La Salle coach hopes turnaround is first step to long history of accomplishments

Posted: March 14, 2012

John Giannini received his Ph.D. in kinesiology from the University of Illinois in 1992, but the eighth-year La Salle coach believes he has a special mission to serve as an instructor of local hoops history.

From the time they are being recruited, prospective Explorers are made fully aware by Giannini of the school's many basketball successes.

"In the recruiting process, we talk about the La Salle tradition," said Giannini, whose Explorers (21-12) host Minnesota (19-14) at 7 Wednesday night in a first-round NIT game at Tom Gola Arena. "We talk about the NCAA championship [1954], the two Final Fours ['54 and '55], the NIT championship [1952], the three national players of the year [Tom Gola in 1955, Michael Brooks in 1980, and Lionel Simmons in 1990]. We take them through the Palestra, through the Big Five Hall of Fame. We show them all the memorabilia."

Giannini is pleased - no, ecstatic - that he has a La Salle team that won 20 games for the first time since the 1991-92 season, when the Explorers last appeared in a major postseason tournament (NCAA).

"Our job is to bring La Salle back and to have a great program again," Giannini said of the Explorers' 12th trip to the NIT. "This is a step in the right direction."

With just one senior (guard Earl Pettis) in the regular rotation, Giannini is convinced this season's turnaround is the beginning of better things.

Given the fact that this season marks the 60th anniversary of the Gola-led NIT championship team, and the 25th anniversary of La Salle's reaching the NIT final, a deep run to at least the semifinals would go a long way toward recalling some of the more hallowed echoes of the past.

Pettis, who leads La Salle in scoring with a 15.3-point average and was named the Atlantic Ten's most improved player, said it's time for today's Explorers to add a few lines to the legacy Giannini keeps reciting as if it were holy scripture.

"Maybe this team is the start of something really good," Pettis said. "Nobody expected us to be as good as we are."

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