The Empire's season podcast series will cover college basketball in the City 6. We will be releasing a podcast to accompany a written report covering our outlook for the teams' seasons. Please note that the podcasts and the written season previews may differ in writers and opinion.
For most basketball teams, a six win improvement from one season to the next would promote optimism among the school and fans. However, when hopes and expectations were as high as last year’s team following the arduous 2015-16 season, a six game improvement that leads to a .500 record does not cut it for some fans. The team’s mediocre record speaks perfectly to how last season went. No big wins and no overly disappointing losses, simply an ordinary and unspectacular year.
The inflated expectations stemmed from the addition of three Power-6 conference transfers that became eligible to play last season. From the time Demetrius Henry, Pookie Powell, and B.J. Johnson were only scout team or practice players in their redshirt year, the sentiment among fans was that these three were among the best players on the team. Adding them into the mix was the plan to boost La Salle to the top of the conference, and bring change to the team.
Last year’s team did have a different feeling to it though. Unlike the prior year, the Explorers had few problems scoring, averaging 75.5 points per game. This is attributed to the offensive system implemented by then assistant coach Matt Brady. His up-tempo, four out dribble drive offense improved La Salle’s scoring by 11.4 points per game, and their field goal percent by 4%. The Explorers’ problem last season was on the defensive side of the ball. La Salle’s opponents scored 76.6 points per game, shot 47% from the field and 39% from three. All offseason, the Explorers’ goal was to improve on the defensive side of the ball. With a turnover of four players from last season, Dr. Giannini has the opportunity to engrain a defensive mindset into this year’s new roster.
Who’s Gone? Jordan Price (G/F, graduation), Cleon Roberts (G, graduation), Demetrius Henry (F, pursuing pro career) and Hank Davis (G, graduation)
Jordan Price is the largest loss in terms of production that the Explorers will need to replace. Price’s 15.3 points per game was second on the team, while his ability to play in isolation and score on his own helped get the Explorers out of offensive droughts all season. Cleon Roberts was the team’s sixth man last year after starting every game the previous season. Roberts brought good shooting ability and length to the Explorers rotation and having him come off the bench gave the Explorers not only good depth from the wing position, but also flexibility in the lineups to go big, small, or any variation. Demetrius Henry started 18 games for the Explorers last year and showed potential to be a scoring threat from the power forward position. His 61% field goal percentage can be attributed to a soft touch around the basket and above the rim athletic ability where he finished lobs and put-backs. Hank Davis was a walk-on that played 12 total minutes for the Explorers last season, but considering his four years spent with the program and academic prestige (Big-5 scholar athlete of the year, published article in scholarly journal), there is sure to be a leadership quality in the program that is lost with Davis’ graduation.
Who’s New? Miles Brookins (F, Fr.), Jamir Moultrie (G, Fr.) Dajour Joseph (G, Fr.) and Cian Sullivan (C, R-Fr.)
With no transfers on the docket to join the team, this year’s freshman class will be relied upon to bring depth to the Explorers rotation. Due to the loss of Demetrius Henry, Miles Brookins will be given minutes early in the season. Jamir Moultrie is a three-star recruit from District Heights, Maryland who stands at 6-foot-1. With La Salle’s current depth at the point guard position, Moultrie’s impact on the team might need another year to come to fruition. Dajour Joseph is a 6-foot-6 wing from Lauderdale, FL. He is a two-star recruit and more of a raw prospect compared to the other two true freshman. Lastly, Cian Sullivan is a 7-foot-2 redshirt freshman center, who is ready to begin his college basketball career after the long redshirt season last year. Fans should be excited about what a player with his size has the capability to do for the team, particularly on the defensive side of the ball.
