By Joseph Santoliquito
Philadelphia, PA (CBS)—Span down the La Salle roster, one of the last teams selected for the NCAA Tournament that’s one of 16 still standing. Then look at the names and veer your eyes right, under the heading “hometown.”
See something familiar there? See a particular city that juts out four times on the roster of prominent players on the Explorers?
You see Philadelphia, Pa. poking up next to Tyreek Duren. And Tyrone Garland. And next to the names of Ramon Galloway and Jerrell Wright.
Yes, that’s right. The Explorers are a homegrown team in an era where it’s vogue to go elsewhere. Philadelphia and the surrounding area is one of the largest basketball hotbeds in the nation.
Peer at the local talent alone that’s in the city and surrounding suburbs. Entering this season, Vaux star Rysheed Jordan and Chester’s Rondae Jefferson were two of the most sought-after high school players in the country.
Jefferson, a McDonald’s All-American, chose Arizona. Jordan is considering UCLA, Temple and St. John’s, with Temple having a real shot at landing the scoring machine.
When Duren was a senior, he wanted to go elsewhere coming out of Neumann-Goretti. Garland did go elsewhere coming out of Bartram—Virginia Tech.
They both, eventually, wound up home. This is their reward. As is the tireless work done by Explorers’ coach John Giannini, an omnipresent figure you could find sitting in the corner of any high school gym throughout the Delaware Valley area during a live period when La Salle isn’t playing.
It’s what reverberates loudly in La Salle’s deep run in this Big Dance. You can stay home and still succeed.
“It’s what I try to sell kids on, their parents, family and friends can see them play every night, they’re going to a great school, and it’s an opportunity to play,” Giannini said. “But it’s not just La Salle. We’re fortunate throughout the area to have six great schools where a kid could play, and five great coaches. You won’t find a better group of caring guys than you have in Coach [Jay] Wright, [Fran] Dunphy, [Bruiser] Flint, [Jerome] Allen and [Phil] Martelli.
“To me, it’s a win-win for any kid with Division-I skills if they want to stay home and play for any of the six major D-I schools in the city. It’s why I go after the city kids. First of all, you won’t come across a tougher kid than a Philly kid. Secondly, you’re dealing with a kid who’s already getting quality coaching at the high school level. All I want a kid to know is he’s going to have an opportunity to play on a national stage if they stay home.”
Duren shook his head. He was passed over by a number of major D-Is, but couldn’t be happier to have landed at La Salle.
“When I was younger, I was caught up in the hype, too,” Duren admitted. “You hear and see these schools and all of these so-called major players going here and going there. My senior year of high school, I came to a point that I decided what was best for me. That was staying home and going to La Salle.
“Look at our roster—a lot of Philly kids. Tyrone went to Virginia Tech, after they promised him the world, and look where he is now, back home playing and he couldn’t be happier. Look at Ramon, same thing. He came from Philly, left and came back. I think it’s what makes the bond between us stronger. We all grew up and played on these streets, and on a lot of the same playgrounds.”
The glaring difference now is that they’re not announcing their own games or last-second shots. Marv Albert is calling out “The Southwest Philly Floater” for millions.
Joseph Santoliquito is a contributing sports blogger for CBS Philly.