If you are a big college basketball fan, the name Phil Martelli is an easily recognizable one. He just coached his 19th season at St. Joseph’s University, won the Atlantic 10 Tournament and made his sixth NCAA Tournament appearance. Martelli is an extremely well respected coach throughout the entire college basketball community.
What you might not know is that his son, Phil Martelli Jr., has followed in his footsteps and has also made a name for himself in the college hoops world. He has done it the right way, as his dad says, “without using his name, not that he could anyways.” He also is the father of the little boy who stole America’s heart at the Atlantic 10 Championship and NCAA Tournament. A kid who has gained more attention in the social media world than both his father and grandfather.
Phil Martelli Jr. is currently an assistant coach with the University of Delaware, who like his dad’s Hawks, won their conference tournament and received a bid for the NCAA Tournament. He played his college ball for his dad at St. Joe’s from 2000-2003 after walking on to the team. With this year’s father-son combo of the McDermotts at Creighton being a smash hit, Martelli says it wasn’t like that for him. “I was slightly less than the best player, you know i was more of the worse player.” He quotes current University of Miami head coach, Jim Laranaga by saying, “You can coach your son, as long as he is the best player or the worst player.” That never stopped Martelli from being the best teammate, which is the value his parents taught him was the most important thing in sports. He had advice coming from experience at all angles, his mother Judy won three national championships of her own at Immaculata University.
Martelli’s basketball days go back beyond his earliest memories. His dad was a head coach at Bishop Kenrick High School outside of Philadelphia when he was born. His first experience on a basketball floor was when he was two years old as dad took him to meet his high school players at practice. Martelli, like any other two-year-old surrounded by an entire team of kids over six feet tall, peed his pants, something that his family will never let him forget. Since then, basketball has been his entire life. He played baseball and soccer as a kid, but basketball was the constant in both him and his brother Jimmy’s lives. How could it not be with having a successful coach like Phil Martelli as their father.
His dad began to teach him and Jimmy to play basketball at the age of three on a blue chair in their living room with a little Fisher Price basketball. Basketball became part of a normal routine for the boys as they were constantly at practices and games with their dad. After his stint in high school, Martelli Sr. was named the assistant coach of St. Joe’s and would soon be named the head of coach of the Hawks. That occurred as Junior was heading into high school, but that job didn’t stop him from watching his boys play ball. Martelli says about his dad, “He did an unbelievable job, for as much as he was gone and as much responsibilities that he had, of still being around enough and us never feeling like oh, where has he been?” Martelli says that his dad would do his best to make it to their games, even if it meant scheduling practices for St. Joe’s at a different time or going on a recruiting visit the next day instead.
After high school, Martelli went to play ball for his dad at St. Joe’s, which was just the second time that his dad was ever his head coach, the first was when he was ten and it was little league baseball. With the Hawks, the Martelli boys made the NCAA Tournament twice, in Junior’s Sophomore and Senior years. Of course the year after his graduation, St. Joseph’s had the best year in school history. Led by Jameer Nelson and Delonte West, the Hawks made it all the way to the Elite Eight before losing a heartbreaker to Oklahoma State. That year, Martelli Jr. was already making his mark in the coaching world of college basketball. He was hired by Central Connecticut State of the NEC as an assistant coach. He says it was bittersweet, “To be on that team would have been incredible but it was cool being able to follow it from where I was too. I got to watch them a lot that year, starting with their opening game at the Garden against Gonzaga.” He adds that, “One of the things I always tell people is once it hit a certain point, they were getting so much coverage that the Hartford Current was like the Philadelphia Daily News.”
From Central Connecticut State, Martelli moved to his first of two consecutive stints with MAAC schools, Manhattan and then Niagara. He says that the NEC was a very rough and physical league with his Central Connecticut team fitting that mold. Martelli says that, “All the teams were kind of, you know like in a slugfest, not necessarily great offensive players or offensive teams, just physical.” His transformation to the MAAC saw a completely different style of play, with all of the teams being in the top 50 of scoring, but bottom 75 of scoring defense in his first season at Manhattan. At Niagara, where he spent five years, Martelli was part of his third NCAA Tournament team, his first as a coach when his 2006-07 team beat Florida A&M in the play-in game in Dayton before losing to top-seeded Kansas. This last season was his third with Delaware, who beat William & Mary in the CAA Championship to earn a number 13 seed and a tough matchup with Michigan State in Spokane.
