What can you say to a team and its fans after riding one of college basketball's all-time greatest waves? Not much, except enjoy the memories.
The 2003-04 Hawks will go down as the greatest team in school history and one of the best in Philadelphia's illustrious college hoops lore. The team's 27-0 regular season record was a truly unbelievable achievement. So was guard Jameer Nelson's sweep of most of the National Player of the Year awards. The run ultimately ended in the East Regional finals when Oklahoma State eked out a two-point win only after a last-second shot by Nelson wouldn't fall.
"Last year was a dream ride, something that no one around here will ever forget," said Hawks coach Phil Martelli, "and we don't want to forget it. That season will only help us going forward in the future."
The Hawks' success pushed junior Delonte West to the NBA Draft a year early, where he joined Nelson as a first-round draft pick. West was the bridge that could've carried the Hawks past the Nelson era.
Three starters do return, and a team that rode the country's best backcourt will shift its focus. Wing shooter Pat Carroll (team-high 81 threes) can get as hot as anyone in the conference when he's left alone. That won't happen as much without Nelson and West setting him up, but certainly Carroll is still a weapon.
Up front, Dwayne Jones and John Bryant return as well. Both big men were consistently fingered as the "weak links" to last year's team, but they were valuable role players. Jones blocked 63 shots and grabbed seven boards per game. Bryant was a tough defender who attempted a mere 62 shots all season.
Finding more help around the three returning starters won't be as tough as some naysayers insist. Chet Stachitas was a key reserve on the wing and will play a lot of minutes. So will Dwayne Lee, a junior who'll likely become the first player in five years not named Jameer to start at the point guard spot.
Also, help should come from 6-foot-8 redshirt freshman Robert Ferguson, who owns a live body. Scouts also insist that freshman Abdulai Jalloh will help at the point, and that Pat Calathes (6-9) is as versatile a talent as Martelli has ever recruited.