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
Four seasons ago, the La Salle Explorers went dancing. Well, maybe a little more than dancing. They went to the Sweet Sixteen and captured the nation with some fantastic finishes. This year, like every year, they will try to return there and the 2016-17 roster has more than a legitimate chance to do so.
Not only do they return star Jordan Price, who averaged 19 points per game, and talented wing Cleon Roberts, who averaged 12 points, but they also bring in three big time transfers. That includes former Memphis guard Pookie Powell, Syracuse wing BJ Johnson, and South Carolina big man Demetrius Henry. Packed with a solid three person recruiting class, the Explorers are ready to compete for an Atlantic 10 championship.
However, in order to do that, they will need a large portion of their team to step up from last year. One of the bigger weaknesses for the Explorers in the 2015-16 season was in the frontcourt, where they were often short handed. 6-foot-10 Tony Washington had only played 37 minutes before being asked to compete as their starting center in one of the country's top conferences. Senior Rohan Brown battled injuries and struggled to stay on the floor. Despite some encouraging minutes, Ukrainian Yevgen Sakhniuk couldn’t find consistent time when he wasn’t battling illness.
Now the team heads into the 2016-17 season revamped with big men. While they return both Washington and Sakhniuk into the lineup, there are also new faces: transfer Demetrius Henry and incoming freshman Cian Sullivan.
While Henry may be new to the public eye, he is not new to the team, already having spent the year at La Salle sitting out per NCAA rules. He spent this time learning the system and getting ready for the year. Henry has proven his ability to grow as a player, as he jumped from 210 pounds in his freshman season to a bulky 230 pounds his sophomore season. Also improved was his shooting percentage, which was a dreadfully low 41% his freshman year, jumping that up to 51% his sophomore season.
When engaged, he’s a force down low. However, that wasn’t always the case at South Carolina, where he played beside guard Sindarius Thornwell, who was prone to taking lots of shots. As a result, Henry’s production didn’t always seem to be as high as it could be.
DJoumbarey A. Moreau of HoopsHabit.com wrote a piece during the 2014-15 season about the Gamecocks, saying that if Henry “remains unengaged during the early part of the year it's only going to stay the same for South Carolina and they will get slaughtered inside against larger opponents.”
The same can be said for La Salle. Not only will he have to face some of the country’s top big men on a nightly basis, but he will have to play with a similarly high scoring player who shoots a lot in Jordan Price. Either Price will need to learn to get Henry involved more often or Henry will have to learn how to get more engaged himself. But either way, Henry will be a valuable part of the offense when playing well, allowing for an inside out type of offense to be ran.
Consequently though, he has to show he can do it more consistently against good competition. During his sophomore season, he had five double digit scoring games. They came against North Florida, UNC Asheville, Coker, NC A&T,and Tennessee. In his freshman year he had three double digit games against FIU, Marshall, and South Carolina State. In both years he only had one double digit rebounding outing. That came against South Carolina State as well.
On the other hand, against the eight ranked teams he faced at USC, he only averaged 4.5 points and 3.8 rebounds per game. While he won’t be expected to be the number one scoring option at La Salle, Henry will have to play better against top tier competition.
Compared to Henry, Sullivan comes into the season with relatively low expectations. Although he stands at 7-foot-1, the Ireland native is extremely raw. Born in Ireland, Sullivan has only been in the United States for one season, where he did a prep year at St. Andrew’s, a top tier basketball school. Thanks to an improved shooting touch, he was ranked as the top player in the Rhode Island class of 2016 according to the New England Recruiting Report (NERR). Despite such a high ranking, Sullivan lacks the necessary strength for a future Division 1 player.
With that said, St. Andrew’s head coach said that Sullivan will likely redshirt the upcoming season to better prepare himself physically, according to the NERR. He will be able to learn under a plethora of big men, but specifically Tony Washington, as the rising junior went through a similar situation.
As a lanky, raw big man coming into La Salle, Washington redshirted his first season on campus, putting on 20 pounds. The next year, he barely played in his first official season in a La Salle uniform, appearing only in 13 games. Despite that, he put on another additional 10 pounds. His sophomore season, after two years of learning under star Explorers’ Jerrell Wright and Steve Zack, held more playing time, as he averaged 27 minutes per game and saw consistent starts. The same strategy will likely be used for Sullivan so that he can take over the reigns when Washington leaves. The hope is that Washington can be a mentor and as helpful to the young Irish player, as the preceding Explorers were to himself.
