Explaining College Recruitment or the Lack Thereof…

I am a trained political scientist. I try to structure my thoughts on social behavior using analytical frameworks borrowed from social science. One of the most powerful, and therefore most useful, is rational choice theory.  Rational choice is a framework for understanding and often formally modeling social and economic behavior.

Here we apply the basic premises of rational choice theory to the conundrum that is local college basketball recruiting. Basically, I’m trying develop an explanatory model make sense of shit that makes no sense at all…

Let me give a quick and dirty explanation of how I apply rational choice theory in this instance. I assume that aggregate social behavior (who gets and does not get D1 offers) results from the behavior of individual D1 coaches, each of whom is making their individual decisions. Rational choice theory then assumes that D1 coaches have preferences among the available high school/JUCO and transfer prospects that allow them to state which option they prefer. These preferences are assumed to be complete (the D1 coach can always say which of two prospects they consider preferable or that neither is preferred to the other) and transitive (if player A is preferred over player B and player B is preferred over player C, then A is preferred over C). In my rational choice model, D1 coaches are assumed to take account of available information, probabilities of events, and potential costs and benefits in determining preferences, and to act consistently in choosing the self-determined best choice of action.

Basically, a rational choice model assumes D1 coaches get out and actually watch the prospects first hand, have an understanding of the options each kid has, realize what the prospect can add to his program and work in good faith to win games and improve his program.

The challenge then becomes explaining recruiting outcomes that don’t make no muthafuckin sense.

In the Philadelphia region, there have been some truly befuddling recruiting outcomes in recent years. Sam Sessoms, Ryan Daly and Jhamir Brickus are examples that force me to call the explanatory power of rational choice theory into question.

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Sam Sessoms, Binghamton University

Sessoms was one of the best guards to come out of Philadelphia’s fiercely competitive schoolboy scene in recent years. Academics was not an issue for Sesssoms. He attended and did well at one of the elite private Main Line high schools. Moreover, he played on the prestigious Nike EYBL summer circuit. He played for the Team Final program that has consistently produced NBA players. During the winter, Sessoms absolutely scorched opponents during a dominant senior season that saw him easily eclipse the 2,000 point mark. Yet, he had exactly one (1) D1 scholarship offer from Binghamton University which plays in the low-major America East Conference.

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Ryan Daly, St. Joseph’s University

Ryan Daly was named the MVP in the Philadelphia Catholic League as a senior. Daly was the MOST VALUABLE PLAYER in one of the top 3-4 HS leagues in the nation. He is a fearless and fierce competitor capable of scoring in bunches from all three levels and rebounding like a power forward. Like Sessoms, his academic profile was beyond reproach. Indeed, he would have been accepted at Ivy or Patriot League schools. Then there is his DNA… his father and grandfather were Philadelphia Catholic League stalwarts and played college ball for St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia’s vaunted Big 5. Yet, very late into his senior season, he was struggling find an adequate suitor for his considerable skills. Fortunately, Delaware’s Martin Inglesby swooped minutes after being given his first head coaching opportunity and gave Daly an opportunity to play in the mid-major Colonial Athletic Conference.

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Jhamir Brickus, Coatesville High School

Fast forward to today… Jhamir Brickus has just exceeded the 2,000 point mark with about 20 or so games left in his scholastic career. He has Rip Hamilton in his rear view mirror and will soon lap John Allen to become Coatesville’s all-time leading scorer. He regularly gives highly respected opponents 40 or even 50 points in big games. See for example, the 52 piece family pack… with biscuits and extra gravy he dropped off on Chester in the PIAA playoffs last year. Brickus consistently dominates games from the backcourt with exceptional ball-handling and an uncanny knack for finishing at the rim through contact. Possessing exceptional vision, he is an elite passer. He has played a couple summers on the highly competitive Under Armour UAA circuit where he averaged double figures in points, 5 assists and less than 1 turnover per game… Please note… He averaged LESS than one turnover per game against some of the best competition available. Simply stated, Brickus is a bad, bad man… Yet, his has yet to reel in D1 offers commensurate with his exceptional abilities.

