By Matt Leon
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – It’s probably safe to say that the 2012-13 La Salle Explorers provided Philadelphia sports fans with the most exciting ride of the year to this point. After a 21-win regular season, the Explorers earned one of the last at-large berths for the NCAA Tournament.
Then the fun really began.
La Salle embarked on a magical journey that included three tournament victories and took them into the “Sweet 16” before ending with a loss to Wichita State.
Most of that team is back here in 2013-14 and fans will get their first look at the Explorers on Saturday afternoon when they host Manhattan.
“We’re really excited about the season and we have great memories from last year,” La Salle head coach Dr. John Giannini tells KYW Newsradio. “But we really don’t think one year necessarily impacts the next. Whether you won or lost last year, you certainly need to refocus and you have new games and new opponents and new games to win. And what you did 12 months ago is not going to help you get that rebound or that stop. So we’re really focused, we’re excited and we’re just glad to get it going. There has been so much talk about the season, I think it’s good to finally start playing games.”
As for the 2013-14 season, the Explorers were picked to finish third in the Atlantic 10 preseason poll. They will have a huge void to fill as they lose a wonderful player in guard Ramon Galloway (team high 17.2 ppg and 127 assists), who graduated. But the Explorers are still loaded in the backcourt, led by seniors Tyreek Duren (14.3 ppg last season), Tyrone Garland (13.0 ppg) and Sam Mills (8.0 ppg). And while the guards garner much of the attention, Giannini says make sure you don’t sell his bigs short.
“I think that (junior center) Steve Zack’s injury set our team and him back a little bit last year,” Giannini says. “And I also think that (senior forward) Jerrell (Wright) and Steve have continued to progress. I think (redshirt freshman) Jermaine Davis gives us another big body we can use off the bench for some minutes. I think (redshirt sophomore forward) Rohan Brown, as an undersized big guy, gives us toughness. Everyone knows about how good our guards are, but I think our big guys are going to have great years.”
On Saturday, the Explorers host a Manhattan team that only went 14-18 last season, but advanced to the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference title game. They are highly thought of heading into 2013-14.
“I expect they’ll be one of the better teams we will play this year,” Giannini says. “They are picked #1 in their conference. But I think more importantly, they are one of the best so-called ‘mid-major’ teams in the country.”
Giannini breaks down why the Jaspers have turned heads heading into the season.
“They’re experienced, they’re talented,” Giannini says. “They are extremely well-coached and have a very hard style to play against. And they added two big time players (forward Ashton Pankey, a transfer from Maryland and swingman George Beamon, who missed most of last season due to injury). It’s a year I think Manhattan basketball has been pointing towards for the last five, six, maybe even ten years. It’s going to be their best team in a while and a great challenge for us.”
Saturday’s game at Gola Arena will tip-off at 2:00pm.
You can follow Matt on Twitter @mattleonkyw.