Jan. 23, 2004
St. Joseph's is an amazing story! This school was ranked No. 18 in the preseason ESPN/USA Today coaches' poll and now people are talking about the Hawks going through the regular season with a perfect record.
I love the enthusiasm, passion and love for the game Nelson shows on the court. He made a great decision to return to college for his senior year instead of jumping to the lure of the NBA.
Coach Phil Martelli is leading the fans' electric, rocking excitement at Hawk Hill. The Hawks' fans are unbelievable as they proved when 4,000 of them bused into Madison Square Garden for the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic.
Recently, I had a chance to be on SportsCenter with host Dan Patrick and Martelli was the surprise guest. We talked about the potential of St. Joe's running the table during the regular season. Remember, the last time that happened was in 1991, when Jerry Tarkanian's Running Rebels were unbeaten until the magical Final Four. UNLV's goal wasn't just making it that far, but finishing with a perfect record by cutting down the nets, going back-to-back after winning it all in 1990.
Duke, with Bobby Hurley and company, had payback on its mind when it shocked the unbeaten Runnin' Rebels in the national semifinal in 1991, ending that dream of the perfect season that was last enjoyed by Indiana in 1976. It was special to beat that Vegas team because many ranked them among the greatest of all time.
Looking at this year's St. Joe's team; there's fantastic potential for them to run the table. Martelli has the best starting backcourt in college basketball with Jameer Nelson and Delonte West. It isn't the deepest (that honor goes to Duke, with five guys capable of keying perimeter play), but I love the enthusiasm, passion and love for the game Nelson shows on the court. He made a great decision to return to college for his senior year instead of jumping to the lure of the NBA. This team is more than just Nelson and West. Dwayne Jones, a 6-11 sophomore, is a shot-blocker deluxe, while 6-5 guard Pat Carroll can really knock down the trifecta.
The Hawks believe they can win and will probably be favored for the rest of the season. These won't be easy wins, as the emotion will play a large role in games at Temple and Villanova. Coach John Chaney's club is always ready and the Owls would love to end St. Joe's shot at perfection. Meanwhile, coach Jay Wright's young team is dangerous at the Pavillion and they are capable of putting an end to those undefeated dreams. The Hawks also have Dayton coming in, plus a couple of games against coach Jim Baron's Rhode Island squad.
It is an interesting story to follow as the season winds down. The Hawks and Stanford Cardinals stand alone as the two remaining unbeaten teams in Division I.
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