La Salle looking ahead to next season

HEDDY BERGSMAN/PHILLIES La Salle's John Giannini throws out first pitch at Phillies game on June 23.
HEDDY BERGSMAN/PHILLIES La Salle's John Giannini throws out first pitch at Phillies game on June 23.
Posted: July 03, 2013

DR. JOHN GIANNINI and the La Salle men's basketball team have been hearing the praises over the last 3 months. Ever since their run to the Sweet 16 in the NCAA Tournament, the Explorers have been Philadelphia's darlings.

"Our alumni and basketball fans in Philadelphia have treated us great," Giannini said. "People go out of their way to say nice things, and that is really appreciated."

Senior guard Tyreek Duren was right in the middle of the action in March as the Explorers defeated Boise State in an NCAA Tournament play-in game, then defeated Kansas State and Mississippi to reach the Sweet 16. The Explorers lost to Final Four-bound Wichita State.

"A lot of people have been saying how proud they are that we got the program back to where it is supposed to be," Duren said. "From my freshman year, things have changed a lot. The La Salle community is more excited to be La Salle. I think the whole atmosphere has changed."

From throwing out the first pitch at a Phillies game last month to more intense media exposure, Giannini and the Explorers have been in demand since their tournament run. Yet the members of the team and coaching staff are not soaking it all in.

"Even though people are extremely nice to us, we don't go out looking for that," Giannini said. "What we do look for is great advice."

One person who gave the group advice stuck from the moment it left his mouth. Duren, along with Tyrone Garland and Jerrell Wright, had the chance to speak with legendary boxer Bernard Hopkins at the Wanamaker Award luncheon last month, and took his words to heart.

"He had a lot of great advice for us," Giannini said. "He talked about staying in shape year-round, and not to treat the offseason that much differently from in-season in terms of conditioning and work ethic. He talked about how he lost his first fight. It is another interesting lesson, that everyone has to deal with failure."

The Explorers had their failures in the past, but not this past season. They went 24-10 and caught the attention of the nation with their run in March. The success has made an impact, especially in the recruiting world.

"We've been able to get involved with more recruits from out of the area that got to see us play and really liked us, so that's really helped," Giannini said. "Kids that may not have been interested in the past are more interested now. The thing that they say is that they have watched us play and they really liked our team. Certainly that exposure helps."

Exposure has helped boost mid-major programs to another level the past few years. Both Butler and VCU, both Atlantic 10 members last season, have used strong showings in the NCAA Tournament to gain exposure, and attract recruits who wouldn't have considered their school in the past.

"I think it helps a lot," Duren said. "People saw the style of play that we have here at La Salle and they see freedom that Coach G gives us. I think that goes a long way with recruiting because a lot of people now know that we have a team that can compete with any other team."

Giannini says that last year's success is in the past, and the team is already preparing for next season, a season in which they have a realistic shot of landing back in the field of 68. Giannini believes Hopkins hit the nail on the head with another piece of advice he offered the Explorers.

"The most important thing that he said was that he had to change his mindset to change his behavior to change his success," Giannini said.

The Explorers have already changed their mindset by changing their behavior on the court, and thus became successful.

"Everything internal is exactly the same," Giannini said. "We're not congratulating ourselves. We're not surprised we did well last year. I think coaches or athletes think very differently from fans. You expect to be good, and you're disappointed when you're not good. You're not surprised when you get what you've worked hard for. We've also put it behind us, and we're very focused on next year."

"Everybody just wants to get back to where we were [last year]," Duren said. "Our practices are intense. They are very competitive. People are going after each other, pushing each other to get better."

With the Explorers focused on next year already, and pushing each other even harder, expect another successful season at 20th and Olney.

Duren summed up the Explorers' goals rather simply: "We want to make it back to the tournament and go farther than we did last year."

On Twitter: @AndrewJAlbert01

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