Season Preview: CHD sits down with St. Joseph’s coach Phil Martelli

 Jon Teitel continues our season preview series by chatting with St. Joseph’s coach Phil Martelli about being named national COY in 2004. 


You have a potential three-game stretch next month against Creighton, LSU and Memphis.  How is your team going to handle such a gauntlet? There are all kinds of scenarios on our schedule, including a Temple, Villanova and Drexel three-game stretch with exams in the middle. We do not look at the big picture: the only thing we can do is focus on the next game at hand by making the necessary adjustments.

What are your expectations for the upcoming season? My only expectation is to be better today than we were yesterday: that goes for myself, the players, and the assistant coaches. I hope that we are playing our best basketball in March and let the chips fall where they may.

You played basketball at Widener, where you set school records for most assists in a season and in a career: what is the secret to being a good PG? Probably slow feet! You need great teachers and a willingness to study the game. You need to be taught the game from a young age and have a view of the game that is different than that of any other position.

In the 1986 A-10 tourney as an assistant under Coach Jim Boyle at St. Joe’s, Wayne Williams made a free throw with no time on the clock in a one point win over Duquesne.  How were you able to beat the Dukes after A-10 POY Maurice Martin had to leave the game due to severe back spasms that he got when reaching across the table during the team’s pre-game meal? We had great senior leadership on that team including Geoff Arnold, who is now my assistant coach. Wayne was our sixth man in name only: he was an all-league player.

In the 1991 A-10 tourney as an assistant under Coach John Griffin at St. Joe’s you had OT games for three straight nights: how exhausted were you by the end of your tourney run? The games were in Philly so we got a lot of encouragement from the crowd that helped lift up our young team. We were consulting with our school’s track and field coaches about how they handle their athletes who have back-to-back events.

In the 2003 A-10 tourney as head coach, Jameer Nelson scored a career-high 39 points before fouling out in a three-point loss to Dayton.  Where does that rank among the greatest performances you have ever seen? Jameer has a whole list of amazing performances: he was the epitome of a winner, and we just came up a play short that night.

In 2004 you went 27-0 in the regular season and were named national COY, how were you able to keep your team focused for every single game all season long, and what did it mean to you to win such an outstanding honor? The honor was a tribute to our players and coaches: it was really based on what our team was able to accomplish. We stayed true to our values of daily improvement, communication, and respect for the game itself, whether it was during a film-study session or in a big game. The crowds got bigger and bigger during the year, but the players never wavered.

In the 2005 NIT title game Tarence Kinsey made a three-point shot with 1.3 seconds left in a three-point win by South Carolina.  Where does that rank among the most devastating losses of your career? Our harder loss was losing to Xavier in the A-10 title game in Cincinnati: I cost us the game with a defensive mistake. The South Carolina loss was disappointing because we had overcome so much to get there after Jameer and Delonte West had left. There was a certain level of satisfaction because we achieved everything we could short of winning it all.

In the 2013 A-10 tourney Langston Galloway scored 14 points including a pair of free throws with 1.4 seconds left in a one-point win over Xavier: how on earth did Isaiah Philmore miss a layup at the buzzer? I guess it was good fortune for us based on the bounce of the ball, but I feel bad for Isaiah because I know how good a player he is.

In the 2013 NIT Sir’Dominic Pointer made a jumper at the buzzer in a two point win by St. John’s.  What did your team learn from that loss that you think can help you this year? We learned the value of every possession in games and every opportunity off the court. I think it was déjà vu because we lost to Northern Iowa the previous year in a similar situation, so our older guys want to go out this year by leaving their very best on the court.