Guest post by Joe Gallagher:
With March Madness around the corner, let’s do a recap of the last 10 years of Philly college bball. Over the course of the past decade, the landscape of the Big Five (actually we’ll call it the ‘City Six’ just for you, Drexel) has changed dramatically. Villanova has gone from mediocre to powerhouse under Coach Jay Wright. Temple, after some early decade success, underwent a changing of the guard, shifting from legendary coach John Chaney to Fran Dunphy. The Owls have gone from the class of the Big Five to pedestrian to perhaps right back on the brink of being in elite company. St. Joe’s, under Phil Martelli, has seen one heck of a magical season end only a jump shot away from the Final Four. Penn, with former Coach Dunphy, was excellent – dominating the Ivy League for much of the decade. Still, as of late, Penn hoops is experiencing a dry spell, having lost their first ten games and firing Coach Glen Miller. Then you have Drexel, whose magical 2006-2007 season arguably should have ended in the NCAA tournament, and not the NIT. Lastly, lowly LaSalle lugubriously loses a lot. Do not fret, the definition of lugubrious can be found here. Lugubrious aside, LaSalle has struggled with inconsistency over the course of the decade. Even so, it is clear that the city’s beloved sport of basketball is getting back its signature ruthless tenacity. With the 76ers struggling, it appears that the Big Five and company are poised to emerge back to the head of the Philadelphia basketball setting. That’s right folks, Philly Basketball is back!
So let’s hand out the hardware.
All Decade Team:
In honor of “All-Decade Team” Coach Jay Wright (and not at all because I could not think of many great players at a position other than guard) the All-Decade Team will be running a Four-Guard Lineup! And special apologies to Nehemiah Ingram and Coach John Chaney! Due to lack of space (some sort of NCAA sanction – I don’t know, talk to Calipari), we do not have a roster spot for a goon…
PG: Jameer Nelson, St. Joseph’s (2000-04) – right up there with Tom Gola, Lionel Simmons, Mark Macon, etc. among the greatest Big Five players of all time. Hear that, Kanye? OF. ALL. TIME.
G: Lynn Greer, Temple (1997-2002) – Earlier in the decade he took a relatively ordinary, but scrappy Temple team on his back and led them to the Elite Eight, where they lost to the eventual National Champion, Michigan State Spartans.
G: Delonte West, St. Joseph’s (2001-04) – Well, if it weren’t for Jameer, this guy could have contended for National Player of the Year. His fine stroke spread the floor for the hard-nosed legend that was Nelson.
G: Randy Foye, Villanova (2002-06) – the prototype of the “Villanova Guard.” The 6’4 guy, who, when told Villanova would be running a four guard set as the starting lineup, went to the dentist to get a mouthpiece fit just so he could cover the opposing power forward. This guy was tough and his tenacity is something Coach Wright has tried to breed in all of his guards since.
C: Dante Cunningham, Villanova (2005-09) – To be honest, it was very difficult to think of a great big man in the past decade of Big Five (and Co.) hoops. Let me know if I’m missing anybody. Sure, there are PLENTY of guards. There have been so many guards that I could probably craft three or four whole lineups of them. Still, I cannot think of many players who were more underrated in their tenures than Cunningham. “ D.C.” (no, you don’t have to shield your eyes, not Derrick Coleman) was not asked to be a star until his senior year – and up until that point he was the perfect role player – unflinchingly doing whatever Jay Wright asked. Dante rode off into the sunset with a Final Four, proving that perhaps Villanova is not all about the guard. (Nova has several big man prospects who have signed on since, so his impact has reached off the court)
Coach: Jay Wright – Well what’d you expect? Before 2004 maybe it was Fran Dunphy. I mean he is Frantastic. You can see with what he’s doing with Temple and what happened to Penn when he left, that – in short – he’s a great coach. Or maybe it is Philadelphia University coach Herb Magee. “The Shot Doctor” is one of the winningest coaches of all time. Still, Jay Wright is the great adapter. When Villanova loses big men, he says, “No problem, I’ll go 4 guards AND make it work!” Secondly, and in some circles most importantly, Jay takes home best-dressed as well. His Armani collection is top of the line. The charismatic Coach Wright continues to shock the country with the powerhouse program he has built and the true grit his players display. As long as this guy is around, it appears Villanova will be a force to be reckoned with, both locally and nationally. Here’s to you, Jay.
And the top moment that I experienced live amongst the Big Five this decade, drum roll please… goes to…
The Holy War, 2003
The Scene: the sold out and rockin’ Palestra – arguably the finest venue to watch a basketball game in the world.
The Happening: St. Joe’s, led by the legendary Jameer and Delonte tandem, jumped out to a 41-10 lead over the beginning of the Wright dynasty. The Hawks did not let up, harassing the young ‘Nova squad all the way to victory. The Palestra kept rockin’ (at least for you St. Joe’s fans) and the intensity was exhilarating. The experience of a night of basketball in the Palestra is truly unmatched in all of sports – when these guys scuffle, you better be ready to play or else…
So the decade is coming to an end. And that is only MY finest memory. Even as a Nova fan, I’ll never forget the passion in the chants back and forth – truly unforgettable. Please do not hesitate to post your own out of the plethora of memories that City basketball has provided this decade.
I leave you with one last thought: for all the ups and downs Philly basketball has experienced this decade, from “goon-gate” to March Madness success, the passion is there, the energy is there, you’ve got to be there! And here’s to another decade of bloody lips and ruthless hustle.
You stay gritty, Philadelphia. I’m Joe Gallagher?