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(Information in this team report is as of Oct. 1.)
COACH AND PROGRAM
Four years ago, Saint Joseph's coach Phil Martelli recruited a freshman class he hoped would continue the Hawks' tradition as one of the Atlantic-10's perennial powerhouses. This season, he recruited one that he hopes will reestablish it.
Saint Joseph's is coming off its second disappointing year in a row, a skid caused in part by the 2006-07 class's inability to live up to its expectations. Two members of the class -- Jawan Carter and D.J. Rivera -- transferred after one year and had successful careers at other schools, while two others -- Darrin Govens and Garrett Williamson -- proved to be complementary pieces rather than focal points. As a result of both occurrences, the Hawks gradually became undermanned compared to burgeoning A-10 powers Dayton, Richmond and Temple. The disparity in talent was reflected in their win total, which went from 21 three years ago to 11 last year.
Martelli's aim with this season's class -- which includes 6-9 forward C.J. Aiken, 6-6 forward Daryus Quarles, 6-7 forward Ronald Roberts, 6-3 guard Langston Galloway and 6-3 guard Patrick Swilling -- was not only to obtain players who possessed the intestinal fortitude to be foundation builders, but also ones who possessed the sheer athletic ability to begin to close the talent gap.
"We needed to become better at basketball," Martelli said.
The major difference between this season's class and the one in 2006-07 is that the former one was able to gradually acclimate itself to the rigors of Division I college basketball, because Saint Joe's relied on proven players like Ahmad Nivins, Pat Calathes and Rob Ferguson. This season's team doesn't have any players the ilk of Nivins, Calathes or Ferguson, so the freshmen must be ready to contribute immediately. It's a situation Martelli has never encountered, and one he said that he's both excited and anxious to see unfold.
"Usually, when you roll into August you say you're going to take the lead from last year," Martelli said. "But that's not the case this year. We don't have a little while; we have to go out there with A-10 bodies, minds and games.
"That sense of urgency has to be delivered from day one. You can't wait and see what [the freshman] can do; I have to force them to show me what they can do."
Technically the Hawks have three returning starters in 6-7 senior forward Idris Hilliard (10.2 ppg, 5.4 rpg), 6-11 junior forward Todd O'Brien (5.6 ppg, 6.3 rpg) and 5-11 sophomore guard Justin Crosgile (6.7 ppg, 2.3 rpg). Hilliard, however, is the only one of those three who's assured of his starting job.
Saint Joseph's Hawks
Hilliard, a two-year starter, showed flashes of brilliance last year, including a 22-point performance against Villanova, and double-doubles against Duquesne and La Salle. Although Hilliard might never be the scorer or rebounder Martelli envisioned he'd be when he recruited him three years ago, the hope is he will become a leader for a team in desperate need of one.
"When you're a senior, you have to step outside yourself," Martelli said. "[Hilliard] has to lead. He doesn't need to be a vocal leader, but he has to give us leadership, because there's a void there. He can bridge that gap."
O'Brien, a Bucknell transfer, started 28 of the 31 games he played last year, primarily because Saint Joe's was desperate for a rebounder. Although his rebounding numbers were good, the Hawks still struggled in that department, finishing last in the A-10 in rebounding offense (32.3) and rebounding margin (-8). Martelli lauds his work ethic and commitment to the team, but admits that O'Brien would be best utilized as a role player on a team with more talent, something Martelli hopes to have this season.
The same goes for 6-8 sophomore forward Carl Baptiste (2.1 ppg, 1.7 rpg).
"I think that the better the players are around them, the better they are," Martelli said. "Both of them are blend players. When you're bumpy like we were last year, you need more from your blend players.
"Both of them deserve good things to happen to them, and I think they'll fit comfortably into the roles we need them in."
Of the three freshmen forwards, Aiken and Roberts appear to be the two most ready to compete for a starting job.