Washington, on the other hand, returns one of the two veteran big men (the other being Yevgen Sakhniuk) in the system. Both players complement each other’s games, as Washington is more of rim protector and back-to-the-basket type player. Sakhniuk, on the other hand, is a more natural finesse scorer.
In both of their first years with major minutes, they had their moments. Washington proved to be a good rebounder, averaging 7 rebounds per game, with a total rebounding percentage of 16%, ranking him first on the team and third in the Atlantic 10 conference. This was a product of ten games with double digit rebounds. On the defensive end, he was solid rim protector, averaging 1.5 blocks per game, which ranked him fifth in the conference. He added about 8 points per game on the other end and shot 60% from the field.
Sakhniuk, on the other hand, was very efficient on the offensive end in minimal minutes. Despite only playing 13 minutes per game, he averaged 6 points per game, giving him the highest points per 100 possessions on the team with 26.7. Not only that, but he was a close third on the team in player efficiency, with a rating of 16.4% (behind Washington). Cap that off with the fact that he shot 65% from the field and was second on the team in True Shooting Percentage with a percentage of .608. Had he played more minutes, he would have placed eighth in the Atlantic 10 in the TS% category. Although he didn’t play as much as many would have desired, Sakhniuk will have another chance this season to prove that he is a skillful scorer.
So...how do these guys fit in?
While Sullivan is likely to find minimal minutes (if any at all) because of his lanky frame and limited skillset at this time in his basketball career, Sakhniuk, Washington, and Henry should duke it out for the starting spots. With La Salle’s strengths visibly in their guards, to see three big men starting at the same time will be really surprising. Instead, expect coach Giannini and his staff to go with a three guard set, sometimes even resorting to four guards and small ball.
The team will have most of its scoring coming from the guard positions in the likes of rising junior Jordan Price, sharp shooter BJ Johnson, Florida native Cleon Roberts, and even Memphis transfer Pookie Powell. All four of those players are strong scorers and coach Giannini will likely look for the big men to complement that scoring. That would fall in more of the area of Washington and Henry, who can balance the floor by playing more in the post, and will give a better defensive presence for the team. Based on his play last season, Washington has already proved that he can fit in perfectly with this team, as he doesn’t often force shots, is a strong rebounder, and can protect the basket.
Ideally, that would leave Sakhniuk to come off the bench, where he can bring a scoring and energy punch when the starters need a break. While last year he had trouble getting comfortable in that role, he will need to learn how to produce off of the bench. With that said, there’s no doubt he has the skill and talent to score consistently at this level. It shouldn’t be a problem under coach Giannini, who has a history of talented forward and centers like Steve Zack, Jerrell Wright, Aaric Murray, Jerrell Williams, and others. This season seems to be no exception. Although the frontcourt will not be the focal point of the team, it will have to be a reliable group of guys that know their roles. If that happens, the Explorers will have a chance at winning some games in the NCAA tournament.
A big question mark heading into 2016-2017 for the La Salle Explorers is the role of junior guard Johnnie Shuler. Last season, Shuler was the team’s starting shooting guard, moving to point guard when Amar Stukes was taking his rest. He was given an enormous opportunity to display his play, as he averaged 35.6 minutes per game. Shuler showed flashes of promise and overall, was a solid contributor to the shorthanded roster.
Although his stat line (9.6 points, 3.7 rebounds, 3 assists) does not pop off the page, his contributions need to be looked at subjectively given the spots he was put in, playing for extended periods of time without rest, in a dreadfully slow-pace offense while often being oversized (only 5-foot-11, 170lbs) in his matchups against opponent’s off-ball guards. Despite the complications, Shuler held his own throughout the tough season.
Although La Salle lost only one scholarship senior to graduation in Rohan Brown, the Explorers rotation is sure to be drastically different from last season’s due to the three eligible transfers beginning their La Salle careers. With all of this roster turnaround, how will the Explorers’ incumbent starting guard see his role change next season?
Shuler’s role will be contingent on a couple different factors. One is how his game stacks up to Memphis transfer, point guard RaShawn “Pookie” Powell and last year’s starting point guard Amar Stukes. Another factor will be how head coach Dr. John Giannini wants to handle his starting lineup. These variables will determine how many minutes Shuler will play and at which guard position.
