VCU and Saint Louis picked 1-2 in revamped A-10
BROOKLYN - Phil Martelli and Paul Hewitt were discussing the 2014 recruiting calendar this summer. Martelli thought the Atlantic 10 meetings might get in the way of a May recruiting weekend next year and asked Hewitt “When are your league meetings?”
Hewitt said: “Phil, we’re in the same league now.”
When the longest-tenured coach in the A-10 can’t keep up with the annual changes, you know the conference musical chairs is out of control.
Hewitt, the onetime Villanova assistant before going on to be head coach at Siena, Georgia Tech and now George Mason, has the new team in the A-10 this season.
Temple, Xavier, Butler and Charlotte are gone. Temple was the best program in league history. Xavier and Butler are very serious about their hoops. Charlotte was always an afterthought. Changes or no, this is still a solid league.
“I think the league has survived the shake,” Martelli said. “I’m not convinced the shaking is done. You lost quality programs, but also the quality people that run those programs. Then, you add a Paul Hewitt, who is a deep thinker, wonderful coach ... I think it’s a very healthy league from the top down.”
It has not always been so.
“When I was at Villanova, we used to kid around and call it the ‘steak sauce conference,’ the A-1, Temple and nobody else,” Hewitt said. “When I was in the Big East, that’s what I used to tell recruits, ‘Why do you want to play in the steak sauce?’ Now, they’ve got good teams up and down the board.”
La Salle has been a very good team the last two seasons. The Explorers, with four starters and a top scorer off the bench returning, were picked third in the A-10 preseason poll, which was unveiled yesterday at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, where the league’s media day was held. Virginia Commonwealth and Saint Louis, which played for the championship last season (SLU won it), were picked first and second. Saint Joseph’s, with essentially four starters, including three seniors, back and a very promising freshman who will start, was picked fifth.
La Salle senior point guard Tyreek Duren was picked for the first-team all-league squad. Senior Tyrone Garland, now a starter after being instant offense off the bench, was on the third team, as was junior Jerrell Wright.
It was a year ago when La Salle coach John Giannini said Steve Zack was going to be his team's most improved player. And he was spot on. This time, he is pointing to Wright, who shot 22-for-27 (81.4 percent) in four NCAA games while averaging 14.5 points and 5.8 rebounds.
“I think he’s a monster right now,” Giannini said. “He was good as a freshman. I thought he was really good as a sophomore. He’s looked flat-out great at times in the workouts.”
The coach attributed some of Wright’s NCAA success to the fact that Zack was out with an injured foot and teams really had to spread their defenses to account for the four guards. Now, the coach is pretty well convinced Wright will have success in any situation.
“We just have a hard time stopping this guy in practice with big, strong bodies on him,” Giannini said. “Right now, he’s physically overpowering and really confident.”
Sometime during the season, Wright and senior Sam Mills will join Duren as 1,000-point scorers. This, once again, will be a very difficult team to defend.
“The reason this group has consistently improved since they stepped on campus is because they’re good kids and they listen and they’re receptive and they’re pretty grounded and they’re motivated,” Giannini said.
They are also talented, with the confidence that goes with winning those three NCAA games last season.
The guard line will be missing a huge piece in Ramon Galloway, but it will be deep again with Delaware transfer Khalid Lewis now eligible and D.J. Peterson, after making significant contributions in 68 games over two seasons.
According to Giannini, Amar Stukes, the terrific freshman from La Salle High, will redshirt unless one of the other guards gets hurt. He sees Stukes as a potential 4-year starter like Duren and Mills.
Duren was selected to the first team for a reason.
“We have a lot of good players, but he’s a little bit unique in his consistency and in his poise,” Giannini said. “I would not want to play without him. I think he’s really special.”
Like La Salle, St. Joe’s will be playing with three 1,000-point scorers during the season. Langston Galloway is already there. Ronald Roberts is close and Halil Kanacevic is close enough. Junior Chris Wilson will run the point and freshman wing DeAndre Bembry will start from Day 1. Galloway and Roberts were named to second-team all-league.
The Hawks lost the third-leading scorer in school history (Tay Jones) and the second-best career shot blocker (C.J. Aiken). There were, however, a few chemistry issues last season that should no longer be a problem. This is an experienced team whose three senior starters have unique skill sets — the shooter (Galloway), the inside dominator (Roberts) and all the all-around game (Kanacevic).
“I think the three older guys have improved in their clarity of purpose,” Martelli said. “It’s nice to see and it’s easy to be around them because of that.”
By the way, when Martelli was waiting at 30th Street Station to catch the train to Penn Station yesterday, he did look around and say to himself, “Wonder where Dunph is?”
Temple’s Fran Dunphy will be coaching in the American Athletic Conference. The A-10 won’t be the same without Temple. Almost nothing in college sports is the same anymore. The games begin in a month.