As the son of an extremely successful coach, you can imagine that the Martelli family get togethers are very heavy with basketball talk. Martelli says, “It is not uncommon for us to go down to the shore for a week in the summer for vacation and my dad will bring a box of instructional videos and game tapes of all the teams and just try to pick something up.” The two and his brother Jimmy talk all the time about basketball and each others teams. Jimmy has also been an assistant coach at a few division one basketball programs. Martelli Jr. says after playing for his dad, that was the only coaching style he knew after graduation. “I thought his way was the only way, but I am working with my fourth guy now, and if you add my father, there are different styles to all of them. I have been fortunate to be around some really successful coaches.”
He tries to follow St. Joe’s just as much as his dad tries to follow his son’s Delaware team. When I told Phil Martelli Sr. that I was doing this article on his son, the first thing he said to me was, “I really had a hard time watching their game on Monday night,” referring to the Blue Hens thrilling win over William & Mary in the CAA Championship.
Martelli Jr. says that during the season it is tough for the two to talk a lot of basketball because their schedules are very similar. That, “We talk a decent amount. When he is able to see us and watch us, he’ll talk about some things and when I’m able to see them and watch them, I’ll talk about some things.” They are careful never step on each other’s toes, they just give helpful tips and both ask some questions about previous games. For Martelli Jr. he says that, “There are just some things as a young coach that I am trying to learn, so I’ll ask him ‘What was the thinking behind that?'” Adding “The one thing I have really learned from my dad, even through the success that he has had, he is constantly looking for different things, little changes…and that is something that we are doing here at Delaware.”
Martelli and his wife have two kids, a daughter and a son who is possibly the most famous basketball fan in America . His son was the grandson that was featured all over CBS’s coverage of both the Atlantic 10 Championship and NCAA Tournament game.
Martelli says, “You know what it is, it’s just from being around it so much because my father-in-law is a high school coach in Connecticut. So really every time he is up there with my wife and her parents or he’s home with us, he’s going to a game.”
There is quite the rotation that little Philip has going to Delaware games and dressing up like Blue Hens mascot, YoUDee and the next day dressing like grandpa at a St. Joe’s game. “He thinks every kid is in his preschool was at the St. Joe’s game the night before, or at the Delaware game the night before, or has been to NCAA Tournament game.
He melted hearts with the copying of his grandfather during St. Joe’s win over VCU in the Atlantic 10 Championship game and became an internet sensation.
“It’s on CBS, on national TV and from the moment they put him on there, it spiraled like way out of control. I was in the office watching, we had just finished practicing and it came on and my phone starting blowing up unlike anything that I had ever seen,” says his proud dad.
Martelli says that his family had been contacted by several media outlets to do a story on their son. But CBS’s Allie LaForce got the first exclusive. “Most people have said that they are jealous that he got to interview with Allie LaForce,” Martelli said laughing. “I think in his own little world this of course was a big deal, but he doesn’t realize what type of stage he was on.”
In case you were wondering, the tie he was wearing that went down to his feet was his grandfather’s, but he does have quite the collection of ties that all three Martelli men have given him.
Maybe young Philip will be the next line of Martelli coaches in college basketball. Or maybe he’ll be a star player, mascot or media relations director. “He does the whole thing. He does the coach, he does the players. He’ll do the mascot. He does the media timeout promotions, the Dunkin’ Donuts dash. I mean he does it all, the National anthem and the Press Conference.”
The future is his and he’ll get to spend some family time with his dad, grandfather, and Uncle Jimmy as the basketball season comes to a close, until they all head their separate ways once again, on the recruiting trail and to summer workouts with their respective teams.