Pookie Powell did not transfer to La Salle and redshirt an entire season to sit on the bench for Dr. G. Although the former four-star recruit will have to earn a starting role, he is the early favorite to begin the season as the starting point guard. Two stats that are valuable in gauging the effectiveness of a point guard are assist to turnover ratio and assist percentage. Judging by these statistics, Powell was a much better point guard his freshman year at Memphis than Shuler was his freshman year. While averaging 15.4 minutes per game, Powell’s assist to turnover ratio was 1.35 with an assist percentage of 33.4%. Shuler’s freshman year, his assist to turnover ratio was .5 in only 6.2 minutes per game and held an assist percentage of 9.5%. Given this information, Powell is most likely Shuler’s biggest competition for point guard minutes next season.
Then there’s Amar Stukes. Stukes struggled mightily with his shooting in the first half of last season and has yet to develop into the ball player that Explorer fans were hoping he might. Still, the reigning Big 5 Scholar Athlete of the Year provides good defensive energy and played hard all last season while continuing to improve his game. Given Dr. G’s reputation for being loyal to his players, Stukes may have earned spot minutes next season and could be an off-the-bench option when Dr. G wants to set a defensive presence.
Between Powell and Stukes, Shuler will have his work cut out as he competes for point guard minutes next season. Still, if he can find around ten minutes a game as the team’s primary ball handler, that will allow him to play within the offense effectively without having to chase the opponent's ball handler around on defense for extended periods of time, as he was often required to do last season.
Johnnie Shuler should again, see time at both guard positions. Although he is undersized when matched up with most Division I off-ball guards, Shuler has good defensive instincts that were highlighted the first game of last season when a last-minute interception-steal sealed a win over Towson. Shuler is also a tough rebounder, averaging 3.7 rebounds per game and a 10.5 defensive rebounding percentage, better than fellow starters Amar Stukes and Cleon Roberts who are three and six inches taller than him, respectively. Last season, the Explorers’ half-court offense revolved around Jordan Price and Amar Stukes initiating the play from a 1-4 or 1-2-2 set and kicking the ball out to either Shuler or Cleon Roberts on the wing. Shuler developed a nice catch-and-shoot skill that became a reliable weapon for the Explorers, as he shot a respectable 36% from the three-point arc in conference play.
How many minutes Shuler gets at the off-ball guard position will be determined by the lineup and rotation that Dr. G decides to implement. With 10 scholarship players slated to suit up for La Salle, expect Dr. G’s rotation to fluctuate constantly. If a traditional two guard, three forward lineup is used, Shuler’s shooting guard minutes would be pinched almost altogether as Jordan Price, B.J. Johnson, and Cleon Roberts would soak up all 80 minutes between both wing spots. However, if Dr. G puts a more modern three guard and two forward lineup on the floor, Shuler should find shooting guard minutes off the bench as Johnson would be manning power forward spot more exclusively.
La Salle’s three-star freshman Saul Phiri is also not to be forgotten about and could spend some time on the floor. The early prognosis on Phiri is that he is a skilled shooter and at 6-foot-4 and 210 pounds, Phiri provides much greater length and muscle off the bench compared to Shuler.
Although Johnnie Shuler’s natural position is somewhat undefined, his combo-guard skill set can be an asset for La Salle, and lineups with both he and Powell on the floor together could be a weapon to catalyze offense for the Explorers. Not only is Shuler an effective three-point shooter, he also shot a respectable 79% of his free throws. Even though he averaged just two free throws a game last season, if Shuler is given the freedom to attack the basket, as an off-the-bench playmaker, he should get to the line more often and capitalize with his free throw accuracy. This will have to be something he works on this season so he can maximize his strengths
Johnnie Shuler’s role is an interesting and important question heading into next season. With squads as deep as La Salle’s, it is important that every player understands and accepts their position on the team. For Shuler to maximize his success next season, in any role, it is important is that he be prepared and ready to play whenever Dr. Giannini calls his number.
Photo: Derik Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports
The 2015-2016 season for the La Salle Explorers basketball team was a year of learning and development. Even from the beginning of the season, despite optimism from head coach John Giannini, inferences could be made about how the season would play out by looking at the roster makeup. With one eligible player taller than 6-7 and only eight eligible players on scholarship, the Explorers were predictably small in size and thin in numbers.