Aiken, who's the 39th-ranked power forward according to Scout.com, received the most attention of his classmates because he's from nearby Plymouth Meeting, Pa., and chose the Hawks over Temple and La Salle. For now, he's a post-up forward who'll probably make his biggest contributions on the defensive end, where he's a gifted shot blocker. But he has the potential to become a double-digit scorer, especially if he can add some bulk to his 185-pound frame.
Roberts, the 40th-ranked small forward according to Scout.com, originally signed a letter of intent to play for St. John's, but asked for a release when Steve Lavin was hired as coach, and signed with Saint Joe's during the late signing period. Roberts, who averaged 19.0 points and 12.7 rebounds his senior year at St. Peter's Prep in Bayonne, N.J., is more comfortable facing the basket but has the ability to play both the small and power forward positions.
Quarles might end up being the star of the class, but it's difficult to tell because he didn't play his senior year of high school. He played his freshman and sophomore years for Paulsboro (N.J.) High, before transferring to Burlington, N.J.'s Life Center Academy for his junior year, where he averaged 15 points, eight rebounds and four blocks per game. He moved back to Paulsboro for his senior year, but had to sit out because of New Jersey transfer rules. Quarles, who was the first player of the class to commit to the Hawks, is a true wing who could play a variety of positions, depending on what Martelli decides to do with his rotation.
The only position Martelli didn't recruit was a point guard. That duty will be left up to Crosgile, 6-0 sophomore Carl Jones (9.6 ppg, 2.3 rpg) or 5-11 senior Charoy Bentley (2.3 ppg, 0.7 rpg).
Crosgile missed the preseason and first five games of the year recovering from a torn ligament in his thumb, but once he returned, he started the final 19 games. Although Crosgile arrived with the reputation as a better shooter, Jones finished second on the team with 34 made threes. He aver-aged just two less minutes than Crosgile, and they both finished with 1.4 assists per game. Like this year's crop of freshman, Jones and Crosgile were highly touted recruits, and their continued development will be essential to Saint Joe's success.
"They hold the key to how successful we can be," Martelli said. "Each of them showed signs of being able to handle everything that came at them, and then there were times they left you scratching your head.
"The biggest thing we need from them is growth in their games."
Galloway, who's from Christian Life Academy in Baton Rouge, La., received scholarship offers from LSU, Baylor, Texas A&M and Ole Miss but chose Saint Joseph's thanks to the recruiting efforts of Hawks assistant coach Geoff Arnold, who's also Galloway's uncle. Galloway fulfills Saint Joe's need for a scorer; he's an offensive-minded slasher with a developing mid-range game. He's also a winner, having played on several successful high school and AAU teams.
While Arnold had a hand in Galloway's signing, Galloway might have had a hand in Swilling's. A talented defensive back who received football scholarship offers from almost every major Division I program, Swilling, from Brother Martin in New Orleans, didn't even decide he was going to play basketball instead of football until the spring. When he did, the Hawks weren't on his radar. But he might have been swayed by Galloway, his AAU teammate.
Swilling, the son of former NFL linebacker Pat Swilling, will give Saint Joseph's a much-needed outside shooting presence. He'll also give them a winning attitude, after leading his high school team to a Louisiana Class 5A state championship last year.
BLUE RIBBON ANALYSIS
As scary as it is to think that the success or failure of a team rides on the ability of five freshmen to contribute immediately, that's the case with the Hawks this season. If Aiken, Galloway, Quarles, Roberts and Swilling are as good as everybody says they are, they'll make Hilliard, Crosgile, Jones and the rest of Saint Joe's better, and this team will take its first step back to respectability.
If they're not, then it probably won't matter how much any of the returning players have developed, because none of them are capable of carrying a team. Expect something in the middle, which means the Hawks will be improved, but not as much as their fans would like.
For the most comprehensive previews available on all 335 Division I teams, order the "Bible" of college basketball, the 2010-11 Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook, at www.blueribbonyearbookonline.com or call 1-877-807-4857.