St. Joe’s Plays Rocky Balboa in Winning the 2016 Atlantic 10 Tournament

The Saint Josephs basketball program is one of college basketballs hidden mid-major gems. The program represents everything that a traditional, well-run, D-I, coeducational Roman Catholic Jesuit university strives to provide for their student-athletes.

St. Joes is a university that still values upperclassmen, they are a well-known entity that makes NCAA Tournaments and had an unforgettable run at the No. 1 spot in 2004.

Continuity and commitment to consistency, basketball morals and three decades of one man promoting one voice and dedicating his life to one university has allowed St. Joes to make a name for itself in this cutthroat and dangerously competitive college basketball dynamic.

In Philadelphia, the success of Hawks coach Phil Martelli borders on legend. Hes been on the coaching staff in some capacity at the school with just 4,850 undergraduates enrolled, since 1985. Since taking over as the programs sultan of strategy, Martelli has been named Atlantic 10 Coach of the Year four times, most recently in 2005, and has led the team to six NCAA tournament appearances.

Martellis seventh NCAA appearance was stamped this afternoon, well before the field for the highly-anticipated NCAA tourney was announced.

In an Atlantic 10 Championship game filled with drama, physicality, trash talking, techs and a player ejections, the Hawks defeated VCU 87-74 at The Barclays Center in Brooklyn.

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Over the years, the Hawks program has grown into a March Madness darling that produces NBA talent. They have made one Final Four, two Elite Eights, and seven Sweet Sixteens since 1959. Throughout the school’s history, 29 different players have been drafted into the NBA.

To put St. Joseph basketball into proper perspective, the mens program was ranked 43rd best of all-time by Smith & Street’s magazine — and that was back in 2005.

Martelli coached NBA players Jameer Nelson (2004, 20th overall) Delonte West (2004, 24th overall) and current Knicks guard Langston Galloway, among others.

Coming off of a 24-win season and NCAA tourney bid in 2014-15, the Hawks stumbled to a 1318 record last season, their first losing season since 201011.

Only an icon, an institution like Martelli, could survive last seasons down year, come right back the next season and win the conference championship for the second time in three years. It was merely a quick elevator ride for Martelli, who survived back-to-back 11-win seasons and an online petition for his head back in 2010 and 2011, which he rectified by returning St. Joe’s to the NCAA Tournament (2013-14) for the first time in six years 

By late January, St. Joes had destroyed any notion about another losing season by blazing out to a 17-3 record and gaining national attention, before eventually finishing a strong fourth in the A-10 regular season.  

In Sundays championship game, junior DeAndre Bembry stepped up after scoring just nine points in the fourth-seeded Hawks 82-79 semifinal upset of  No. 1 seed Dayton.

The 6-foot-6 multi-faceted forward from Charlotte, NC scorched the prideful Rams defense for 30 points on 13-of-16 shooting. When VCU was mounting a comeback late in the game and the momentum was shifting, Bembry took over offensively and refused to lose to VCU for the second time this season.

I was telling them I got them. Its my team and I came out and showed why I’m Player of the Year, said Bembry.

He also recalls and values the rebuilding stretch they went through last season.

Last year was a rough year for us, Bembry said. Im just glad that guys who were on the team last year got to see the championship this year.

Martelli attributes the quick turnaround to his teams patience and willingness to embrace his philosophies.  

They have wonderful team character, Martelli said following the game. Theyve been like this since August. I told them in August, I think youre the best team in the A-10. They went step by step, they let us coach them and its a special achievement for those guys.

Despite being projected as the seventh-best team in the 14-team conference in the preseason coaches poll, Saint Joseph’s finds itself in a familiar place; gaining momentum as they enter the NCAA Tournament, as a sleeper team with NBA talent and proven leadership, looking to pull a few upsets along the way.     

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