There was a chance though, heading into the season, that the Explorers could have found success with this roster. They did win four of their first five games, most notably against Towson in the season opener. But injuries to the frontcourt kept an already short roster playing, at many times, with five guards on the floor at once. A recipe for disaster if the guards are already winded from playing the entire game without rest (as they often did).
The Explorers were on a seven game losing streak when they made a change to the game plan and started controlling the pace of the game by pumping the brakes on offense. A January 9th home game vs. Dayton was the shock of the season for La Salle, as they defeated the top ranked Flyers 61-57 with an ultra-conservative style that had them dribbling the shot clock out to get just one look at the basket off a quick set. Then they would forgo any chance at an offensive rebound to get back on D and contain the opponent’s offense. For Dayton, the slower pace of the game really took their swing-motion offense out of its rhythm and the Flyers struggled mightily, shooting just 30% from the field.
Following the big win against Dayton, things really bottomed out for the Explorers. They lost the next 10 conference games they played by an average of 16 points. Even though the Explorers may have disrupted the tempo of some teams for maybe a half, there just wasn’t enough of an interior presence defensively for La Salle to get enough stops to stay in games.
The Explorers do get credit from fans for how, despite being so outsized and outnumbered, they fought their hearts out. Whenever La Salle played a road game, other school’s commentators would talk about how hard they play and how they go down swinging no matter what the deficit might show. The tough play was shown during the last stretch of the season. Even when buried in the bottom of the conference, having only won a single game in their last 18 tries, the Explorers managed to win three of their final six games to conclude the regular season.
Even though the Explorers were unable to make any noise in the A10 tournament, they did beat Duquesne handily in the first round by 15 points. Duquesne beat La Salle by 27 earlier in the season so it was a nice moral victory for the Explorers before falling to Davidson a day later, ending the tremulous season.
The MVP of the La Salle Explorers is a no-brainer. Jordan Price played in all 31 games, averaged 37.7 minutes, 19.2 points, 3 assists and 5.5 rebounds on 39% from the field and 37% from three. Many times during the season, it was Price who was the offensive catalyst, as they would run a 1-4 or 1-2-2 set and have Price handling the ball at the top of the play, then either isolating or coming off a high pick. Price’s 6-foot-5, 220 pound frame allowed him to muscle his way into the paint and stay balanced enough to either kick the ball back out to the perimeter, dump it into the post, or finish at the rim. When defenders sagged off of Price, his best offensive weapon was a pull-up jumper that extended beyond the three-point line.
La Salle also should be happy with the play of Johnnie Shuler. The sophomore combo-guard stepped into a starter role for the Explorers after averaging only six minutes a game his freshman year. Although his 9.6 points, 3 assists, and 3.7 rebounds in 35.6 minutes per game does not pop off the page as an exceptional stat line, Shuler showed toughness with his rebounding number despite standing only 5-foot-11 and defending opponent’s taller off-ball guards. Shuler also showed a potential for making timely plays, most notably in the first game of the season, when a last minute steal and pair of game-icing free throws helped defeat Towson by two points.
However, with that said, the La Salle Explorers interior defense was not good at all this season. The team’s defensive rating per 100 possessions of 109.5 is 325th out of 351 schools. The opponent’s 73.5 points per game is 223rd and is statistically aided by the slow pace the Explorers’ offense ran at. The two reasons for La Salle’s defensive ineffectiveness are the same two reasons the team struggled as a whole; size and depth. The Explorers entered this season with only two frontcourt players in Yevgen Sakhniuk and Tony Washington. Surely Dr. Giannini expected more time on the court for Sakhniuk, as he spoke highly of him heading into this season, claiming “He will continue (La Salle’s) success following the graduation of Jerrell (Wright) and Steve (Zack).” But Sakhniuk struggled to stay healthy for undisclosed reasons during the season and managed only 13 minutes per game in 19 games played. Although he showed great potential as an offensive weapon with some inside moves and a face up game, Sakhniuk will have to improve on his 38% clip on the free throw line to take his total offensive game to the next level.
Tony Washington was the only rim protector the Explorers had and he would often get into foul trouble and not be on the floor for important stretches of the game. And when he is in the game and trying to ration his fouls, he just couldn’t provide enough defensive aggressiveness or energy to make an impactful difference.
