As La Salle began their season this week, a storyline that fans and media were watching for was how would La Salle’s revitalized offense look coming out of the gate. Last season, it is no secret that the offensive gameplan was a mess and needed a makeover. So, John Giannini hired Matt Brady as an assistant coach and made him the offensive coordinator.
Although Dr. Giannini has a longer head coaching resume, amassing 477 wins over a 27 year coaching career, it is clear that Giannini respects Brady immensely as a basketball mind, calling him “One of the best coaches in the Atlantic 10” at an interview for goexplorers.tv.
In that interview, he reaffirms that Brady will be the team’s offensive wizard stating that “I think his offensive expertise clearly surpasses mine.”
Their first game was Brady and Giannini’s first opportunity to show off the improved offense, and although the Explorers were not able to earn the win, the script for Saturday night’s game was vastly different than anything Explorer fans saw last season. The Explorers offensive execution was surprisingly on-point. La Salle amassed 92 points and turned the ball over just nine times in 45 minutes of play. They moved the ball around well, fed Tony Washington and Demetrius Henry in the post when they had position, and put a well-coached Fran Dunphy defense on their heels. If Jordan Price shot just a little better than 3-9 from deep, the game may not have even made it to overtime.
A few plays stuck out as examples of well coached offense that should give La Salle fans encouragement from the Temple game. One play was Amar Stukes’ dribble drive with 5 minutes left in regulation. Although the result was a blocked shot by Temple’s Obi Enechionyia, the execution of the play was very nice, as La Salle ran a motion set that gave Stukes a good angle to drive toward the basket. Stukes’ drive forced Temple’s defense to collapse and it left Price wide open on the wing. Obviously, the point guard needs to find Price here, instead of attempting the layup, but, surely this is a play that Stukes saw again in a film session and he will keep an eye open for a shooter next time La Salle runs that set.
Another well executed play in the Temple game came at the 25-second mark of the second half out of a Temple timeout with the Owls leading by 3. Brady drew up a beauty out of the timeout and, as La Salle spaced out the floor, Price made a baseline cut that drew the defense’s attention. The ball then found Stukes, who was posted up against Temple’s freshman, Alani Moore. Had Stukes gotten his shot off earlier, he could have tied the game right then. Instead, Stukes settled for a pair of free-throws, La Salle had to foul Temple on the next possession and then rely on a heroic three-point shot from Price to send the game into overtime.
Tuesday night’s game against Delaware had a much different tone. Although the Explorer’s did not play as well offensively as they did against Temple, they were able to score as much as they needed to carve out a win.
La Salle’s star on Tuesday had to be Pookie Powell, who scored 14 points, dished out six assists, and grabbed 7 rebounds in 35 minutes of play. He did all of this without committing a single turnover. He scored in a variety of ways, from making a pair of three-point shots, to going a perfect 7-7 from the free-throw line, and even throwing down a monsterous dunk after crossing up the defense and driving right down the middle of the lane.
While Powell racked up the stats, the interesting note from the game was how La Salle’s coaching staff used Stukes. Since Stukes struggles to shoot from the perimeter, conventional wisdom would say to have him as the primary ball handler and Powell off-ball when the two guards share the floor. But Coach Brady and Dr. Giannini often started sets with Powell on-ball, then using dribble-handoffs, weaves, and ball movement to get Stukes the ball in a spot where the defense was not set and he could penetrate with a dribble drive. This type of action played a large part in Stukes going 4-7 from the field, amasing five assists and giving away only 1 turnover in 35 minutes of play.
Another offensive tactic La Salle used was putting Stukes on the free-throw line and having him make plays out of the high-post. This is a smart way to use Stukes because of his positional size (6-foot-2, 195 pounds) and passing ability. Out of the high post, Stukes is patient with his decision making and was able to find either Henry/Washington in the low post or kick the ball out to a shooter on the perimeter. Look for La Salle to continue to use Stukes in this spot and watch how opponents adjust to this over the season.