What da fuck? How do we make sense of these outcomes? In my search for answers, I’m leaning hard on the my understanding of rational choice theory… Truth be told… I’m really struggling to make this shit make sense…

The premise of rational choice theory is that the aggregate behavior (the total sum of D1 offers) reflects the sum of the choices made by individual D1 coaches. Each D1 coach, in turn, makes their choice based on their own preferences and the constraints (or choice set) they face.

The logic of the model holds that D1 coaches choose the action (or outcome) they most prefer. In the case where offers (or recruiting outcomes) can be evaluated in terms of costs and benefits, a rational coach chooses the prospect (or recruiting outcome) that provides the maximum net benefit, i.e., the maximum benefit minus cost.

The local D1 coaches (New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Washington, D.C. and Virginia) would experience very little costs recruiting these kids. Some gas, a few tolls and a couple Popeye’s chicken sandwiches on top of letters, phone calls, texts and DMs. Viewed in the context of their respective recruiting budgets, pursuing these guys costs nada, zilch, nothing…

The potential rewards? Daly exceeded 1000 points in two years and Sessoms may exceed 1,200 by the end of his sophomore campaign. Beyond that, these guys are Philly guards… They bring a level of toughness to programs that add a value that can’t be quantified. It’s apparent and easy to see now.

Indeed, if Sessoms or Daly were to enter the transfer portal today, each would likely receive 40-50 scholarship offers within a week. Think about that shit… The same D1 coaches that passed on them as high school seniors would relentlessly call, text, DM and visit them begging for their services today.

This begs the obvious question: How did they miss? Why couldn’t they see this 24-36 months ago?

We have to continue to assume that D1 coaches want to win… We must assume they want to add very good players. Indeed, the fact Zane Martin (New Mexico) receive offers from coaches at high major programs like Clemson, Seton Hall, Gonzaga and New Mexico 24 months after they were completely ignored by the same guys means something is seriously askew.

These fuckin’ coaches ain’t behaving rationally… The model doesn’t explain this shit…

Some really smart social scientists have introduced the useful concept of bounded rationality to account for situations precisely like this. Bounded rationality is the idea that rationality is limited, when individuals make decisions, by the tractability of the decision problem, the cognitive limitations of the mind, and the time available to make the decision. Decision-makers, in this view, act as satisficers, seeking a satisfactory solution rather than an optimal one.

In other words, coaches are limited by factors beyond their control. Plainly stated, some just are not that smart. In the words of my good friend, Amauro Austin, “some D1 coaches just don’t know what the hell they are looking at.” This was clearly the case in the recruitment of Ryan Daly. Coach after coach lamented that he was not an “explosive athlete.” They openly cited his lack of foot speed and the fact that he played “below the rim” as factors explaining their lack of a scholarship offer.

I would openly question if I had contacted the right office. I had to remind these guys, I was not trying to reach the track coach. I was not arguing that Ryan should run the 100 or 200 meter dash… Nor, was I suggesting that he be recruited as a high jumper…

“Sorry, coach… my bad… I thought you were looking for good fuckin’ BASKETBALL players.”

Same with Sessoms… He was too small… Incredibly, some even wondered if he could play at the D1 level at all. This as he was punishing opponent after opponent, it seemed like they were all reading from the same script. He can’t really shoot from distance… He’s not a true point guard… blah… blah… blah…

Huh?

Well… We seem to be headed down the same road with Brickus.

Here’s script on Jig… He doesn’t really play hard… He’s more of a small shooting guard… He doesn’t like to play defense… He’s too cool… He doesn’t play against anyone…

Once again, I find myself dealing with the “cognitive limitations” of a lot of D1 coaches.

I just want these guys to be actual rational actors… Unfortunately, more often than we care to admit, Amauro Austin’s assessment is dead on…

“Some D1 coaches just don’t know what the hell they are looking at.”

A Hawk is a Hawk… Right?

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Actually… I am not friends with Lange. I do know and respect his wife from working at St. Joseph’s. I met her when she worked as an academic advisor for student-athletes at SJU… I was tutoring several players…

Arguably Lange is qualified.

His hiring would be perceived as a slap in the face by some that have supported and believed in the “Hawk Tradition” in the Philadelphia community.