On the other hand, he was the only interior presence for the Explorers and they needed him to be on the court for a large portion of the game, especially down the stretch of games when defensive stops are a necessity. Being the only form of rim protection, Washington picked up fouls early and often, keeping him on the bench for long periods at a time. He ended up averaging 26.7 minutes, fouling out of six games and tallying at least four fouls in 15 games. In a loss against Rhode Island, Washington fouled out after 13 total minutes. However, Tony should not shoulder all the blame for his foul numbers. It was a monumental task bestowed upon the sophomore in his first season as a rotation player, he did the best he could, and played really well during the right circumstances, especially when we was not in foul trouble. But when Washington was not on the floor for the Explorers, there was just no way for them to get enough rebounds or defensive stops to compete for long stretches. Without Washington, the Explorers team defense would have to sag into the paint to help each other out, leaving the perimeter also exposed. Not to let Dr. G off the hook completely, but this was really a situation that had no answers to resolve. The players did their best, and that's all Dr. G can ask of them, but there just weren’t enough large bodies eligible on the roster to give La Salle a chance in many games.
This season was one of the toughest for anyone involved in La Salle basketball, but the Explorers are a young team, full of potential. That being said, it is an important offseason for La Salle basketball. The roster will significantly improve next season, as they are only losing one senior (Rohan Brown), gaining two freshmen from the incoming class, and three high level transfers that will be eligible next season. It would be a surprise if the Explorers do not take a huge step in the right direction next year.
Photo: Chris Szagola/AP Photo
Benjamin Boswell (@BenjaminBoswell)
For fans of college basketball, it is the best month of the year: March. This is the month when everything comes into fruition and teams need to start playing at their full potentials. Every eligible team in the nation has the same goal: punching their ticket to the NCAA tournament. If the La Salle Explorers want to go dancing, they will have to string together five wins in a row, a feat they have not accomplished all season, in five consecutive days. But, the Explorers path to the A-10 championship is laid out before them and the roster is as deep as it has been all season, with all eight available scholarship players ready and healthy for head coach Dr. John Giannini to use in the tournament.
La Salle’s A-10 tournament begins on Wednesday night against in-state foe Duquesne. The Dukes of Duquesne are the tournament’s 11 seed and had lost eight games in a row before defeating Saint Joseph’s on Saturday night. Duquesne is lead offensively by their backcourt, with seniors Derrick Colter (17.6 points per game, .351 3P%) and Micah Mason (18.1 points per game, .419 3P%). For the Explorers to win this game, they will have to defend the perimeter against the Dukes, who as a team, have the 21st most three-point attempts in the nation and shoot 36% from outside.
Because the Atlantic 10 conference format does not re-seed every round, if the Explorers beat the Dukes on Wednesday, their next game would be Thursday against sixth seeded Davidson. Lead by their senior guard Jack Gibbs, who averages 24.7 points per game, the Davidson Wildcats are a team that scores a lot of points (79.7 per game), but also give up a lot of points (78.2 points per game). In the one game La Salle played Dayton this year, the Wildcats’ Explorer-killer was Brian Sullivan, who scored 20 points and dished out seven assists in the Wildcats’ win. A second round win against Davidson would send a loud message to the rest of the conference that La Salle is here to play and is not already looking ahead to next season as some of the fans may already be doing. If La Salle plays tough defense for 40 minutes and exposes Davidson’s defensive issues, the Explorers have a fighter’s chance against a Wildcat team that could be rusty after four days in a row without a game. As a team who has fallen to inferior conference opponents before this season in George Mason, George Washington and Fordham, La Salle could be next to upset Davidson.
In the event that La Salle wins against Dayton, they would then play their third game in as many days against number two seed VCU. VCU has made it to the NCAA tournament seven of the last nine years and will certainly not be happy with any postseason result other than a chance in the NCAA tournament. If there is one thing that helps the Explorers going into this potential matchup, it is that they will be riding a two-game win streak and will most likely be filled with confidence after two wins in consecutive days. VCU on the other hand, will have five full days off from games since their last game, including a tough one-point loss to Dayton. It will be a challenging game for the Explorers, especially considering the depth VCU plays with, as they have 10 players on the roster that average double digit minutes per game. But if the Rams overlook what will be a red-hot Explorer team, anything is possible.