Saturday’s loss vs Texas Southern was a tough blow in front of a sold-out Tom Gola Arena. If you look at most of the stats, La Salle should have won the game. They turned the ball over only eight times, while Texas Southern had 14 turnovers and also shot a smooth 45% from the 3-point line. But a combination of poor team defense on La Salle’s part, losing the rebounding battle by 10, and a buzzer-beating 3-pointer by Dulani Robinson resulted in the Explorers dropping the game, 77-76. B.J. Johnson’s play was a bright spot for La Salle, as he scored 24 points on 3-3 from behind the arc and a perfect 9-9 on free-throws. He and Price show the potential to be a good tandem together, especially running a pick and pop where both players have the skills to be the ball handler or the shooter.
While the optimistic La Salle fan’s expectations may have been dampered after La Salle’s first pair of games, they have the players to make serious noise this season. If the coaches continue to put role players like Stukes in the best spot to be successful and get consistent scoring from both Price and Johnson, the Explorers will show improvement in their offensive execution as the season goes on. La Salle continues their season on Sunday the 27th at Drexel.
Photo: William Derry/Philly Empire
Although Texas Southern defeated the La Salle Explorers yesterday, 77-76, on a buzzer-beater by guard Dulani Robinson at Tom Gola Arena, junior Amar Stukes finally found his groove. The guard left it all on the hardwood against the Tigers. He tracked down loose balls, scrapped for rebounds, and even played fantastic post defense on Texas Southern’s 7-footer, Marvin Jones. Stukes was a large part of why La Salle even stayed in the game, especially in the first half.
After getting off to a slow start in the first half, which led to Texas Southern's largest lead of the game (13 points), La Salle head coach John Giannini called a thirty-second timeout and went to the bench to find a solution.
Though junior Demetrius Henry and senior Cleon Roberts entered the game in place of junior B.J. Johnson and senior Jordan Price after the break, La Salle still struggled. While Johnson and Price would later re-enter the game and help the Explorers make a comeback, it was Stukes who came off the bench early on and took on the challenge of guarding Texas Southern’s leading scorer Zach Lofton.
Stukes held Lofton to 3 first half points, which was huge. While Stukes thrived, the rest of his teammates struggled.
“I thought the first half we had some good players play atrocious defense,” said Giannini at his post-game press conference. “They shot 55 percent, outrebounded us and we couldn't stop them without fouling.”
The La Salle College high school grad’s play on the defensive end against Lofton throughout the first half allowed the Explorers to stay in the game despite their big deficit. Stukes, who played 35 minutes and tallied 8 points, 5 assists, and 2 steals against Delaware this past Tuesday, has gotten off to a solid start this year and coach Giannini said that his play at practice is a key factor in his performances thus far.
“He is by far our highest winner at practice,” said Giannini. “His team almost always wins. He defends, doesn’t turn the ball over, and gets his teammates involved.”
Stukes’ first half efforts earned him a start in the second half. He made the most out of the opportunity as he drained a three-pointer off a Pookie Powell assist within the first minute of the second half. Later, he found center Tony Washington on a drive to the basket for a layup.
After Johnson knocked down three consecutive free-throws to cut the lead to 2 for the Explorers, Stukes forced forward Lamont Walker to turnover the ball, which led to Roberts tying up the game with a layup on the other end to make it 46-46.
Roberts hit another clutch basket a little over minute later to give the Explorers a 51-48 advantage, drilling an electrifying three-pointer that brought the crowd of 2,622 people to their feet.
Before Stukes rested on the bench after playing for the first eleven minutes of the second half, Roberts continued his perfect shooting night (4-4 3PM, 6-6 FGM), hitting his third three-pointer, giving La Salle a 57-55 lead.
With Stukes on the sideline, Texas Southern’s Kevin Scott hit a three-pointer to give them a three-point lead, 62-59.
The Philly native gave La Salle the lead, 70-68, when he stole the ball from Robinson and received a pass from Powell for an easy layup. Stukes then fought for a loose rebound after Price missed a jumper, which resulted in a jump ball that favored the Explorers due to the possession arrow. The Explorers led 72-69 after Johnson hit two free throws. The Lower Merion graduate followed that up with a dunk to make it a 5-point lead.
Lofton, who finished the game with 13 points, kept attacking the basket for Texas Southern. He hit a contested layup to make it a three-point game. Then, Powell beat his man off the dribble and drove baseline to the basket but instead of laying it up, he attempted a dunk, which he missed. Last year’s SWAC Player of the Year Derrick Griffin got the rebound and found Lofton, who hit a jumper to pull the Tigers within 1-point.
