La Salle head coach Dr. John Giannini has shouldered a majority of the blame for his team’s fledgling season. The Explorers are currently carrying a 5-12 record after Sunday’s game against Saint Joseph's and have lost 11 of its last 12 games. Due to the fact that these struggles are happening 12 years into his tenure, and three years after an appearance in the Sweet Sixteen of the NCAA tournament, fans are worried that the program is not improving under Dr. G the way it should be after earning national prominence. However, if the Explorers nation can notice this as a “growing year” and look forward to next season, Dr. Giannini has put the La Salle program into a position to have success in the upcoming seasons.
In college basketball, a team’s head coach serves not only as the leader on the bench, but also the team’s GM, head of scouting, and director of player personnel. That being said, there are many factors to coaching college basketball that are critiqued, especially when the team is struggling the way the Explorers are right now. Fans, students, and alumni want answers for their disappointment and there is one person to look to, Dr. John Giannini.
Here is an argument to why, despite the current struggles and the mediocre past couple of seasons, Dr. G deserves the support and trust from La Salle nation.
The most common critique of Dr. G is his recruiting. If you compare the players of La Salle to its rival contenders in the Atlantic 10 conference, there is much more talent on the latter’s roster. The past couple of high-school recruiting classes have been tough ones for Dr. G. In 2015, Karl Harris was the only signing, while for the 2016 class, the only commit at this point is ESPN rated one-star recruit Cian Sullivan with three-star point guard Tyree Breein mulling over Dr. G’s offer.
Following its appearance in the NCAA tournament, La Salle looked to take advantage of its success by attempting to recruit more 3 and 4 star players. Marquette’s Sandy Cohen, Virginia’s Marial Shayok, Auburn’s Horace Spencer, and Temple’s Levan Alston are a few names that Dr. G has unsuccessfully given scholarship offers to in recent years. Higher expectations following the Sweet Sixteen run may have hindered La Salle’s recruiting because Dr. G was spending more effort swinging for the fences to sign the above recruits, rather than scouring through the undervalued one and two-star players that the Explorers have a good chance of signing.
Although La Salle is not really a school that the elite high school basketball players dream of attending, Dr. G does do a really good job of finding good players to transfer to La Salle. On this year’s team, the Explorer’s two best players, Jordan Price and Cleon Roberts, spent time at other colleges prior to their Explorer careers. Next season, La Salle will have a trifecta of talented eligible transfers in Pookie Powell, B.J. Johnson, and Demetrius Henry. The Explorers could put together a pretty formidable lineup with the five transfers that Dr. G was able to pluck from bigger, more prestigious schools.
Fans are entitled to critique La Salle’s head coach as much as they want, but the reality is, Dr. Giannini is fighting an uphill battle when it comes to recruiting really good players out of high school to La Salle. National prestige is low, the athletic facilities are lacking, and there are five other schools that La Salle shares Philadelphia college basketball with. For La Salle to continue refueling its roster with talented players, Dr. Giannini knows that finding transfers to play for him is a better option than attempting to compete for highly touted high-schoolers with bigger schools on the recruiting trail. If La Salle is able to build around transfers and round out its roster with young, hard working, role players that have ideal size and potential to improve, the Explorers are in a position to have greater success and a subsequent post-season tournament run in the next few years is certainly not out of the question.
Photo: Greg Carroccio/Sideline Photos/La Salle Athletic Communications
-La Salle loses to UMass in the first round of the A-10 tournament