On the court, however, the Hawks almost never tune out Martelli. Four seasons after making a surprise visit to the Sweet 16, St. Joseph's is good enough to get there again. Its solid eight-man rotation includes a backcourt that's among the best in the country. O'Connor, a Philly native who began his career at Villanova but made the 10-mile transfer from the Main Line to City Line partly because Martelli "has a lot of kid in him," was scoring 21.1 points a game through Sunday and is equally adept at bombing from long range and leaking out in transition. Nelson, a freshman who grew so close to Martelli during recruiting that, he says, "I used to call up to see how he was doing," has the court vision and maturity of a senior. Though 6'10" forward Bill Phillips is a versatile shooter and rebounder, the Hawks are a little thin inside, and how far they go in the postseason might depend on the off-the-bench play of the rapidly developing 7'1" Alexandre Sazonov, who grew up in Moscow but moved to the Philly area and played at the same high school (Cardinal O'Hara) where Martelli began coaching 25 years ago.
The Hawks run an aggressive penetrate-and-kick-it-out offense, which is nothing like what Martelli saw as a young coach in the Philadelphia Catholic League. "It's the slowest basketball in America," says Martelli. "I'm on the bench one night, and the other coach actually calls out: 'Run 287 brown, left option.' I yell, 'Is that a play or an SAT question?' "
When a St. Joe's game slows down, though, the Hawks know enough to give the ball to Nelson (12.2 points, 6.3 assists) and let him work the seams. The best thing about playing for Martelli, his players say, is his sincerity. "He's a real person, somebody who cares about you," says Nelson. Adds O'Connor, "He will come up to me and say, 'What do you think?' That means a lot to a player."
An excursion deep into the NCAAs would mean a lot to St. Joseph's, which will be making only its second NCAA appearance in 14 years. "But look, I couldn't be happier whatever happens," Martelli says. "My family and the friends I've known forever are all around me. I get a Snapple at the 7-Eleven, and the counter guy wants to talk about my team. I stop for gas, and the attendant comes out to talk about my team. Only a couple hundred jobs are like this, and I got one of them." He smiles. "And I'm the only one with the Number 1 show."