Philly College Basketball fans in their 40’s and 50’s grew up on the Hawk. Even the Black guys. Since Blunt wants to have the “race” discussion…

We know about Ramsay, Lynam, McKinney, Boyle, Griffin, Martelli… These are Hawks…

We also know about Clark, Warrick, Costner, McFarlan, Williams, Martin, Arnold and Flint… These are Hawks…

For the younger set it was O’Connor, Bey, Bass, Myers, Davis, Crenshaw, West and Nelson… These are Hawks…

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The Hawk

A Hawk is a Hawk… Right?

Generally speaking, throughout Hawk basketball history, the “best” available Hawk has been given an opportunity to lead St. Joseph’s Basketball into battle.

This is how the position has been filled…

Flint, Baggett, Arnold, Bass and Nelson are Hawks. In varying ways, they are at least, as qualified as Lynam, Boyle, Griffin at the same points in their coaching careers.

Currently, the Men’s Head Coach position at St. Joseph’s is OPEN.

This job, almost always, has gone to the most qualified Hawk.

Jameer Nelson is also qualified.

Hardaway in Memphis, Mullin at St. John’s, McKie at Temple, Ewing at Georgetown are the appropriate comparisons for the Nelson candidacy.

More importantly…

Nelson, more than any other Hawk in my lifetime, has brought honor and glory to Saint Joseph’s. I was there… I saw firsthand…

Saint Joseph’s was at legitimate top 10-15 program for Jameer’s last 2 seasons and peaked with run to the top.

While at St. Joseph’s, Jameer Nelson was the finest player in College Basketball… The very best… I was there…

He has been an exemplary citizen.

Nearly 10,000 points and 4,508 assists in the NBA.

Graduated from Saint Joseph’s!

Committed his son to St. Joseph’s!

The St. Joseph’s University Men’s Basketball Coach position is open. This job has always gone to Hawks, with Phil Martelli being the notable exception. Phil did run point for St. Joseph’s Prep and Phil had been a ten year assistant. Notably, Bass has twice that and he’s a Hawk. Geoff has at least the same amount of experience and he’s a Hawk.

As an aside… I think the Hawk basketball community should include Terrell Myers in discussions about positioning the the “strategic asset”.

His AAU program has won the National 17U Championship on the Under Armour Circuit 3 out of the last 5 years. Over the past few years, players from his program have committed to Duke, Miami, Maryland, UNLV, Villanova and Providence… He is a Hawk… I was there with Terrell as well…

Something is amiss…

Everything that the “Hawk” stands for says that Nelson, Flint, Arnold or Baggett will be announced at the next head coach.

The job is open and they are Hawks…

Just like Ramsay, Lynam, McKinney, Boyle, Griffin, Martelli…

Would you ask Ramsay, Lynam, McKinney, Boyle or Griffin to work FOR Billy Lange at SAINT JOSEPH’S?

John Becker? Dane Fife? Billy Lange?

Huh?

The Hawk is on the clock…

 

 

 

Fresh Kimble, St. Joseph’s Point Guard

The list is long… Some really good names…

Bob McNeill ’60, Jimmy Lynam ’63, Matt Goukas ’66, Jim O’Brien ’74, Jeff Clark ’82, Bryan Warrick ’82, Maurice Martin ’86, Geoffrey Arnold ’86, Wayne Williams ’86, Bruiser Flint ’87, Rap Curry ’94, Bernard Blunt ’95, Mark Bass ’96, Terrell Myers ’97, Na’im Crenshaw ’02, Marvin O’Connor ’02, Jameer Nelson ’04, Delonte West ’04, Tyrone Barley ’04, Pat Carroll ’06, Tasheed Carr ’09, Carl Jones ’13, Langston Galloway ’14, Shavar Newkirk ’17

Where will Fresh Kimble end up? Will he be just another good St. Joseph’s guard? Or, will he be an all-time great on Hawk Hill?

Tough call… he’s right at the midway point in his career. Nonetheless, he’s climbing fast…

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Fresh Kimble, St. Joseph’s Redshirt Junior Point Guard

Statistically speaking, he’s on their asses!

Fresh has well over 600 points 2 games into his junior season. Conservatively estimating that he will score at a clip of 16 ppg and play another 60 games in a St. Joseph’s uniform, he will end up somewhere in the 1,500 point range. Likewise, it seems safe to project him somewhere in the 400-500 career assist range. Those numbers would make him one of the most productive point guards in the history of St. Joe’s. Focusing purely on statistical output, he would be somewhere near the top of the aforementioned list of names.

