We move from Broad Street to Lancaster Avenue today, by way of the Roosevelt Expressway and City Avenue. With Saint Joseph's set to visit former Villanova assistant Pat Chambers' Boston University squad tonight, it's a good time to pick the top Hawks and Wildcats players from this decade.
Jameer Nelson, guard: It would not be hard to make the case that Nelson was the best player of the decade anywhere in the city. Among his many accomplishments on Hawk Hill were leading St. Joe's to a perfect 27-0 season and a No. 1 NCAA Tournament seed in 2004. Along the way, there were two Big 5 championships, a Sports Illustrated cover shoot, and national prominence the likes of which Hawk Hill had not seen in decades.
Delonte West, guard: Maybe it was because he was the complementary player to Nelson, or maybe it was because of his beautiful three-point stroke. For whatever reason, I can honestly say that I liked watching West more than I did Jameer Nelson. Whichever player you preferred, there's no question that they formed one of the best backcourt combinations this city has ever seen.
Marvin O'Connor, guard: When I was a senior in high school, Saint Joseph's and Temple played a double-overtime game at the Palestra that was broadcast nationally by ABC. It was my first real exposure to the Big 5, even if it was just through my television. I still remember the duel between O'Connor and Lynn Greer. Even though O'Connor came up short that day, he finished his career with an average of 18.9 points per game. He was also a first-team all-Big 5 honoree in 2000, 2001 and 2002.
Pat Calathes, forward: This pick was very hard to make. It was down to Calathes and Rob Ferguson. Both players are two of only four in the program this decade that totaled over 1,000 points and 500 rebounds. The other two were already on my list. Calathes and Ferguson had almost the same points totals - 1,251 and 1,258 respectively - so it came down to rebounds. Calathes had the edge by a 630-562 margin, so he gets the nod.
Ahmad Nivins, center: This pick was easy. Nivins averaged 14.2 points and 7.6 rebounds per game for his career, including 19.2 points and 11.8 rebounds per game as a senior. His total of 1,789 points is the third-highest in St. Joe's history, and his total of 955 rebounds is sixth-highest. Nivins was a first-team all-Big 5 honoree in 2007 and 2009, but surprisingly not in 2008 - the year his Hawks made the NCAA Tournament for the first time since the Nelson/West era.
Allan Ray, guard: Even though he never went to the Final Four, the Villanova squad on which Ray starred from 2003 to 2006 played some truly outstanding basketball. Ray was a great marksman, averaging 15.6 points per game and 36.7 percent shooting from three-point range. He won first-team All-Big 5 honors in 2004, 2005 and 2006.
Randy Foye, guard: By the time Foye and Ray left the Main line, you couldn't say one's name without the other. Foye could shoot, create off the dribble and deliver a great pass. He averaged 15.6 points and 3.1 assists per game, and shot 39.9 percent from the field for his career. Foye also was a great defender, averaging 1.5 steals and only 2.7 fouls per game. Perhaps surprisingly, his only appearance on the All-Big 5 first team was as a senior in 2006.
Scottie Reynolds, guard: His career points total was the second-highest in Villanova history, and his qualities as a leader on the floor were beyond quantifying. The Big 5 recognized that by naming him to the first team all four years of his career. Reynolds' dash to the basket for the game-winning layup in the 2009 East Regional Final ensured his place not only in Villanova's history books, but in those of college basketball as a whole.
Curtis Sumpter, forward: Perhaps the ultimate player about whom we will always ask what could have been. Sumpter was among the most versatile players we saw in this decade, able to score just as well from inside as from outside. I know I'm not the only person who thinks Villanova would have made the Final Four at some point had he not suffered those two devastating knee injuries. He was all-Big 5 first team in 2005 and 2007.
Dante Cunningham, center: Surrounded by superstar guards throughout his career, Cunningham was the player who did the dirty work inside. His importance to Jay Wright's squad became even greater when his teammates were shooting with abandon from beyond the arc. It took a 12-point second half deficit against American in the 2009 NCAA Tournament for Cunningham's teammates to realize what they should have been doing all along: give him the ball and let him take it to the basket.