A semifinal matchup will be against either St. Bonaventure, or the winner of the UMass/ Rhode Island game. La Salle lost both their games against UMass and Rhode Island and defeated St. Bonaventure at Tom Gola arena in their one matchup. All three of these teams would be a formidable matchup for La Salle and an Explorer win would require La Salle continuing to play the best basketball they would be playing all season.
The championship round of the tournament is where the Explorers are hoping that one of their fellow underdogs can run the table along with them. Because the A-10 conference does not reseed every round, it is in the realm of possibility that La Salle could play a low seed like George Mason or Saint Louis in the championship game. However unlikely, this is a scenario that Explorer fans would dream to have and certainly put the team in as good of a position to win the A-10 tournament as they could be in.
As unlikely as it looks, the blueprint is set and La Salle knows what they have to do to return to the NCAA tournament. Five wins in five days is what it will take. No doubt, pulling off this feat would be an astronomical accomplishment for this year’s team. It will take a parlay of events that the Explorers will look to cash in on; La Salle playing better than they have been all season, some lucky bounces in their favor, and some help defeating the A-10 giants from fellow underdogs wouldn’t hurt either. If all these scenarios lineup for the Explorers, this would be one of the biggest college basketball storylines of the season.
Photo: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports
By Benjamin Boswell
As a long season for La Salle basketball fans winds down, one player that deserves credit for improving his play over the season is redshirt sophomore guard Amar Stukes.
Stukes is a homegrown talent who attended La Salle College High School in Philadelphia. Despite his success there, he was a two-star recruit with good size (6-2), solid defensive abilities and an overall raw offensive game coming in La Salle. During Stukes’ redshirt freshman season, he averaged 5.3 points, 1.3 assists, and 1.4 rebounds, while shooting 44% from the field in 22 minutes per game.
When this season began, Explorer fans knew Stukes needed to play up to his potential consistently as he stepped into an improved role as a full-time starter. The season did not start off very well for Stukes as he shot just 6-36 from the field and 0-8 on 3-pointers through the first four games of the season.
Considering how short La Salle’s bench is, Stukes’ minutes fluctuated heavily over the season. He has played at least 34 minutes in fourteen games this season and five games where he played all 40 minutes, but he has also played fewer than 23 minutes in eight games. When La Salle’s bench was at its deepest, having all nine of their available scholarship players healthy to play for three consecutive non-conference games against Drexel, Miami and Villanova, Stukes was the player whose minutes declined the most, averaging only 19.7 minutes per game for that three-game stretch. Then as the injury bug re-plagued the Explorers’ frontcourt, Stukes’ minutes inclined, playing all 40 minutes in consecutive games against FGCU and UMass. Part of the reason for his inconsistent minutes could be due to some foul trouble he has gotten into as he has at least four fouls in 10 games. But in the back-to-back games against Drexel and Villanova, Stukes came off the bench for both contests and compiled only three personal fouls in 41 total minutes.
Although La Salle’s bench is paper thin and the team as a whole has struggled in nearly every facet of the game this season, a big concern regarding Stukes’s play has been the fact that he has not improved his stats by much since his freshman season. Despite playing 7.4 more minutes per game this season than he did last season, Stukes’s scoring only improved from 5.3 to 5.6 points per game, his assists from 1.3 to 2.9 and rebounds from 1.4 to 1.9 per game. In a largely expanded role, Stukes was expected to play more aggressively this season and get to the rim to create offense, but as the season drug along for La Salle, Stukes really had not been doing any of this and often appeared to be a non-factor offensively for the Explorers.
Many of Stukes’s struggles this season have to due with his offensive skill set not fitting well with what coach Giannini has him doing in the offense. If Amar Stukes is going to be a starting point guard, his ideal role is initiating the offensive action by either coming off a high pick or on a dribble drive, then dishing it to a big down low, or to a shooter on the wing. What you don't want to rely on Stukes to do is find shots on the perimeter, which is what the offense this season has had him do. 3-point shooting is the weakest part of Stukes game, so hiding him in the corner of a 1-4 or 1-2-2 set does not do his skill set any justice.