However, it must be emphasized that statistics are a mere small part of the rubric employed to evaluate and measure St. Joseph’s University guards. Simply stated, wins outweigh individual performance by a substantial margin once one traverses behind the stone walls surrounding Hawk Hill.

It’s the wins… The overabundance of victories that make Jameer Nelson the Gladys Knight of St. Joseph’s guards. Indeed, it’s truly difficult to imagine someone other than Nelson singing lead.

Fresh Kimble, nonetheless, is making a strong case for a spot as one of the Pips…

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Gladys Knight and the Pips

Since his last foot injury, Kimble has come back looking extremely svelte. He appears to be at least 15-20 pounds lighter. As a result, he’s quicker, bouncier and, early on, more effective.

A more effective Kimble is a problem for his A10 opponents. Last time we had an extended look at him he averaged an impressive 15.5 ppg, 4.5 apg, and 4.0 rpg from the point guard position for Head Coach Phil Martelli. Those numbers from the 2015-16 season were accumulated over the course of 24 games.

Coming out of the gate that year, Martelli appeared to have, once again, caught lightning in the bottle. Kimble teamed with Sharvar Newark (20.3 ppg, 4.8 rpg and 3.5 through 12 games) to form one of the most electrifying and productive backcourts in the nation. This pair of sub-six foot guards was rocking and rolling.

But it would not last… In game 12, all alone in the open court at Hagan Arena, Newkirk tore his ACL and went down for the season. Kimble would last another 12 games without his comrade, before a foot injury would end his campaign. What could have been?

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Neumann-Goretti PIAA State Champions

A product of Carl Arrigale’s nationally renown Neumann-Goretti Saints program, Kimble understands what it means to be a good teammate and a leader of a team. Named Captain as sophomore, he did not allow that fact that he wasn’t on the floor to impact his job performance as captain.

Leaders lead… Fresh Kimble is just a leader!

Neumann-Goretti and Nike Team Final (AAU) sent a college ready point guard to St. Joseph’s. He fervently and diligently worked to get back on the court. Mission accomplished, or so we all thought…

I was there for the return of Fresh… Opening night of the 2017-2018 season… He was a little anxious and a little rusty… That was to be expected, but there he was… Competing like a pitbull as usual…

Then it happened again… Huh? You’ve got to be fuckin’ kidding!

He injured the foot again… As the crowd watched in disbelief, we saw him trying to disregard the all to familiar pain shooting violently through his lower extremity… Kimble knew what it was… He knew all too well and he tried to will his way through it… For a while, he refused to succumb… He stayed on the floor played a few possessions with a broken foot…

But, once he came off the floor, he knew he wasn’t going to return… In a rare display of emotion, he slammed his hand down on one of the chairs… Reality was settling in… Same shit all over again…

Again, he was exemplary in how he dealt with this adversity. Always present… Always accounted for… Always a gentleman… Always a scholar… Most importantly, ALWAYS the Captain…

Another year of tortuous rehabilitation… Another year of chomping at the bit… Another year of watching his teammates struggling on the court and knowing he would make a difference.

FUCK!

Nonetheless, time passes… Yet another season comes around… The Captain reappears.

This time he’s really ready… Slimmer… Faster… More explosive… More aggressive…

He returns to reshaped squad, Martelli went down to Washington D.C. and found Kimble a protege… Thus far, freshman guard Jared Bynum is capably filling the void created by Newkirk’s graduation.

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Jared Bynum, St. Joseph’s Freshman Guard

The backcourt guys look good… Really good… So good, it got me to thinking about where Fresh will end up in the pantheon St. Joseph’s guards. As noted earlier, we must concede that he could never be Gladys Knight. Jameer will forever be the lead singer. To state otherwise is denial of revealed truth among Hawk faithful. But, a healthy Kimble is about knock someone off for one of those Pip spots. Yup…

Now this is a touchy subject among the older Hawks. Truth be told, Geoff Arnold and Bruiser Flint, to this day, have never conceded that the ’04 Hawks would have defeated the ’86 Hawks. This despite the fact that the ’04 Hawks beat damn near everybody… Now don’t get me wrong, they love Nelson, West, Barley and Carroll. They just do NOT believe they were BETTER than Flint, Arnold, Wayne Williams and Maurice Martin.

