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Big Five Preview: Hawks have tough A-10 test

DeAndre Bembry returns, but the majority of St. Joe's A-10 title squad from last seasGetty Images

This was never the plan for Phil Martelli, who says he still views every day, every season he’s spent on Hawk Hill as a labor of love.

But 20 years? Thirty counting his years as an assistant.

"Hard to believe," admitted the man who’s been calling the shots for at Saint Joseph’s since before most of his current players were born. I never had a number, where it would be really successful if I stayed five years or eight years or get 200 wins.But this summer I turned 60 and realized half my life I’ve been on this campus. Twenty years as a head coach it’s an amazing thing. But I never viewed it as a job as much as an opportunity to make a difference."

In the process he’s racked up a school record 362 wins, going 24-10 last year when they came strong late to win the Atlantic 10 championship. Then in the first round of the NCAA’s they had Connecticut on the ropes before the Huskies managed to not only escape but go on to win it all.

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After spending the summer pondering what might’ve been,Martelli began preparation for the coming season realizing he had only two of his top eight players returning. Not since losing Jameer Nelson and Delonte West in the 2004 glory days have the Hawks had to replace so much.

"The attitude those guys carried themselves with from January to the end of the year has carried over to this team," said Martelli, who’ll blend versatile forward DeAndre Bembry (12.1, 4.5 rebounds) and point guard Chris Wilson (9.1, 2.7 assists) in with a host of newcomers. "We’re a little further ahead than I would’ve anticipated because of what those guys left behind and their approach to being a St. Joes Hawk.Our Achilles heel is shooting, so we’ll try to drive the ball more and create layups.But that really minimizes the amount of points we can score, because we’re not gonna have a lot of 3s."

Still, even incorporating so many new faces into the lineup, the goals don’t change. "I’d be lying if I said when the year first started it didn’t feel weird withoutall those guys,’’ said Wilson. "But these guys coming in are finding their niche, finding their roles.They give us new energy. In the past we knew what we were gonna get from everybody. Now it’s more of a feeling out process. But we have the same goal: to win Atlantic 10 championships and make the NCAA tournament.I wouldn’t expect it to change now.’’

Reality may less kind. Unless a bunch of those newcomers — headed by West Virginia transfer Aaron Brown and freshman James Demery -- make an immediate impact the Hawks will be hard to match their recent success. But they will have one intangible on their side:the spirit of their Hall of Fame former coach, Dr. Jack Ramsay.

"At his memorial I asked his family, 'Would you please let us wear a patch this season to honor him,'" revealed Martelli. "He’s the godfather. The reason you’re all here.For these players to have that opportunity is just extraordinary for them."

Because it may indeed take some kind of divine intervention to make Phil Martelli’s 20thseason on Hawk Hill memorable..

 
 
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