Andrew Albert (@AndrewJAlbert01)
Last season was special for La Salle, there is no question about that. Everything seemed to go their way. A last second win against top-10 Butler, a road win over VCU and then the well chronicled run through March Madness. Everything fell the way the Explorers needed it to.
Fast forward a year, and it is the exact opposite. Those close wins in games they should have are non-existent. The shots are not falling. The tips are not going their way. Every 50/50 ball seems to find its way to their opponents.
The personnel is pretty much the same. Ramon Galloway’s name is the only one that does not appear on this year’s roster as opposed to last’s. They brought in a high level transfer in Khalid Lewis to help replace Galloway.
Yet, the Explorers have fallen short. Not just of their fans and the media’s expectations of their season, but also their own.
We have heard almost every possible reason for the mediocre season at 20th and Olney from Dr. John Giannini to this point. Whether it was, “The shooting will come,” or, “Our defense is not good right now,” we have heard reasons why La Salle has lost specific games.
After La Salle’s loss to Big 5 rival Saint Joseph’s, Giannini revealed the real reason for the .500 season.
“To be a high level team at this level, you need a big minimum of passion and energy,” Giannini said. “We have great kids, I won’t say a bad thing about them because I don’t have anything bad to say about them as people. I think we are really deficit in the intangibles of passion and energy.”
That is not something that you typically hear a coach say. For much of the game, Giannini looked downright depressed on the bench. While he did have his fiery moments, he sat down more than normal.
Almost as if he knew there was nothing he could do to inspire his team.
“I’m stunned,” Giannini added. “I’m stunned over the long term because I never envisioned us in this situation. I’m not stunned in the short term because I have seen this evolve. I saw our locker room at halftime, and I don’t think we can sit at that table in terms of energy and passion.”
Giannini was not putting down his team at all. He said he has the nicest group of men he could ask for. He said the problems are not personality flaws, just problems that have arisen lately.
The passion and energy were elements that carried La Salle all of last year. Though the tournament run, they played with more passion than the teams they went against, and the results showed that.
They seemed to want it more.
This year, from game one, the passion was lacking. A double-overtime loss to Manhattan in front of a packed crowd immediately seemed to sap energy from the team, and it showed thereafter. Despite having more than a handful of games on national television, Giannini said it is hard for his team to get up their energy game in and game out.
“We are a very quiet team,” Giannini said. “You’ll see us if we make a big basket to win a game in front of 9,000 people in the Palestra, we’ll get excited. If it is short of thousands of people encouraging us at a highlight moment, we are laid back. I have one player when I asked him why do you think you have been as good as you could be. He said he thinks he is too laid back sometimes.”
Laid back is not a term that would describe last year’s team, much of that thanks to Ramon Galloway. His senior season, he averaged 17.2 points per game to lead the Explorers. His 42.4 percent career shooting ranks him second on the all time list at La Salle, only behind Tim Legler.
Not only was his on the court product something that fueled La Salle, but his leadership was the key to last season. His intensity and passion for the game were tangible, and it translated into wns.
“Ramon is, in hindsight and I’m stunned by this, he was the ingredient,” Giannini said. “He could make threes, which we struggle with. He could rebound from the guard position, which we struggle with. But his energy was just astounding. It not only gave other people energy, but when they saw his will to fight, it inspired them too.”
His fight and passion for the game led La Salle to the promise land. He was the guy in all the “behind the scenes” videos put out by La Salle athletics that was getting the team ready to play. He was the one taking the big shots. He was the one bringing everyone together. His enormous confidence rubbed off on each and every teammate, and it showed on the court. That is why this year is different.
“Nobody is giving each other confidence or energy,” Giannini said. “Sometimes you need to look at the guy next to you and think this guy is going to make a play. It is shocking how different we are. If there was a stronger word than shock, I would use that.”
When you look on the court at the end of a close game, you see five guys for La Salle that could make a game winning shot. The talent is there. The confidence is not. The Explorers do not have a guy they can give the ball to and know he gives them their best chance to win. That uncertainty takes a toll on a team, and it is showing this season.
“People that watched our team thought we would be terrific,” Giannini added.
They did. We all did. But we were wrong.