La Salle and John Giannini are a perfect fit

John Giannini calls a timeout during La Salle's loss on Thursday. "Everyone knows this is home for me," the coach said earlier this week. YONG KIM / Staff Photographer
John Giannini calls a timeout during La Salle's loss on Thursday. "Everyone knows this is home for me," the coach said earlier this week. YONG KIM / Staff Photographer
Posted: March 31, 2013

LOS ANGELES - Watching La Salle fall one more upset short of becoming the first No. 13 seed to reach the NCAA Elite Eight, you could argue three Explorers NCAA wins are testament to a school showing patience with a coach, since John Giannini got to March Madness in his ninth season on Olney Avenue.

Or maybe it was a coach showing patience with a school.

Forget what you just saw. Did you think La Salle was a place where such a run was possible? Was anybody convinced that the Explorers could recruit the players necessary to compete in the Atlantic Ten, let alone make an NCAA run? How many times have people - La Salle people - said the Explorers never should have left the MAAC?

Were you even aware the Explorers were on the doorstep of making this run?

They have a coach who put on blinders. Giannini is the first to say that coaches get too much credit when teams win and too much credit when they lose. He also knows what it takes to win basketball games, when his guys have advantages that can carry the day, or when Wichita State had advantages La Salle could not overcome Thursday night at the Staples Center.

What La Salle has right now is a coach who didn't cut and run, who never looked around facilities that rank near the bottom of the Atlantic Ten and decide that the playing field could never be leveled, that maybe he would be better off in the MAAC.

He recruited Philly kids like crazy, and when he inevitably lost some to BCS schools, he kept the door open and also found other talented transfers, key these days when there is practically free agency in college basketball

It sounds like he's about to get a raise.

"We're going to sit down with John and hope, expect to reach an agreement with John, and he deserves some special consideration," La Salle athletic director Tom Brennan said Thursday night, standing in the hallway outside the Explorers' locker room after the game.

But the Tom Gola Arena won't suddenly turn into a palace. The job won't get easier. In some respects, it will get harder since expectations have suddenly been raised.

"You know, one of the things that this team - maybe even last year's team - but this team really showed, and I'm sure it's a reflection of John, they really like each other, like playing with each other," Brennan said. "There's a real sense of team cohesion.

"I've worked with John for a long time, and one of the things he has really expressed to me that he really does value, and this is compared to some of the teams he's had in the past five, six years, is a team that has good cohesion, that are not unselfish, that play with each other.

"You don't want to mention kids' names, but we've had some teams where that wasn't the case. Maybe he's learned that from his own experiences."

Is Giannini suddenly a hot coach whose name comes up for open jobs? That's part of college hoops, where the media start speculating, fitting coaches on NCAA runs to openings. Giannini made it clear the other day that he hasn't been approached by anybody.

"I can assure you that the furthest thing from our mind was playing Ohio State or Arizona or what's going to happen to me over the next year or 10 years," Giannini said in that same hallway. "Everyone knows this is home for me. Everyone knows we've built a program. We lose Ramon [Galloway], but we add Khalid Lewis. We have Tyrone Garland for a year. We get Steve Zack back healthy."

He continued in that vein.

"There's no question this is home for me, that I love this team," Giannini said. "We probably have more talent coming back, so I'm excited about next year and beyond."

If Northwestern, in Giannini's native Chicago, had come and offered to triple his salary, which that school could afford to do because of Big Ten Network revenues, Giannini would have been a fool not to consider it, and he's no fool. But Northwestern hired Duke assistant Chris Collins. There are no other current openings where Giannini is the obvious fit.

Walking out of the practice gym at Southern California earlier this week, Giannini mentioned that he understood why coaches say it's even harder to lose the further you advance. It seemed like the decisive outcome against Wichita State made Giannini turn the page quicker than he might have expected.

"Must have been a brutal game for you guys, starting so late," Giannini said walking down the hallway talking to a reporter. (Didn't tell him that the decisive 72-58 outcome made it easier.)

When Giannini got the La Salle job one August day in 2004, I asked his former Rowan assistant Joe Cassidy, now that school's head coach, what made Giannini tick.

"If he decides that the biggest problem here is recruiting, he'll go out and recruit like a madman," Cassidy said. "If he perceives the biggest problem is shooting, he'll go out and work like a maniac on shooting. If he perceives the problem here is the lack of team chemistry, something like that, he'll attack team chemistry with a vengeance."

All that proved to be true. Where is Giannini the right fit? A little gym on Olney Avenue.

Contact Mike Jensen at Follow @jensenoffcampus on Twitter.

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