By AARON BRACY
Over and over, I keep hearing and reading about La Salle’s supposed “slow start.” It’s been said and written that the Explorers aren’t handling the pressure, are awash in their success of last season and are not living up to expectations.
The talk likely will intensify after the Explorers’ 71-63 loss to Providence Sunday night in the Paradise Jam semifinals dropped them to 3-3.
La Salle’s .500 record has nothing to do with underachieving and everything to do with two words: Ramon Galloway.
The Explorers, who face Northern Iowa Monday night at 7:30 in the Paradise Jam consolation game, will be a good team this season. But they won’t be a great team. They likely will contend in the Atlantic 10 and could earn a third straight trip to the postseason, be it the NIT or NCAA tournament. Making it to the postseason would be a success for this group.
Another Sweet 16 run? Highly unlikely. OK, I’ll say it: It’s not going to happen.
Am I down on the Explorers? No, not at all. I love Tyreek Duren’s game, Jerrell Wright is a beast inside, Tyrone Garland is an electric scorer and role players like Sam Mills, D.J. Peterson and Steve Zack would be valuable in any Division I program.
But people who think the Explorers are struggling are missing that La Salle’s success over the last two seasons largely was attributable to Galloway. If Galloway still was wearing the Blue and Gold and not playing professionally in Germany, you’d hear me saying and writing the same thing as everyone else.
But Galloway is not there. As a result, La Salle is what it is, which is a good but not great team.
Plain and simple.
That fact has more to do with Galloway than about what is remaining, something that has been lost in this discussion about the Explorers’ so-called struggles.
How about some perspective?
Prior to Galloway’s arrival in 2011-12 as a transfer from South Carolina, the Explorers had gone 20 straight seasons without making a postseason tournament. La Salle finished with a losing record in 17 of those 20 seasons, with a .436 winning percentage (255-330) over that span.
In Galloway’s first season, La Salle snapped the two-decade postseason drought by going 21-13 and earning a berth in the NIT. Last season, the Explorers finished 24-10 and, of course, danced into America’s hearts to the Sweet 16 as a supposed Cinderella.
I say supposed because La Salle’s run last season didn’t surprise me at all, something I am on record saying prior to the start of the tournament: (look between 3:30-4:30 on the CBS3 clip).
Why was I not surprised then? Mainly because of what Galloway brought to the Explorers. In two seasons, the 6-foot-4 guard averaged the following: 15.7 points, 43.5 percent field-goal shooting, 42.4 percent 3-point shooting, 3.6 assists, 4.6 rebounds, 1.7 steals.
That’s filling up a stat sheet.
But numbers don’t do justice to what Galloway brought to Olney Avenue. It is not hyperbole to say that he transformed La Salle’s program, turning a perennial loser into a winner with an infusive winning mentality.
Of course, he couldn’t have done it without Duren, Garland, Wright and the supporting cast. But neither could they have done it without him – as we are seeing.
Galloway is one of those rare individuals that can captivate an audience, be it a cynical media or a teammate who would rather sleep in than work on his jumper. Galloway led his teammates in early-morning shooting sessions that included launching 1,000 jumpers before morning classes. Shortly after his arrival, he renamed the Explorers the “Pit Bulls,” signifying their mentality on defense.
He guarded an opponent’s top perimeter player, scored whenever La Salle needed a bucket, put up a rim-rattling highlight dunk to energize his team and the crowd, and never backed down from anyone.
Think that rubbed off?
The effect he had on the La Salle program is comparable to what Jameer Nelson did for St. Joe’s in the early 2000’s.
Ramon Galloways and Jameer Nelsons don’t come around very often to programs that aren’t regulars in the national championship conversation. Look at what happened to the Hawks when Nelson left. It’s no coincidence that Explorers aren’t performing the way they did last season.
Without Galloway, it’s simply not possible.
Aaron Bracy’s Weekly City 6 rankings for Nov. 25 (record in parentheses):
1. Villanova (4-0): The Wildcats eked out an 84-80 win over a gutty Delaware squad Friday night. Liked what I saw, particularly from JayVaughn Pinkston and Darrun Hilliard. Will learn more about this team beginning Thursday against USC in Battle 4 Atlantis.
2. St. Joe’s (2-1): Hawks return to the court Thursday after a nearly two-week vacation by playing LSU in Orlando at Old Spice Classic. A second-round matchup against Memphis would do wonders for St. Joe’s resume.
3. Drexel (3-1): The Dragons, as expected here, advanced to MSG for the NIT Season Tip-Off semfinals. Arizona is ranked No. 5 in the country. That won’t scare Bruiser Flint’s team. It should be close and don’t be surprised if the Dragons reach the final.
4. Temple (3-3): Dalton Pepper combined for 46 points in much-needed wins over Georgia and UAB to close out the Charleston Classic. Great to see the Pennsbury product perform so well, something that the Owls will need to compete in The American.
5. La Salle (3-3): Explorers fought back from 13-point second-half deficit before falling at the end to Providence Sunday night. La Salle will return to Philly feeling alright with a win over Northern Iowa Monday.
6. Penn (1-3): A 31-point defeat, regardless of the opponent, won’t sit well with any coach. For as big of a competitor as Jerome Allen is, I wouldn’t have wanted to be on the flight home with him after Friday’s blowout defeat to Iowa. Look for a strong game Tuesday against Niagara.
-Aaron Bracy is the Philahoops.com founder and columnist. His City 6 rankings column appears on Mondays. Share your thoughts with Aaron at [email protected], @Aaron_Bracy on Twitter and/or in the comments section below.
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