After a humbling 13-18 record in 2014-15, St. Joseph’s Head Coach Phil Martelli knew he and everyone in the program had to look at themselves in the mirror and realize what they needed to do to bring the program back to respectability. Last weekend, Martelli’s team finished an impressive turnaround by winning the Atlantic 10 Conference Tournament and clinching an NCAA Tournament bid. Ahead of their first round game against Cincinnati, Martelli joined The Jim Rome Show to depict just how they got there.
“Last year we averaged 60 points a game, we had 12 games we scored under 60 points, and again, I repeat, college basketball under 60 points,” Martelli said. “This year, we averaged 77 or 78, we’ve lost two games this year when we scored 90. We lost to Davidson 98-92, we lost to St. Bonaventure 96-90. We put in all of our time, everything that we’ve done in individual instruction and individual work, what’s in shooting. We had to be able to shoot the ball, and then we had to come up with a formula and a way to play that accented the abilities that we do have.”
The humbling process started at a team meeting last April, Martelli said.
“We had to look guys in the eyes and a number of returning starters, four returning starters from a team that won 13 games and basically say we’re not good enough. You weren’t coached well enough. We didn’t play well enough. We didn’t do player development well enough, and let’s get stared,” Martelli said. “And not that this was the be all end all, it didn’t have to be the Atlantic 10 Championship, it didn’t have to be the NCAA Tournament, it had to be we were respected again, as players and program. Because remember, last year we were coming off of winning the Atlantic 10 Tournament in 2014. So the players dedicated themselves, assistant coaches did a magnificent job in player development, and in August, when we started to form this group, I knew we had a chance to do special things because we have wonderful teammates on this team.”
Coaching in the Philadelphia area and having a longtime friendship with Temple Owls Head Coach Fran Dunphy, one would think Dunphy’s knowledge of Cincinnati’s program from playing them in the American Athletic Conference would be extremely resourceful for Martelli. Unfortunately, the 2004 National Coach of The Year says he’d never go there with Dunphy.
“Despite the way it seems to the outsider, I do believe that coaching is an honorable profession, and to me, to be honorable, you have to fulfill conference obligations first, and [Dunphy’s] conference is the same obviously as Cincinnati,” Martelli said. “So I didn’t want to put our friendship in a breach, and we’re the best of friends. We sat next to each other for almost 3 hours on Monday morning at a Coaches Vs. Cancer breakfast that we host in Philadelphia to tip on to the tourney breakfast that we call it, and the only thing I said to him was they’re good, and he said ‘They’re good,’ and that was it. I didn’t get into the match-up and what did you do. When I got back to the office, those two games were sitting on my desk, and I watched them, and I watched their last four games, and I formulated my opinion. I don’t, I would never put Fran Dunphy nor Mick Cronin in a situation where they’re sitting at league meetings and saying you’re not real supportive of the league, you’re sharing information. Nor would I share information with anybody about any of the Atlantic 10 people that are in the tournament.”
In the 2014 NCAA Tournament, the world discovered Martelli’s grandson Philip, a four-year-old who impersonated his grandfather from the stands. Martelli said two years later, Philip’s still dedicated, but has also found a new love and is no longer wearing his famous suits.
“He and my wife are with me. He has become a bit of a split -screen guy, though,” Martelli laughed. “He’s a huge Hawks fan, and obviously he’s a big supporter of his grandfather and the Hawks and DeAndre Bembry, and he could go through everybody on the team. He’s gotten away from wearing suits. They don’t make him as comfortable as he wants to be a fan now at the games and cheer. Truth be told, his suits two years ago were custom made. A friend of mine made him the suits, and he’s out grown them, and we would never go back and ask somebody to do something like that for him. At 6, he’s ok being a fan, but he’s absolutely certifiably nuts, like all of America is, about Steph Curry. So he even missed a Hawks game this year, on TV at Rhode Island, so he could go the 76ers and the Warriors. And Steph Curry’s mother, grew attached to Philip Stephen, and he got to meet Steph Curry. So he’s had a great year with a Steph Curry meeting and Atlantic 10 championship.”