“Pookie's missed dunk would have iced the game,” said Giannini. “If there's one play that's more upsetting, it's probably that because that was the game.”
With 8 seconds left in the contest, Powell hit both free throws giving La Salle a 3-point lead after being fouled by Lofton. Powell soon committed a foul of his own on Scott, who made 1 out of 2 free-throws with 6 seconds remaining.
The Tigers forced the inbound pass to go to Henry, who missed the first shot of a one-and-one, which prompted Robinson to grab the ball and sprint up the court, where he hit the game-winning shot for Texas Southern.
“It's a crushing loss,” said Giannini. “They did one more good thing than us and I'm just really disappointed.”
Despite La Salle's close loss, Stukes put in a strong defensive performance, which helped keep the Explorers in the game and should give him confidence moving forward. His defensive prowess has not gone unnoticed by coach Giannini.
“Defensively he's terrific and that’s half the game of basketball,” said Giannini.
Photo: Benjamin Simon/ Philly Empire
After a long and tough 2015-2016 season that saw the Explorers win a mere nine games and finish their A-10 conference season buried in last place, La Salle is looking to take a leap forward. Thanks to the talent head coach Dr. John Giannini has imported, three transfers from major conference schools, who will begin their La Salle careers this season.
The Explorers were handcuffed last season due to having only eight eligible scholarship players available to play, along with dealing with various injuries, illnesses, and ailments. That stripped the squad of any bench depth. The defense was porous due to the paper thin frontcourt, exhausted bodies (La Salle starters averaged 33 min last season), and the slow paced offense that overly relied on freelancing and Jordan Price. But this all changes this season.
Along with the transfers becoming eligible, one of the most important offseason moves for La Salle was the acquisition of assistant coach Matt Brady, who will revamp the offensive attack. Matt Brady joins La Salle after serving as James Madison’s head coach in 2014-2015. Although his expertise is on the offensive side of the ball, under Brady, the Dukes were the best team in the nation at defending the three and overall field goal percentage. Look for his coaching to carry over to the defensive end as well.
This season, the Explorer’s biggest challenge will be getting all of these new players to become familiar playing with one another while learning the new systems. The Explorers may struggle in the non-conference season as they get used to playing with one another. But, by February-March, La Salle should be ready to give A-10 powers like Dayton and Rhode Island a run for their money.
Rohan Brown (G, graduated), O.J. Lewis (G, graduated), Dusan Majstorovic (G, transferred), Karl Harris (G, transferred)
The Explorers lose some consistent contributors from last season, but not enough for major impact. Rohan Brown brought veteran leadership but struggled to stay healthy for much of the year. While his impact in the locker room will be missed, the Explorers will have no trouble replacing his on-the-court production. Brown’s fellow graduate, O.J. Lewis, was a walk-on and averaged two minutes player per game in the 12 games he appeared in.
The Explorers also lose their entire 2015 recruiting class with both Dusan Majstorovic and Karl Harris transferring out. Neither players were expected to make a major impact this season. Karl Harris showed some glimpses of promise but would have been buried on the depth chart. Majstorovic also had trouble finding minutes last season and wouldn’t be able to consistently find minutes with the revamped 2016-17 roster.
RaShawn “Pookie” Powell (G, So.), B.J. Johnson (F, Jr.), Demetrius Henry (F, Jr.), Saul Phiri (G, Fr.), Cian Sullivan (C, Fr.), Isiah Deas (G, Fr.)
This section is what gives La Salle fans optimism heading into this season. It was said that during intra-squad scrimmages last year, La Salle’s scout team, manned with the three ineligible transfers, often would outplay the starters. Pookie Powell comes to La Salle from Memphis where he started 11 games and averaged 4.3 points per game. BJ Johnson returns home to where he played high school ball in Lower Merion after attending Syracuse. The final transfer is Demetrius Henry, who was a common face in the South Carolina roster for the two years that he attended the school.
