last year, and Chris Monroe had 25 of them. Rebuilding time.
In two years, SirValiant Brown (George Washington) never saw a shot he
In three years, Zach Marbury proved he could be an average
point guard on a bad Rhode Island team, and his teammate Tavorris Bell,
proved you can be a good 6-6 forward without much of an outside shot.
Speaking of outside shots, none of them had a jumper decent enough to be drafted, which
didn't stop them from leaving the A-10 to apply for NBA early entry.
St. Joe's G Jameer Nelson
After averaging 6.5 assists per game and helping transform St. Joseph's from regional darling to national Top 10 candidate, Nelson played for the USA Basketball World Championship for Young Men team over the summer.
Richmond F Eric Zwayer
The 6-9 junior started the Spiders' last 8 games a
year ago and shot 60.4 percent in his starts. This summer, he was part of a Global Partners in
Sports team that toured Iran and played Yugoslavia, Germany, Saudi Arabia
The best of the best should be the two Temple-St. Joseph's
games, Feb. 2 at Temple and Mar. 3 at the Palestra. This year, the rivalry
will have not only
its usual features of charismatic coaches (Chaney and Martelli)
and terrific guards (the Hawks' Nelson and O'Connor, the
Owls' Greer), but a new twist: St. Joseph's will be favored.
year and a full returning complement, the Hawks could run the A-10 table,
but can anyone assume beating Temple twice?
UMass-Xavier (Mar. 2) could be
a good conference tournament prelude, and a couple of attractive non-league
matchups should also be noted. There's the next chapter of Chaney and John
Calipari (Memphis at Temple, Dec. 20), and St. Joseph's at Villanova Jan.
28, a Big 5 brawl.
There are 27 players from outside the United States in the
Atlantic 10. Only Temple and Dayton are all-USA. The most prolific of the non-U.S. players is Duquesne senior
Wayne Smith of Toronto, Canada, whose 1,377 points rank sixth all-time
among Canadian players in the NCAA ... Fordham may be a sleeper if three
players who sat out 2000-01 return to form quickly. Sophomore guards Mark
Jarell-Wright and William "Smush" Parker sat out last year after transferring from
Providence and South Idaho Junior College, respectively. Freshman Cori
Spencer missed last year with a knee injury ... Rhode Island practically
can't help but improve. The Rams were last in the A-10 in almost every
major category, from scoring defense to field goal percentage and
3-pointers ... History says not to sell Richmond short too quickly in its
move from the Colonial Athletic Association to the A-10. First of all, the
CAA is an underrated league. Besides, of the 11 new teams to join the A-10
since 1980, three posted .500 conference records in their first year, and
four -- led by Virginia Tech's 13-3 mark and division co-championship in
1995-96 -- were above .500 ... When Chaney was elected to
the Basketball Hall of Fame this year, many members of the basketball world
called it an overdue honor. But Chaney also made it on his first trip to
the final ballot, in a year that only 3 of 17 finalists (Chaney, Mike
Krzyzewski and Moses Malone ) were elected.