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Fresh Kimble, St. Joseph’s Captain

I haven’t asked them about Fresh… yet.

I’m sure they think he’s still in their rear view mirror.

The fact of the matter is… Kimble has pulled up right beside them…

And… he’s got about 60 games left.

He’s trying to get to the station. Jameer’s waiting… There’s Midnight Train to Georgia…

Phil Martelli: Still Standing Strong!

It was December 7, 2013… I remember it like it was last night…

Jay Wright brought his undefeated and 14th ranked Wildcats down Lancaster Ave. for a “Holy War” matchup with the Saint Joseph’s University Hawks. For the first 20 minutes, it was a fairly even game. Villanova entered the locker room at halftime leading 39-35. I looked forward to a typically tight Big 5 finish.

Then it happened… Whoaaaa… I have no idea what Wright said to his troops during the intermission. But… Daaaaaaaymn it worked!

I have always imagined it had to be something along the lines of Ray Rhodes’ legendary motivational speech to his Eagles team. If you are an Eagles fan of a certain age, you know the speech, Rhodes told his squad to think of the other team as burglars coming into their homes to beat their kids and rape their wives.

Had to be something along those lines… I was a witness…

Nova came out of the locker room, the buzzer sounded…

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James Bell, 25 points and 14 rebounds on 12/07/2013

 

The Wildcats made the Hawks go into the bushes and get a switch. “And… you betta NOT bring back a lil’ one…” Then they told ‘em to take off their pants. They proceeded to whoop dat ass UNMERCIFULLY for 20 minutes straight. It was the kind of whoopin’ that left huge welts on the upper thigh and gluteus maximus for days… If you from ’round da way, it was an “extension cord” type of ass whoopin’…

Final score Villanova 98, St. Joseph’s 68… Drubbed by thirty! JayVaughn Pinkston had 27 and 8. James Bell finished with 25 and 14. It was UGLY! In front of a standing room only packed Hagan Arena…

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JayVaughn Pinkston, 27 points and 8 rebounds on 12/07/2013

The air was thick with tension, disappointment and frustration as the lashes were administered… Whoop… Whoop… Whoop… They NEVER let up…

Remember how you felt sorry for your homie as you sat outside the window and listened to his Momma whoop dat ass for the dumb shit y’all did… That’s how it felt for 4,200 Hawk fans that night…

One young man, however, decided to take it a step further… He crossed a line… He came over to the family section directly behind the St. Joseph’s bench and proceeded to belt out a rhythmic chant at the top of his lungs…

“FIRE PHIL… FIRE PHIL… FIRE PHIL… FIRE PHIL… FIRE PHIL… FIRE PHIL…”

This went on for 1 minute, then 2 minutes, then 4 minutes…

It became apparent that this young man was not going to cease.

Finally, Phil’s lovely wife Judy, grandchild in her arms decided to stand about 3 feet directly in front of this young man and stare through his soul. If looks could kill, this young man died a thousand deaths.

I truly feared she might revert to her Immaculata playing days and elbow the young man in his orbital socket…

Awkward, uncomfortable, vexatious, exasperating… I cannot find the words to describe the feeling I had standing proximate to these two die hard Hawk supporters…

In some ways, I understood the positions of both parties… The fan was humiliated… The Hawks did not put up a fight… As Buddy Ryan would say, they “lifted their skirt.” For the first time in my three decades of following St. Joseph’s basketball, the Hawk, while not dead, was on life support.

I had high hopes for that particular Hawk squad. Langston Galloway, Ronald Roberts and Halil Kanacevic were All-League level players and DeAndre Bembry was the ultimate glue guy as a freshman. I too was EXTREMELY disappointed…

But, to relentlessly call for a man to be fired within a few feet of his wife, daughter, father and grandchildren was bit much for me…

I needed to talk with someone… Someone that could provide some perspective…

What the FUCK was goin’ on?

The next day, I called Rashid Bey… Phil’s first truly great player at St. Joseph’s, Bey is a 2-time Big 5 MVP Award winner and Big Hall of Famer. He led the Hawks to a Sweet 16 appearance in the 1997 NCAA Tournament.

