WASHINGTON — It was not difficult to pinpoint the issues last season for La Salle and Saint Joseph's. The Explorers had, by far, the worst defense in the Atlantic 10. The Hawks did not have enough healthy players.
The past was a topic at Tuesday's Atlantic 10 media day at the Capital One Arena, site of the A-10 Tournament in March. The future was a bigger topic.
"We have five seniors who have played a ton and then we have six other guys who have played very little or not at all,'' La Salle coach John Giannini said.
His players, the coach said, are either finishing or just starting out, an interesting mix. The Explorers, who will start three fifth-year players, have B.J. Johnson and Pookie Powell who should be able to score on anybody. The coach likes some of his young players, especially 6-10 freshman Miles Brookins from Mater Dei in Cypress, Calif.
"He's far more ready than we envisioned,'' Giannini said. "We tell most big guys they'll get their feet wet as freshmen and compete for a starting spot later. He's just way ahead of schedule…He knows what he's doing on the basketball court. He's used to playing against good players.''
SJU was probably looking at a .500 season until Shavar Newkirk's ACL tear in the first game of the A-10 season. They were 7-5 then, 4-15 after that.
Newkirk, who was having a first-team all A-10 season, is going through all the drills but has not yet been cleared to go five-on-five.
"When he's in a drill for the last week-and-a-half, it's like he's two days ahead,'' coach Phil Martelli said.
But, the coach pointed out, "There is a test anybody with that injury has to take and has to pass. It's an agility and strength test.''
Newkirk took it a few weeks ago and failed, which was no surprise. He is likely to take it again within a week and Martelli expects him to pass. Then, he will go on the court and start to play for real.
Lamarr Kimble missed the end of the season with a fractured foot. James Demery missed the start with a stress fracture. Chekko Oliva missed the entire season with a knee injury. Put them on the court with the very promising Charlie Brown, add in Chris Clover, talented freshmen Anthony Longpre' and Taylor Funk, and there is a chance they could go from 20 losses to 20 wins.
"If we had to play tonight, it would be without Shavar,'' Martelli said. He said his starting five would be Kimble, Brown, Oliva, Demery and one of the freshmen.
La Salle, picked to finish ninth in the A-10 preseason poll released Tuesday, was a very good shooting team last season, especially from the foul line, where they shot 76.6 percent. SJU, picked to finish third, was a bad shooting team, especially from the foul line, where they shot just 65 percent.