Validation for La Salle's John Giannini

Posted: March 18, 2013

Here's definite evidence that John Giannini has a quick ball club:

"The players jumped up, and I didn't even get to see it," the Explorers coach said. "Lost my moment." Players had  erupted out of their seats Sunday when La Salle's name appeared on the television screen during the NCAA tournament selection show.

The name didn't appear until the last regional was unveiled on CBS. I've been at close NCAA games with less tension in the air than inside that little conference room down the hall from the basketball office at Tom Gola Arena.

At each commercial break, Giannini stood and stretched at the knees. He had told his guys before the selection show to keep it down, that the volume on the television couldn't go any higher. No need. The room stayed plenty quiet.

Just before the No. 12 seed in the last regional was announced, Giannini said, almost under his breath, "Here we go." However, Ole Miss was announced. There would still be a play-in game somewhere else in the bracket.

If you've been waiting 21 years to get back, what's another few seconds?

Then the suspense was over, the celebration on. Boise State was the opponent in a Wednesday play-in game in Dayton, Ohio, for the 13th seed in the West Regional. After that, the few remaining teams to be announced were unnoticed in that room.

And the fact is, if Ramon Galloway had not hit that layup at the end of the Butler game, if a Tyreek Duren shot had not gone in at the end of a Northeastern game, or to force overtime against Villanova . . .

La Salle needed all of that to be the second-to-last team in.

Add in a couple of days when things broke La Salle's way, with bubble teams losing all over. The Explorers might consider sending some flowers around the country. They needed help and got it. You also won't hear anybody around Olney Avenue complaining about the NCAA's expanding from 65 schools to 68 in 2010.

To hear your name announced, "It's infinitely harder than the average fan would realize," said Giannini, who began rattling off names of big schools with bigger budgets. "Florida State isn't going to be in it. Iowa is not going to be in it. Stanford is not going to be in it. You can just go on and on and on and name household names. Texas is not in it."

You can throw in Kentucky.

"You can throw in Kentucky," Giannini said.

This is Giannini's ninth season at La Salle, after eight years at Maine. There have been a lot of wins in those 17 years, as he took each program to higher ground, but no NCAA appearances. For Division I basketball coaches, resumés are incomplete without them.

"Personally, yes, I agree," Giannini said. "It's the way people are measured in our business."

He's been to a Final Four as a graduate assistant at Illinois and won a Division III national title at Rowan. But he knows the difference, that his resumé had changed in an instant.

"It is important however you look at it," Giannini said. "For our alums and our former players who waited 21 years, it's important. For kids who only have four chances in their career to make it - and they truly dedicate themselves 12 months a year - it's important. For our coaches . . ."

And even if Giannini missed seeing La Salle's name as he sat in the third row - credit Explorers reserve forward Rohan Brown with boxing him out by springing to his feet in the second row - Giannini pumped a fist and smiled at the unfolding chaos.

After walking around the room sharing hugs with La Salle staffers, Giannini shared a long one with his point guard, Duren. Other players began rubbing his head. They engulfed him, "Yeah, Coach. Yeah, Coach." He was lost in the pile.

After he broke free, Giannini leaned against a wall and took it all in for just a moment. As it happened, he was leaning against a framed photo of Gola.

He talked about La Salle folks' having seen some of the best basketball in the country "if they were here in the '50s, '60s, '70s, '80s, and early '90s," adding that he always understood the stakes that came from that passion.

"They've waited a long time for this," Giannini said. "I knew that the first day I was here."


Contact Mike Jensen at  mjensen@phillynews.com. Follow @jensenoffcampus on Twitter.

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