The message from Dr. John Giannini after La Salle's 87-68 loss to Richmond yesterday seemed counter-intuitive.
"Today's result, together with some other decisions I've made, will really cause us to rebound," the Explorers' coach said. "I think we're going to play really well from here on in. I really, really believe that."
No matter that La Salle had just suffered a 19-point defeat at Tom Gola Arena, after leading the Spiders by five points with just over 11 minutes to go. Giannini drew something from what he saw nonetheless.
Or perhaps, he drew something from what he did not see. Without mentioning anyone by name, Giannini made a pretty blunt statement about why two of his top players were not in the starting lineup yesterday.
I know who's important on this team, and I know how the response is when things hit rock bottom. Some people in life, they've got to - some people show up every day. And all of us can become that person. We don't have to become part-time successes in our whole life. We can get better.
But some people have to fail, experience some failure, and go through some tough times to really step it up - to say, 'Hey, I don't want to be like this anymore.' And I've seen it. I know. Listen, you're going to see certain people play very well for us now. Just because I know.
You do not need to have Giannini's degree in kinesiology (the science of human movement) or his expertise in sports psychology to know who those words referred to. But just in case, Giannini was asked whether benching Aaric Murray was meant to send the aforementioned message.
"I think he's going to play very well for the rest of the year, and I think our team will follow suit," Giannini said. "I know Aaric very well, and I think he's going to play very well from here on out. I'd be surprised if he didn't."
Giannini was then asked whether he saw any response from Murray as he sat there during yesterday's game.
Since the last game, he's been asking for extra work, he's been meeting with people, saying very positive things. I know how he responds when things hit rock bottom, and that's when he really steps it up. I've seen it. You guys haven't seen it during the season.
But I've seen it throughout the course of 12-month periods, where when he goes through something tough, where he feels like he's letting himself and others down, he does respond. He's going to respond very well. I've seen it many times. ...
You look at every team in the history of basketball. You look at today, how their best players perform. How your most talented players perform determines your success more than anything in the sport of basketball.
I defy anyone to find an outstanding team where their most talented players don't excel. It never happens. Aaric's a great talent, and he really wants to do well, and I think he's going to play real well.
Giannini acknowledged once again something that so many of us have seen: that "after the Villanova game, we changed." Since that day, La Salle has lost five of six games, the only win coming at home against a really woeful Binghamton squad.
Perhaps benching Murray - as well as not starting Ruben Guillandeaux - really did get a message across to the Explorers. We may find out Wednesday when La Salle hosts Penn, but you can also easily argue that the Quakers aren't a good enough team to provide a true test.
The following game, at Massachusetts next Saturday, would fit the bill. But there may not be much time left before it will once again be too late for La Salle to take that big step up that everyone has been waiting for.
Giannini acknowledged as much toward the end of his remarks yesterday.
"I see the puzzled looks on your face," Giannini said. "I used to be puzzled too, but now I just know it's what the situation is... Don't be puzzled, just accept it."
We'll find out soon enough whether the message gets through.
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