Since 2000-01, Saint Joseph’s advanced to postseason play seven times, including four trips to the NCAA tournament and three NIT appearances.

The magical ’03-04 season will always be remembered, when Jameer Nelson and Delonte West carried the Hawks to the Elite Eight. Only once in that stretch did the Hawks suffer a losing season. And that was last season, with a frustrating 11-20 mark.

With a strong recruiting class, there are many reasons to be optimistic for this still youthful group on Hawk Hill. The challenge starts next Friday when Western Kentucky visits raucous Hagan Arena.

“The expectations haven’t changed for us,” coach Phil Martelli said Thursday. “Today, we have to be better than yesterday. Tomorrow, we have to be better than today. If we can do that — and can continue to do that — the age of the team won’t matter, because it will have meant we improved throughout the season. That’s what we’re looking for.”

Five freshmen joined the Hawks, highlighted by Plymouth-Whitemarsh product C.J. Aiken. The ultratalented 6-foot-9 forward is stoked about the upcoming challenge.

“I’m tired of practice. I’m ready to play,” he said. “I can’t wait. It’s what I’ve been waiting for. To play for St. Joe’s is everything I was hoping for. Let’s get this thing started.”