Projected Starting Lineup:
Graduate Student. G, Amar Stukes (Proj. Stats: 7 PPG, 4 APG, 1.5 SPG)
The redshirt senior has been a mainstay in the Explorers’ starting lineup since his sophomore year. He plays hard and takes care of the ball. Last year, Stukes showed the ability to attack the rim and scored on 55% of his 2pt field goals. He is also quite effective from the free throw stripe, shooting 83%. Stukes also showed his ability to handle the ball, posting an assist-to-turnover ratio of 2:1. Because Stukes struggles to stretch the defense while playing off-ball, shooting 30% on three point shots the past two seasons, he should be more of the ball handling guard in the Explorers’ offense. Stukes makes his bones on the defensive side of the ball. He is the best perimeter defender on the team and brings a gritty toughness to the lineup that will be crucial in improving La Salle’s team defense.
Sr. G, Pookie Powell (Proj. Stats: 14 PPG, 4 APG, 35% 3PT%)
Powell had moments of great offensive play last season. His quickness and ball handling skills create many scoring opportunities. In Sports Illustrated.com’s top 100 scorers preview, Powell was ranked 41st in the country, projecting him to score 16.1 points per game. While he will need to shoulder a bit more of the offensive load due to Jordan Price’s departure, defenses will also be keying in on him more, making efficiency more difficult. Powell improved his 3pt shooting percentage by 7% from 29% his freshman year at Memphis to 36% last season at La Salle. To score the ball the way he is expected to, he will need to continue to improve his perimeter shooting.
La Salle guard Pookie Powell attempts layup.
(Luke Risher/Staff Photographer)
So. G, Saul Phiri (Proj. Stats: 9 PPG, 4 RPG)
Phiri is a long wing that provided some nice defensive sequences last season in his 6.3 minutes averaged in 24 games played. He has a bulky 6-foot-4, 210-pound frame with potential as a useful 3-and-D wing. To secure his spot in the lineup, Phiri will need to remain active on the perimeter defensively, getting his hands in opponents passing lanes and making it tough for opposing wings to find a rhythm. Offensively, Phiri shot just 30% from three last season, but has the potential to improve that number and become a perimeter threat that teams will not be able to double off of.
Sr. F, B.J. Johnson (Proj. Stats: 17 PPG, 6 RPG, 45% FG%)
The leading scorer from last season, B.J. Johnson, is seeking another strong season for La Salle. Sports Illustrated has him projected as the 7th leading scorer in the country for the upcoming year. Like Powell, Johnson finds himself in an improved role as legitimately the team’s #1 scoring option heading into this season. Johnson scores in a variety of ways, from slashing to catch-and-shoot three-pointers, while even possessing the ability to play isolation basketball. If Johnson can take part in improving the Explorers’ team defense, continue to take games over offensively, and become the alpha leader on this La Salle team, Johnson should be recognized as one of the top players in the Atlantic 10.
La Salle forward B.J. Johnson finishes through contact.
(Luke Risher/Staff Photographer)
Sr. F, Tony Washington (Proj. Stats: 6 PPG, 7 RPG, 1.7 BPG)
This season is the senior’s last chance to establish himself in the A-10 as an impactful and important player. Last year, Washington’s statistical production dipped from what he was able to do as a sophomore. While Washington’s minutes did drop, from 26.7 per game to 15.9, Demetrius Henry’s departure puts Washington back atop amongst La Salle’s big men. Washington should have the opportunity for extensive playing time once again this season. His playing style; setting picks, rebounding, and protecting the interior, is a prototype for what you want from a big man in today’s college basketball game.
Reserves: Isiah Deas (G, So.), Johnie Shuler (G, Sr.), Miles Brookins (G, Fr.), and Cian Sullivan (C, Fr.)