Along with the elite transfers becoming eligible, La Salle also brings in a three-man freshman class that all have one common trait: size. Saul Phiri is a 6-foot-4 wing that defends the perimeter well. Cian Sullivan stands at 7-foot-2 and is the eighth Irish men’s basketball player to sign a National Letter of Intent in the United States. Isaiah Deas’ eligibility for this season remains in question, but his 6-6 frame is intriguingly long. The Brooklyn native could develop to be an excellent player down the road.
Projected Starting Lineup
G: RaShawn “Pookie” Powell (Proj. Stats: 9 PPG, 5 APG, 1.5 SPG)
Ra Shawn “Pookie” Powell begins his La Salle career after transferring from Memphis. In his one year at Memphis, he averaged 4.3 points and 2.7 assists in 15.4 minutes per game. Powell is a quick distributing point guard with a nice crossover and that sets up his ability to drive to the rim or a pull-up with a mid range jumper.
G Jordan Price (Proj. Stats: 19 PPG, 3 APG, .37 3p%)
Last season, Price averaged 19.2 points, 5.5 rebounds and 3 assists in nearly 38 minutes per game. La Salle’s offense often ran through Price as he displayed a knack for creating his own shot. Not only was Price the Explorers’ most effective offensive weapon, he also was forced to play versatile defense, often matched up with opponents’ power forwards and even sliding to defend the center position when Tony Washington took his rests. Price will split most of his time between the two wing positions this season.
F B.J. Johnson (Proj. Stats: 14 PPG, 6 RPG, .40 3p%)
The Syracuse transfer, B.J. Johnson is a tall (6-foot-7) wing who is known to be an accurate 3-point shooter. Although the Lower Merion product shot only 23% from the three in his first two seasons at Syracuse, an expanded role should allow him to find his shooting stroke with more attempts. Explorer fans should be excited about Johnson as he gives a huge boost to the team’s offense that does not feature a legit three point threat.
F Demetrius Henry (Proj. Stats: 10 PPG, 7RPG, .50 Fg%)
In all likelihood, La Salle will mix together combinations of Demetrius Henry, Tony Washington, or Cleon Roberts into the starting lineup throughout the season. Demetrius Henry comes to La Salle after two seasons at South Carolina. Henry is an athletic and facing up scorer. He will need to improve his rebounding after averaging only 3.5 rebounds in 18.6 minutes in his two seasons as a Gamecock. Look for the 6-foot-9 Henry to make his mark scoring down low as well. Because modern basketball is trending towards playing with four perimeter players, one thing to watch this season is how Henry plays with Washington when they are on the floor together. If Henry can hit 15-18 foot pick and pop jump shots, La Salle will be in good shape when the two are paired up, particularly on the defensive end.
F Tony Washington (Proj. Stats: 6 PPG, 8 RPG 1.5 BPG)
Washington had 1.5 blocks in 26.7 minutes per game and gained a plethora of experience over last season. His 106.2 Defensive Rating was the best among all of the Explorers’ rotational players. Although he struggled with getting into foul trouble, picking up 3.5 fouls per game, Washington should be aided by having Henry. This will help him without having to play such aggressive defense as he needed to last season, as he will have another legit big man to help him on the defensive end.
Cleon Roberts (G, Sr.), Johnie Shuler (G, Jr.), Yevgen Sakhniuk (F, Jr.), Amar Stukes (G, Jr.), Saul Phiri (G, Fr.), Isiah Deas (G, Fr.), Cian Sullivan (C, Fr.)
After only having a bench that was three, two, or sometimes only one player deep last season, the Explorers will gain an huge influx of bench depth. If he doesn't start for Dr. G, the first player to come off the bench will be the senior wing Cleon Roberts. Roberts has shot 36% from the three over his collegiate career and provides tough defense with his long 6-5 body on the perimeter.
Johnnie Shuler will be competing with Amar Stukes for backup guard minutes, Shuler provides more of an offensive punch (9.6 points and 3 assists last season) and plays best while off-ball, while Stukes is the better defender and more of a natural on-ball guard. Stukes struggled last season in his minutes, unable to completely seize the starting guard spot without consistently playing well.
Yevgen Sakhniuk is looking for a breakout season after struggling to stay on the floor last year, after dealing with illness. Sakhniuk should provide solid backup power forward minutes and give La Salle an interior scoring option off the bench.
