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

BUBBLE BANTER: All of the action on the fringe of the NCAA tournament

Fred VanVleet
(AP Photo/Nati Harnik)
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Tonight’s bubble action. This post will be updated as the games are completed.

Cincinnati at UCF, 7:00 p.m.
Pitt at No. 12 Miami, 7:00 p.m.
No. 25 Wichita State at Drake, 8:00 p.m.
Ole Miss at Florida, 9:00 p.m.
Georgia at No. 22 Kentucky, 9:00 p.m.
Arkansas at Mississippi State, 9:00 p.m.

PREGAME SHOOTAROUND: A Big 12 and a Big Ten showdown

Denzel Valentine
(AP Photo/Al Goldis)
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GAME OF THE NIGHT: No. 10 West Virginia at No. 6 Kansas, 7:00 p.m.

The last time these two teams got together, West Virginia actually knocked off Kansas in Morgantown. It was the third time in the last three seasons that WVU has beaten KU at home. So there’s some revenge at stake here. But there’s also the whole Big 12 title race, which West Virginia currently leads. If the Mountaineers win tonight, they’ll be up by two games on Kansas with the tie breaker and just seven games left to play. The Jayhawks regular season title streak could be over if that happens.

THIS ONE’S GOOD, TOO: No. 8 Michigan State at No. 18 Purdue, 7:00 p.m.

We think the Spartans are back to their early season form after wins over Maryland (at home), Northwestern, Rutgers and Michigan. If Michigan State really wants to prove something to the college basketball world, they will go into West Lafayette tonight and get a win. Denzel Valentine vs. Raphael Davis will be fun.

FIVE THINGS TO WATCH FOR

  1. Pitt will pay a visit to No. 12 Miami in a game the Panthers could really use a win in. Pitt hasn’t been the most consistent team in the country and without adding a few quality wins they could be looking at the bubble.
  2. Duquesne will be paying a visit to No. 19 Dayton, who moved into a tie for first place in the Atlantic 10 thanks to VCU’s loss on Saturday.
  3. Georgia is right there on the bubble, and they will have a chance to try and push themselves into a better spot when they play at No. 22 Kentucky tonight.
  4. Creighton probably has to win out to have a shot of making the NCAA tournament, and that includes tonight, when they host No. 5 Xavier.
  5. No. 7 Virginia will be hosting Virginia Tech, who picked off the Wahoos in Blacksburg earlier this year.

THE REST OF THE TOP 25

  • No. 1 Villanova at DePaul, 8:30 p.m.
  • No. 25 Wichita State at Drake, 8:00 p.m.