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Among the first things Phil Martelli said during media day at Saint Joseph’s yesterday was that the up-tempo offense he installed last year did not work.
So naturally, the Hawks will run it again this year.
Okay, it’s not really that simple. Last season’s system was to some degree a matter of choice. This year’s may be a matter of necessity. Martelli’s roster has five freshmen, five sophomores, one junior and two seniors, so making the system too complicated might be just as likely to backfire.
I give you the full answer as a block quote, because Martelli does stream-of-consciousness as well as anyone since Faulkner:
Well, no, it didn’t work, because we lost 20 times last year. But certainly, for the way of playing and the way of teach, it’s real comfortable. It’s a way that can be taught, it’s a way that can be embraced. This is really going to be offense by committee, because if the question is who’s going to be the leading scorer, I don’t have any idea.
Do I know that we need scoring from every position on the floor? Absolutely. Is one of our concerns perimeter shooting? Sure, it’s a concern. So how do you answer that? You play faster, you get more layups, you get more open court, you get some foul shots in the mix here. So all those things are going to stay the same.
It’s going to look a little different than what we tried to do last year, because we did have a senior with the ball, a guy with a lot of experience in Garrett Williamson. And we had a noted three-point threat in Darrin Govens. Both of those things are different with this group, so the offense will look different.
One difference is that for the first time since Ahmad Nivins’ departure, Hawks fans are more likely to be focused on the team’s frontcourt than its backcourt. Of the three upperclassmen, two are post players: senior Idris Hilliard and center Todd O’Brien.
Even more eyes will be on freshman forward C.J. Aiken, a Conshocken native who comes to Hawk Hill with a lot of buzz after a standout career at Plymouth-Whitemarsh. As you would expect, Martelli did his best to play down expectations. But even he admitted that Aiken has tremendous potential:
I just tell people one thing about C.J.: he weighs 189 pounds. You can end the conversation there. He weighs 189 pounds, and he is going to go against kids in our own city here who are 245, 255, who have spent more than a year or two years in a weight room.
C.J. at times is brilliant. What he is that has been undervalued is he’s a fabulous passer. He can really move the ball, and he has a very high I.Q. for the game of basketball. A lot of times, people see him and say he’s long, and he’s lanky, and he’s not very expressive. But he has marvelous hands, he’s a wonderful passer, and he has the chance to be very special.
For anybody to think that he’s going to be special next Friday night, that wouldn’t be fair to him in any way, shape or form. And for anybody to think that he’s going to cure everything that was out of whack here, that’s not true either. But he’s going to be a big part of the solution.
The best quotes of the day came when Martelli was asked for his predictions for the conference season. We’ve all heard Fran Dunphy called a lot of names in his career, but what you’re about to read might be a first.
I think the strength of the league is with Nucky Thompson up there on North Broad Street. He’s got a Boardwalk Empire rolling. He’s won it three years in a row, so you have to start there. You have a team in Xavier, based out of Cincinnati, that’s been to Elite Eights and Sweet 16s. You have a team in Dayton that won the NIT.
You have the player of the year returning at Richmond. Keep going, and keep going. I think it’s dynamite what is happening in this league. Just in this city, probably the leading pro prospect in our whole city is [Aaric Murray] at La Salle. And if he’s not the best big man in the league, then the best big man in the league may be at St. Bonaventure. So there’s no nights out, there’s no nights off.
You can listen to Martelli’s entire press conference as well as interviews with Idris Hilliard and C.J. Aiken in the audio player below.