Despite his inconsistent minutes and struggles for the beginning and middle part of the season, Stukes has steadily improved his play to the point where he has strung together some nice games during the month of February. Stukes best two games came in a 17-point, 5-rebound effort against VCU and a 12-point, 6-assist, 6-rebound game in La Salle’s most recent win against George Mason. Stukes has averaged 9 points, 3.1 assists and 2.3 rebounds in 30 minutes per game over the past month, an improvement over his season averages.
Stukes’ long-term future as a major contributor for La Salle is cloudy at this point. Stukes will be competing for point guard minutes with both Johnnie Shuler and Pookie Powell next season. For Stukes to make an argument for playing time in a much deeper backcourt, he will have to let his play this season do the talking.
Photo: (AP Photo/Zach Gibson)The Associated Press
With six games remaining in the 2015-2016 season, the La Salle Explorers sit at the very bottom of their conference standings with an A-10 conference record of 2-11. La Salle heads into the backstretch of their season following a win at home against St. Bonaventure. In this game, the Explorers were able to shoot 50% from the 3-point line and outrebound the Bonnies 38-23. Jordan Price strung together a really nice stat line of 18 points 10 rebounds and 6 assists, while Yevgen Sakhniuk was able to contribute 16 minutes off the bench and score 6 points, grab 3 rebounds, and dish-out 2 assists in his third game back from an illness that held him out of twelve consecutive games. Despite the two conference wins that La Salle has pulled off against Dayton and St. Bonaventure, a 2-11 record is not cutting it for Explorer fans. Many may be wondering, where does La Salle go from here?
Head coach Dr. Giannini is not known for his offensive ingenuity. One of the biggest criticisms of him has been that he lacks an offensive identity. Since 2011, La Salle has used a different offensive system seemingly every season. Granted, it is important that a coach adapts their strategy to complement the player’s skills, but it takes time for an offense to be learned by a team and any progress that is made over the course of a season is erased when the offense is completely changed every year. That is why Dr. G should implement a more stable offensive system that the young players can become accustomed to playing during their time at La Salle.
For a team to build a successful and lasting identity, they need to be resilient with their philosophy, during the good times and the bad. When Villanova lost 19 games in the 2011-2012 season, head coach Jay Wright did not abandon his 4-out-1-in offense. When Syracuse did not make the NCAA tournament two years in a row in 2006-2007 and 2007-2008, Jim Boeheim did not stop using his 2-3 zone defense. USC head coach Andy Enfield’s first two seasons as the Trojans’ head coach have resulted in 21 and 20 losses respectively, but he has not changed the up-tempo philosophy that got him to USC. As a result, Enfield’s team is winning this season. For any coach to have sustained success at a school, they need a consistent identity to build around on both sides of the ball.
On defense, Dr. Giannini absolutely has an idealized plan of playing opponents in man-to-man. It is only because of the severe lack of depth, that the Explorers are settling into a zone defense this season. Right now, the issue is that Dr. G has not shown that there is an offensive system that he believes will help the team win year-in and year-out. So again the question remains, where do they go from here?
The nation’s 17th worst scoring offense needs a fresh look. Dr. Giannini should look to hire a top assistant to come in and be the team’s offensive coordinator similar to what the Philadelphia 76ers did with Mike D’Antoni. There has to be an array of up-and-coming minds, climbing through the coaching ranks that have unique and virtually untapped offensive philosophies. Dr. Giannini should interview as many of these types of coaches as he can, then use his basketball instincts to pick which coach/system he thinks will best fit with the current and future La Salle roster.
La Salle will no doubt improve their record next season. With the current state of the La Salle 2016-2017 roster the way it is, the basement for expectations is much higher than what this season has produced. The only thing that can make next season worse than this season is if La Salle dismisses Dr. Giannini. As long as Dr. G is at the helm, the Explorers could use the same offense next season as they use this season and still improve by a handful of wins. If Dr. G accepts that there may be an assistant coach available that is able to help the team with Xs and Os on offense, La Salle has the potential to be competitive with the A-10s big dogs. That's not to say that Dr. G alone cannot coach the team to success. He absolutely can and has before.
Dr. Giannini fits great at La Salle as a figurehead-type coach. He says the right things to the media, is a good communicator to the players, a solid recruiter, and teaches strong defense. Adding an offensive minded assistant to the staff can only help a coach whose greatest deficiency is offensive strategy. This is a direction La Salle basketball should look to go in.
Photo: Benjamin Simon
-La Salle loses to UMass in the first round of the A-10 tournament