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
-Junior forward B.J. Johnson will declare for the NBA Draft but will not sign with an agent