City Six: Giannini high on La Salle's young bigs

In his first season as an Explorer, Jerrell Wright has started 19 of 20 games. Above, he goes up for a jam against Boston U.
In his first season as an Explorer, Jerrell Wright has started 19 of 20 games. Above, he goes up for a jam against Boston U. (YONG KIM / Staff Photographer)

Sky's the limit for freshmen Jerrell Wright and Steve Zack, coach John Giannini says.

Posted: January 25, 2012

1. Missing ingredient

While his strong nucleus of guards gets all the attention, La Salle coach John Giannini is touting the improved play of his freshmen big men, Jerrell Wright and Steve Zack.

"We think we have a potentially great starting forward/center combination moving ahead into future years," Giannini said. "It's hard for big young guys to make the adjustment [from high school]. They're just going to keep getting better. This is a missing ingredient for us being a high-level team, but I don't think it will be missing for long."

The 6-foot-8 Wright (8.4 points and 6.5 rebounds per game), who starred at Dobbins, has started 19 of the Explorers' 20 games.

The 6-11 Zack, from New Cumberland, Pa., has played in every game, averaging 1.2 points, 2.4 rebounds, and 0.5 blocked shots in 10 minutes. But Giannini said he likes all the little things that Zack can do.

"Steve does a lot of good things out there that don't always show up in the stat sheet, but I also like his stat sheet most of the time," he said. "I do like his blocks. I do like his rebounds. I do like his offensive efficiency. I just know he and Jerrell are going to keep getting better and better."

2. Hot Dragons

Drexel (15-5, 7-2 Colonial Athletic Association) remains the hottest team around, having won seven in a row and 13 of 14 after Monday's 64-48 win at William & Mary.

Now the Dragons will get a chance to avenge their two CAA losses. On Wednesday, the Dragons host Georgia State and then on Saturday, Drexel meets visiting Delaware. Drexel's loss to Georgia State on Jan. 2 was the last time Drexel lost.

"We've had good balance," said Drexel coach Bruiser Flint, who has five players averaging between eight and 12 points, led by 6-6 freshman Damion Lee (12.3 ppg.).

3. Playing through it

It is customary for Jay Wright to allow freshmen - and only freshmen - to play through mistakes and learn from experience on the court. He's doing the same thing with sophomore James Bell, who began his freshman season recovering from stress fractures in both legs and never quite rounded into form.

On Saturday, Bell went through a miserable shooting game against St. John's, going 4 of 16 for 10 points. He missed his first seven three-point attempts but the eighth one went in for a key basket in overtime of the 79-76 win.

Despite his shooting woes, Bell still played 41 minutes.

"We need him," Wright said. "He plays defense. He rebounds. We're just trying to teach him to be confident offensively. He's like a freshman. Last year he didn't play that much and he couldn't practice. So when they're freshmen, we want them to go play, make mistakes. I want him to play like that and be aggressive."

4. Finding their way

St. Joseph's (12-8) has lost five of seven games and it doesn't get easier when Atlantic Ten leader Dayton (14-5, 4-1) visits Hagan Arena on Wednesday.

At least Hawks coach Phil Martelli kept his sense of humor. When somebody suggested on an A-10 conference call that the Hawks were struggling just a bit, Martelli said, "I appreciate you saying we are struggling a little bit."

Then Martelli turned serious.

"We have lost our way, players, coaches," he said.

And the only way to find it is to keep grinding.

Right now consistency has been the Hawks' biggest problem.

An example is guard Langston Galloway, who has probably has been the Hawks' top player. In the last five games, twice he has scored below 10 (six and eight), and twice he has had 30 or more, including a career-high 32 points in Saturday's loss to Penn.

5. Oh for Charlotte

Turns out Temple, a traditional A-10 power, is winless in Charlotte's Halton Arena, which the Owls will visit on Wednesday. Temple is 0-4 against the 49ers there.

Charlotte (10-8, 2-3 A-10) hosts Temple (13-5, 2-2) in a key conference matchup on Wednesday night. The 49ers are 5-3 at home this season. Temple, on the other hand, is 5-3 in road games.


City Six Rankings

Staff voters are Joe Juliano, Keith Pompey, Mike Jensen, Marc Narducci, John Quinn, Gary Miles, and Gary Potosky. 

Inquirer Staff

1. Temple

2. La Salle

3. Villanova

4. Drexel

5. St. Joseph’s

6. Penn

Fans’ Rankings

Cast your vote for how you think the city's six teams should be ranked at www.philly.com/city6.

1. Temple

2. La Salle

3. St. Joseph's

4. Drexel

5. Villanova

6. Penn


League Update

Big East

Villanova climbed above some of the bottom-dwellers in this power conference, but the Wildcats will need to beat some of the Big East’s top teams to have a shot at a .500 or better record. They visit Louisville on Wednesday and host Marquette on Saturday. We’ll know a lot more about Villanova after those games. Syracuse remains the top dog, despite a loss to Notre Dame. Georgetown had to come back late to edge Rutgers on  Saturday. Will UConn make a move soon? And Pittsburgh’s winless mark in the conference is still hard to believe.

Atlantic 10

La Salle and Temple remain in the hunt for a top-four seed in next month’s A-10 tournament. The Owls haven’t lost a lot of league games the last few years, so expect a run pretty soon. The Explorers are a surprise. They host GW and visit Duquesne this week. St. Joseph’s, which started fast in nonconference play, has hit the skids. First-place Dayton comes to Hawk Hill on Wednesday, which could be the last chance for the Hawks to get in the A-10 mix again.

CAA

There was a time in December when it looked like Drexel would be a disappointment. But the Dragons are on a roll, and are now tied for second in a league that sent a team to the Final Four twice in the last few years. Huge home game for Drexel on Wednesday against Georgia State.

Ivy League

Don’t sleep on Penn. That would have been good advice for the A-10’s St. Joseph’s Saturday at the Palestra. Was it a city rivalry that brought out the best in the Quakers? Or is  this team a threat to Harvard? Probably something in between, but Penn is unbeaten so far in league play and has Princeton (Jan. 30) and Harvard (Feb. 10) coming to the Palestra in the next few weeks. The Crimson remain at No. 23 in the ESPN/USA Today coaches’ rankings and are getting votes in the AP poll.


This Week’s Games

Wednesday

Villanova at Louisville, 7

Temple at Charlotte, 7

G. Washington at La Salle, 7

Georgia State at Drexel, 7

Dayton at St. Joseph’s, 7

Saturday

Marquette at Villanova, noon

Delaware at Drexel, 2

St. Joseph’s at Temple, 4

La Salle at Duquesne, 7

Monday

Princeton at Penn, 7


Contact staff writer Joe Juliano at 215-854-4494, jjuliano@phillynews.com, or @joejulesinq on Twitter.

Inquirer staff writers Keith Pompey and Marc Narducci contributed to this article.

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