Phil Martelli

Phil Martelli coping with more than just basketball challenges

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Losing at home in the first round of the NIT and failing to meet the high expectations set out for a team at the beginning of a season would be tough for any coach to cope with during the offseason. Make no mistake about it, St. Joseph’s head coach Phil Martelli isn’t happy about his team’s conclusion to a very up-and-down season. He’s also not thrilled with the proposition of replacing forward C.J. Aiken who will not be returning for his senior season after declaring for the NBA Draft. But, in the grand scheme of things, these basketball related issues are the least of his worries.

In a story by Mike Jensen of Philly.com, Martelli has suffered through the passing of his sister–unexpectedly, due to heart failure–and his sister-in-law who lost her battle with cancer, and dealt with his elderly mother’s broken hip after falling all within the past two months.

Not to mention, the entire college basketball community has been made aware of his son Jimmy’s resignation as an assistant coach at Rutgers following the Mike Rice scandal.

It is well-documented that being a college basketball coach is a pressure-filled occupation–imagine your job depending upon the performance of 18-22 year old kids–so to compound those pressures with difficulty at home has taken its toll on Martelli.

The night of St. Joseph’s home loss to St. John’s in the NIT was when Martelli’s sister was dealing with heart complications. To give you an idea of just how sudden her death was, Martelli remarked: “my sister was on the phone with my secretary, asking if I’d leave tickets for my nephew.”

When he received the news of his sister’s passing, he said: “Basically, for no other description, her heart stopped beating. If the normal heart works at 75 percent capacity, my sister’s heart was working at 5 percent. Systems started to fail. It wasn’t a heart attack, it wasn’t a stroke. She was 53, with a 9-year-old.”

The lone bright spot over these past few months is that, despite his mother’s tumble and subsequent broken hip, she is recovering very well: “[She is the] shining light in this whole thing. She’s doing great. She’s encouraged by her therapy. She’s getting around. She’s getting out. I wouldn’t have bet on that.”

Being the head coach at St. Joseph’s for nearly 20 years, the performance of his program constantly weighs on his mind. The fact that the Hawks haven’t won an NCAA Tournament game since their run to the Elite Eight in 2004, and haven’t made an appearance in the Big Dance since 2008 doesn’t make this time any easier for him. Understandably so, many of the St. Joseph’s faithful are wondering whether Martelli’s time is up on Hawk Hill, to which he responded with: “We’ve got to get better. I don’t begrudge anyone their opinion. Here’s my only thing – the greatest angst over winning or losing a game is felt by myself and my players and my staff.”

Martelli, who is regarded as one of the true gentleman to coach in college basketball, is ostensibly welcoming the challenge of bringing St. Joseph’s back to an NCAA Tournament as it acts as a nice distraction from everything that has transpired off the basketball court. St. Joseph’s figures to be somewhere in the middle of a competitive Atlantic 10 conference next season after losing Aiken and graduating Carl Jones.

You can find Kevin on twitter @KLDoyle11

Arizona lands first commitment in 2017 class

Alex Barcello (Jon Lopez/Nike)
(Jon Lopez/Nike)
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Arizona landed their first commitment in the Class of 2017 on Friday night as point guard Alex Barcello pledged to Sean Miller and the Wildcats.

Barcello is a 6-foot-2 point guard from Tempe who plays his high school ball for Corona del Sol. He committed to the Wildcats on an official visit to the Tucson campus.

Barcello is a borderline top 100 prospect who sits at No. 123 in the Rivals top 150. He’s known for his ability to shoot, and he’s more of a combo-guard — i.e. shoot-first — than a point guard at times, but he’s a nice pickup and projects as a solid four-year player for the Wildcats.

Virginia, Indiana, Stanford and Butler were the other four schools on Barcello’s list.

Duke lands first commitment in 2017 class

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Alex O’Connell knew exactly where he wanted to play his college ball, which is why, just two days after picking up an offer from Coach K and the Blue Devils, he became Duke’s first recruit in the Class of 2017.