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Rashid Bey, Big 5 Hall of Famer

“What up Sheed?”

I described what I had witnessed the night before… In great detail, I spelled out the ass whoopin’… I complained about the tactless display by the understandably frustrated fan… I sympathized with Judy enduring a relentless call for her husband’s termination…

“What the FUCK Rashid?”

In response, he very calmly said to me… “I think Phil is gonna go on a run with this team… watch.”

I thought… “Huh? Sheed is bugging”

Fast forward to March 16, 2014, I was at the team hotel with Langston, Ron, Halil and Phil… I was in the room when their name was called and they found out they would play UConn in the NCAA tournament. Just as his former player predicted, Phil went on a run with that team and they won the A-10 Championship a couple hours earlier at the Barclay Center in Brooklyn, NY.

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2014 A10 Champions, St. Joseph’s University Hawks

I say all of that to say…There’s something about the connection Martelli has with really good players he coaches. It was there with Bey and Myers… It was there with O’Connor and Crenshaw… It was there with Nelson, West and Carroll… Bey had premonition that it would emerge with Galloway.

He was right…

It would emerge two years later with Bembry and Miles… Another run… Another A-10 Championship…

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2016 A10 Champions, St. Joseph’s University Hawks

Martelli has a gift… He is able to get really good players to believe in themselves… Over and over we have seen his guys become enormously confident in themselves and lift their teammates…

Once they reach this point, Phil is a master at knowing when to step aside and let them go. Typically, these players are highly skilled guards and wings. Once they are on the same page, Phil truly gets out of their way. It becomes and absolute pleasure to watch them play the right way without him riding them day in and day out.

Oh… He will always FORCEFULLY redirect the supporting players that miss an assignment or give less than full effort. But when St. Joseph’s is really good, Martelli has really talented guys he can trust… These 2 or 3 guys rarely miss an assignment and they always give maximum effort. They lead by example.

It’s a joy to watch Martelli at this point in his coaching career. He has led Saint Joseph’s to seven NCAA Tournaments and six NITs.  He has been named Atlantic 10 Coach of the Year 4 times (1997, 2001, 2004, 2005). He was Naismith College Coach of the Year (2004) and Associated Press Coach of the Year (2004). But, that’s not the stuff most remember…

He came in rumbling Steve Lappas, Speedy Morris and John Chaney. He’s squared off against their successors. His friendly rivalry with Bruiser spanned Flint’s tenure with UMass and Drexel. He’s seen Billy Hahn, Glen Miller, Jerome Allen and John Giannini come and go.

This will be the final year he faces his dear friend Fran Dunphy.

This past off season, the pages of Big 5 history were turned yet again. Ashley Howard took the reigns at La Salle and Aaron McKie was formally installed as the Head Coach in Waiting at Temple.

These changes sparked a lot of discussion about the recruiting landscape in Philadelphia. Martelli heard the whispers. Those Coach of the year Trophies really didn’t seem to matter that much…

“Could he still relate to the high school kids? Could he compete with Aaron and Ashley in the living rooms of recruits?”

Martelli grabbed his smartphone and let everybody know exactly how he felt… “I’m still the O.G! I’m still here!”

While he was congratulatory toward McKie and Howard, he called every AAU and High School coach in the area and let them know he intended to continue competing aggressively in his hometown. He was yielding no ground…

That call made me smile…

A few months later, Ryan Daly (Archbishop Carroll) is on his roster. Hakim Hart (Roman Catholic) and Jameer Nelson (Haverford) have committed to attend SJU.

On the floor, silky-smooth, super shooting wing Charlie Brown (George Washington) and point guard Fresh Kimble (Neumann-Goretti) are combining with the uber-cerebral forward Pierfrancesco Oliva to lead the way for the 2018-2019 Hawks.

They played their first game last night. A good win over a tough, experienced, athletic Old Dominion team. I know it’s only one game… BUT… It’s pretty obvious Fresh, Charlie and Oliva are good players beginning to believe in themselves… All three have missed a season due to injury. They are hungry… They want to win…

Oh… I saw Martelli carrying two of his precious grandchildren last night… The mood in the room was just a tad lighter than that dreadful night 5 years ago…

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Martelli and 5 of his grandchildren after win over ODU

I’m bout to call Rashid… Tell you what he says…