The Explorers’ bench can be summarized in one word, inexperience. While Johnie Shuler begins his senior season, and will be the first guard off of Dr. Giannini’s bench, the rest of the bench is just blossoming into their collegiate careers. Isiah Deas played in 17 games last season and earned two starts. His size (6-foot-6, 170 pounds) along with guard skills make him a high-ceiling player. Brookins and Sullivan figure to compete for backup center minutes in relief of Washington. While Sullivan has the size (7-foot-2, 215 pounds) that would look great underneath La Salle’s defensive basket, Brookins has had a really good offseason, earning praise from coach Giannini and teammates alike. Expect Brookins to be given minutes right out of the gate this season, which will give him an opportunity to show the maturity of his game and how prepared he is for the collegiate level.
at Penn (Nov. 13th, 2017)
La Salle has lost to Penn for the past two years. Early this season, at the historic Palestra, the Explorers will have a chance for revenge against its Big 5 rival. Although the past two defeats to Penn felt like somewhat of an upset, the Quakers lost only one major player from last year and will be an improved team. Early season rivalry games can help build momentum for teams heading into the meat of the season, and a win at Penn would really start the season on the right path for the Explorers.
at Richmond (Jan. 20th, 2018)
In mid-January, the Explorers travel to Richmond, Virginia for a nationally televised Saturday day-game. The Spiders were strong last season, finishing in 3rd place in the A-10 standings, but they lost their two top scorers over the offseason, who together made up for 47% of the team’s points. Although Richmond is projected to fall somewhere in the middle of the A-10 standings this season, this road game in front of the NBC Sports cameras will be an opportunity for the Explorers to assess themselves as a team. La Salle needs to win games on the road against teams like Richmond to show that they are a good team and capable of making a conference tournament run.
vs. Rhode Island (Feb. 20th, 2018)
Of course, a late season home game against the conference favorite is going to be marked on La Salle’s calendar. Like the Richmond game, this matchup against Rhode Island is a barometer for the Explorers to judge where they are as a team. By this point in the season, both teams should be in prime shape and at the top of their games. La Salle does not need to pull off an upset here to feel good after this game. Even if they play Rhode Island to a close game, and find some weaknesses in the Rams’ team, this will help them come conference tournament time, particularly if these two teams get matched up against each other later on.
16-15 (9-9 in conference)
Identical to last year, the Explorers should be hanging around a .500 record all season. The talent between B.J. Johnson and Pookie Powell will prevent La Salle from posting a losing record. They should have success offensively in the second year of the dribble drive offense Matt Brady had implemented in his time with the Explorers (Brady left to coach for the Maryland Terrapins). But, the lack of a defensive continuity is going to be a thorn in the Explorers’ side. The ceiling for this team should be the top of the A-10 standings. If everything goes right, the offense will be humming, the defense improved, and coach Giannini will have found an underclassman off the bench to step up and provide quality depth. The Explorers could end up with a higher seed in the A-10 tournament if that comes into fruition. But, objectively looking at this team in the beginning of November, it is hard to count on everything playing out the way La Salle needs it to. That is why the Explorers should be expected to remain somewhere around a 16 or 17 win team.
“Pookie (Powell) is having an unbelievable Fall. He really looks like an elite player right now.“ Head Coach Dr. John Giannini in an interview, found via Philly.com
“B.J. (Johnson) received great feedback from exploring his NBA potential. He is extremely focused and motivated to improve himself and our team and to reach his highest goals. He had interest to workout for several teams. However, he has some minor health issues from last season that would be best to take care of now to maximize his preparations for next season. He has decided to take that route and it bodes well for him and our team.” Head Coach Dr. John Giannini in a statement regarding B.J. Johnson exploring the NBA draft evaluation process, found via Sports Talk Philly.com
“I am blessed, honored, and thankful for the opportunity that Coach Giannini has entrusted me with. I have always supported Coach Giannini and have the utmost respect and admiration for him. To be given an opportunity to learn from him and the other coaches on the staff is priceless.” Newly hired Assistant Coach Donnie Carr in a statement, found via goexplorers.com
“Offensively, we're not going to have problems scoring the ball, but, I think defensively this year we came with a different mindset, and that’s going to help us win more of those 50-50 games that we lost last year.” B.J. Johnson, in an interview, found via Philly.com
“I just wanted to go somewhere where I felt comfortable, somewhere I could make an impact right away. And, just my relationship with the coaches, that played a role in it.” Freshman guard Jamir Moultrie in a statement on committing to La Salle, found via The Washington Post
-La Salle plays South Alabama this Thursday