O’Connell announced the on twitter on Friday afternoon:

O’Connell is a four-star prospect from Georgia that had a terrific summer, going from being a borderline top 75 prospect to a player that caught the interest of Duke, who, along with Kentucky, sit atop the college recruiting hierarchy. He’s an explosively athletic and lanky 6-foot-6 wing with three-point range on his jumper. He needs to add some weight and some strength — he’s listed as a crisp 175 pounds — but he has the tools, and the swagger, to develop into a very effective player in the ACC.

Is he a one-and-done prospect?

Probably not. In fact, since 2010, Duke has landed just two players that were rated lower than O’Connell: Antonio Vrankovic and Jack White. If you know who both of them are, you’re probably either Jon Scheyer or lying.

But what O’Connell is is a kid who put in the work to get better this past year and who has the skill set, the physical tools and work ethic to continue to improve. He may not be on Grayson Allen’s trajectory, but O’Connell has the makings of being an impact player for the Blue Devils for three or four years.

Alex O'Connell (Jon Lopez/Nike)
Alex O’Connell (Jon Lopez/Nike)

Shaka Smart lands contract extension at Texas

Texas head coach Shaka Smart instructs his team in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Baylor on Monday, Feb. 1, 2016, in Waco, Texas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez
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Shaka Smart has already landed himself a contract extension at Texas.

The school, according to the Austin American-Statesman, has given Shaka a one-year extension — through the 2022-23 season — and bumped his salary up to a cool $3 million, a raise of $100,000 annually.

Smart’s Longhorns went 20-13 last season and lost on a half court buzzer beater from Northern Iowa’s Paul Jespersen. It will be tough for Smart to match the success that he had last season, specifically because he lost senior point guard Isaiah Taylor to the professional ranks.

That said, the former VCU head man has been reeling in quite a bit of talent from the state of Texas — namely, Andrew Jones and Jarrett Allen — and is not all that far from turning the Longhorns back into a relevant member of the Big 12 title race.

Arizona and Texas headline Lone Star Shootout

PROVIDENCE, RI - MARCH 17:  Head coach Sean Miller of the Arizona Wildcats reacts in the first half against the Wichita State Shockers during the first round of the 2016 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Dunkin' Donuts Center on March 17, 2016 in Providence, Rhode Island.  (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
Jim Rogash/Getty Images
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Another marquee, early season event is on the books for the college basketball season as four potential tournament teams will be squaring off at the Toyota Center in Houston on Dec. 17th.

The highlight of the double-header, which has been dubbed the Lone Star Shootout, will probably end up being Arizona vs. Texas A&M. The Wildcats are a Pac-12 contender and a borderline top 10 team as we enter the season, and while the Aggies will have work to do replacing the seniors they lost off of last season’s roster, they’re a borderline top 25 team.

The other matchup will feature a pair of former Southwest Conference rivals facing off in Texas and Arkansas. Texas will be talented but young while Arkansas may actually have the best player on the floor in Moses Kingsley. What will make this matchup interesting is that both Mike Anderson and Shaka Smart are known for being coaches that prefer a full court pressing system.

“We are extremely excited about the opportunity to play in front of our fans at the Toyota Center in Houston,” Texas head coach Shaka Smart said in a statement. “It is one of the most important areas in this state as it relates to our recruiting and fan base.

Five-star 2017 guard Lonnie Walker cuts list to five schools

Men's U18 trials head shots and team photo on 6.15.16
Bart Young/USA Basketball
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Five-star shooting guard Lonnie Walker is coming off of a very good summer as he trimmed his list to five schools on Thursday night.

The 6-foot-4 native of Reading, Pennsylvania is still considering Arizona, Kentucky, Miami, Syracuse and Villanova, he announced on Twitter.

Regarded as the No. 26 overall prospect in the Class of 2017, Walker played with Team Final in the Nike EYBL this spring and summer as he averaged 16.6 points, 4.7 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game. Walker shot 45 percent from the field, 39 percent from three-point range and 72 percent from the free-throw line.

An efficient scorer who is learning to drive with both hands, Walker is very talented and the type of guard who might also be able to handle a bit as well.