Andrew Albert (@andrewjalbert01)
Dr. John Giannini may have seen it coming.
His 21-9 Explorers were projected to be in the field of 68 when it was announced on Sunday night. La Salle had been on the edge of the tournament bubble since its loss to Butler on Friday, and had every reason to be tense watching the selection show.
But Giannini did not actually see it happen.
“I didn’t see it,” Giannini said. “The players jumped up and I didn’t even get to see it. I didn’t even get my ‘moment’ so to speak. I looked around them a couple seconds later and saw the details of the good news. They shot up before I could even see the screen and they blocked my view.”
Though he didn’t get to see the exact moment that the Explorers ended their 21-year NCAA tournament drought, he surely sees what it means for the program.
“We are thrilled to be in the NCAA tournament, to hear our name called with the best teams in the country,” Giannini added. “We think we deserve to be there, and you can’t win unless you’re there.”
La Salle will take on Boise State in Dayton on Wednesday for the right to become the 13 seed in the West bracket. The West was the last quarter of the bracket that was announced by CBS’s Greg Gumble, which caused much anxiety for all those at the watch party.
“Yes. Yeah, yeah,” Giannini said about being nervous come the final portion of the show. “The whole getting in the last region is a luck thing. It’s tremendous.”
“You just wanted to be named by the end of the show,” the ninth-year head coach added. “Obviously the last region was up, three had passed us, and by luck of the draw we ended up in the last one they covered so they made us sweat a little bit, but it was obviously worth it.”
“We just waiting, played our cards right,” senior Ramon Galloway said. “We know that we have wins, and it can help us get in, even though we lost to Saint Louis and lost to Butler in our conference tournament. We were a little worried. Now that we heard our name, it is a sigh of relief.”
“Me and Ramon, we hugged each other right away,” Tyreek Duren said. “This is what we wished for, and it is finally here. Now we have to take care of business.”
Making the NCAA tournament is more to La Salle than just postseason games. It is a representation of the steps that have been taken over the past few years to turn the program around.
“This is a very difficult thing to do,” Giannini said. “I’m thrilled for everyone that we are in, and it is important. It is important however you look at it. From our alums, to our former players who waited 21 years. It’s important to these kids who have only four chances in their career to make it and they truly dedicate themselves 12 months a year. And to the coaches it is important.”
The culture around has changed, which had directly affected their success on the court. Much of that culture change was brought about by Galloway, who transferred from South Carolina in 2011.
“When I transferred, if you had told me that we would have made the tournament, I wouldn’t believe it. Because I didn’t know,” Galloway said. “It’s not down on La Salle, its not down on coach G. I didn’t know. When I transferred I was trying to get myself ready to help a team out.”
“Coach G always talked to me like ‘we were a powerhouse,” Galloway added. “La Salle was a powerhouse at one point. We have had Lionel Simmons’ and Tom Gola’s and the Tim Leglers’, and lets try to get back there. Let’s try to put our name back on the map.’ And it’s not just for me, it’s for the school.”
“I think it makes teams look at us like a serious program,” Duren said. “La Salle is back. It is not the joke of the conference anymore. They really have a good team, and are only going forward from here.”
Making the tournament for the first time in 21 years is a step in the right direction towards getting their name back on the map. Many across the city of Philadelphia are glad to see the Explorers back in the Big Dance, including a rival’s head coach.
“I’m glad to hear that about La Salle,” Temple coach Fran Dunphy said shortly after the Owls were given a 9-seed in the East bracket. “I’m an alum of La Salle, and a proud alum. I’m just so happy for them. I can’t wait to talk to John Giannini and his staff, his players, and really root like crazy for them as they go about the process as well.”
La Salle now turns their focus to their game against Boise State. The Broncos come in with a 21-10 record overall, and 9-7 in the Mountain West Conference. They will be a part of the “first four” games in Dayton, Ohio.
“Right now, I don’t know much,” Giannini admitted. “I actually follow them like I follow all teams throughout the year. But I haven’t seen them play, and I haven’t studied them. I know the league they are in. I know where they finished in that league. I know the people that they have beaten.”
“I think that the Mountain West is very similar to the Atlantic 10,” Giannini added. “I think they got five bids in, we got five bids. It is a high-major league. We got in more bids than some of the BCS conferences. We will know more about them in detail soon.”
Regardless, it is an exciting time for La Salle, and they believe they can make some noise in the tournament.
“We are in no different situation than VCU was the year they went to the final four, and again a big step for our program was being a part of this very special event, but also to be recognized as one of the better teams in the country,” Giannini said. “That’s where we want to be, so we are thrilled to have that happen.”
It has been 21 years since the Explorers were relevant when it came down to March. This year, La Salle took a step forward into renewing the excellence that the program saw in the 90s.
“The NCAA tournament is for the best teams in the country,” Giannini said. “There is about 40 at-large berths, and there are over 340 Division I schools. There is awful lot of BCS teams out there and others that are very committed to this sport, and spend a lot of money on it, and for us to have our commitment at La Salle rewarded and to be in this tournament is a big deal. Think about some of the names that are not in this tournament. It shows just how hard it is to get here.”
La Salle has returned to being one of those teams.