Phiri will add another perimeter presence with the ability to shoot the ball, as he nailed 107 three pointers in his final year at prep school. Isiah Deas may struggle to find minutes early on this season, but will provide a long wing who averaged 12 points per game last season for Coastal Academy in New Jersey. All signs point to 7-foot-2 Cian Sullivan redshirting his first year of college basketball to gain some weight and get comfortable with the pace and physicality of the game.
at Temple November 11th, 2016
The Explorers open their season at the Liacouras Center against Temple. Not only is this an inter-city rivalry game to open up the season, but it is also the first chance La Salle will see the three highly coveted transfers in action. A win to open up the season against a strong program like Temple could set the tone for a great La Salle season.
vs. Georgetown December 20th, 2016
The Explorers play Georgetown as part of the HoopHall Miami Invitational at American Airlines Arena. La Salle will have a chance to gain some excellent national exposure in front of ESPN2’s cameras against one of the Big East’s best teams. Georgetown returns multiple talented big men, including 6-foot-10, 270 pound Jesse Govan and fellow sophomore Marcus Derrickson. A writer for SB Nation even went as far as saying about the Hoyas, “I can't recall a roster so deep heading into a season in all my born days.” It will be a tough game, but a chance for the Explorers to cement themselves as a top tier team.
at Dayton December 30th, 2016
The Explorers split their games against Dayton last season and have a chance to steal a win on the road from the A-10 conference front runner to start conference games. Opening A-10 play with a win against one of the league’s best teams would radiate momentum for the team. The Flyers bring back Charles Cooke for his final season which could present problems for La Salle. After scoring 21 points in their first game, the Explorers held the high scoring wing to 6 points on 2 of 8 shooting from the field. If La Salle wants to win, they will have to contain Cooke.
17-12 (10-8 in A10 play)
La Salle should win 17 games next season and a sixth place finish in the Atlantic 10 conference. While this is an eight-win improvement from last season, it is a conservative estimate. The Explorers may start the season off slow as Dr. G experiments with lineups, rotations, and minutes, but by the time the schedule moves into the conference season, the Explorers should have their rotation etched out and start to build some chemistry and continuity with new players and a new scheme.
Quotes on the season
“Pookie is talented and hard-working. I see him consistently improving with us and becoming a truly outstanding player. He is the type of complete guard who can penetrate, pass and shoot that we have had success with.” -Dr. John Giannini via goexplorers.com
“Our biggest strength is how deep we are.” -B.J. Johnson via City of Basketball Love
“Things have changed over the last several years. We certainly don’t want to settle in our recruiting and lower our standards for the high school talent that we want.” –John Giannini via the Providence Journal
“Whether it’s his first time getting double-teamed in a game, or whether it’s having to play extended minutes and maintain his effort, or guarding different sets and actions that people have, he is soaking all of those things in and he’s just going to keep getting better. He is a quality A-10 big guy and he’s one of the players that we think we can win with in the future.”-John Giannini about Tony Washington via The Empire.
“I never honestly feel like I have to score 30 every, single night [but] sometimes, I get into a groove,” he said after practice last week. “We had a good team last year and we beat some of the top teams in our conference so night in and night out we had a chance every time.” –Jordan Price via City of Basketball Love.
"I am thrilled to be joining the Explorer basketball family and grateful for the opportunity and trust that Coach Giannini has given me. In my short time here, I already see the enthusiasm and optimism for La Salle basketball for next year and beyond is truly justified. This is a great time to be a part of La Salle basketball." -Matt Brady via goexplorers.com
Photo: Yong Kim/ Philly.com
Jamir Moultrie announced his commitment to La Salle University last Friday via Twitter.
Moultrie, who currently attends Bishop McNamara high school in Forestville, MD, has averaged more than 17 points over the past two seasons.
The 6-foot combo guard is the second member of La Salle’s 2017 recruiting class, joining Miles Brookins, who committed in early October.
Georgia, Georgetown and Monmouth were also on his final list.
The Explorers also added Dajour Joseph to it’s 2017 recruiting class. Joseph announced his commitment via Twitter this past Monday.
The 6-foot-6 wing currently attends Combine Academy in North Carolina.
Photo: Mark Gail/The Washington Post & Phenom Hoop Report
-La Salle loses to UMass in the first round of the A-10 tournament