By Matt Leon
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — After back-to-back meager eleven-win seasons, the St. Joe’s Hawks are flying high again.
After last weekend’s impressive upset win over then-#19 Creighton (see game story), the Hawks sit at 7-3 as they ready for their showdown with rival Villanova, on Saturday at Hagan Arena.
There are a lot of reasons why St. Joe’s has turned the corner this season. One of the biggest is the play of 6’9″ sophomore forward/center CJ Aiken.
A Conshohocken native who came to Hawk Hill via Plymouth-Whitemarsh High School, Aiken is averaging 11.3 points per game (third on the team) while shooting 62 percent from the field.
However, it’s at the other end of the court that Aiken does his best work. Through ten games this season, he has blocked 48 shots (4.8 per game), and that leads the entire nation.
The softspoken Aiken takes his perch at the top of that list in stride.
“It’s a good achievement so far,” he tells KYW Newsradio. “It’s still early, so I’m not really worried about it yet. When it comes to March or something, then I’ll I’ll worry about it. Just got to keep working hard.”
Hear Matt Leon’s full interview with CJ Aiken in this CBS Philly SportsPod…
So what makes Aiken such a great shot-blocker? His head coach, Phil Martelli, provides some insight:
“Well, he has a gift from above, to be honest with you. His arm length is stunning, his timing is exquisite.”
Hear Matt Leon’s full interview with Phil Martelli in this CBS Philly SportsPod…
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Aiken adds that good preparation doesn’t hurt either.
“Just knowing who you are playing. Watching, good scouting reports of other players to see what he likes to do. And just timing, I guess. You just don’t want your man to score.”
Martelli says that Aiken is also getting better.
“The thing that I’ve been happiest about is, last year he blocked a lot of shots. He blocked (117) shots as a freshman, but many of those he knocked out of bounds. From the very first day, the very first drill this year, we’ve talked about, ‘That’s a loose ball, we want to recover that.’ And he’s done a much better job of actually controlling his banging of the ball so that we can recover it.”
Martelli adds that Aiken approaches his role as the Hawks’ last line of defense with a respect for the game and a respect for his opponents.
“He’ll never point at anybody, he’ll never mouth at anybody.”
So with a game on the line, would Aiken prefer to hit a game-winning shot or send an opponent’s gamewinner back from whence it came?
“Definitely blocking a shot,” Aiken admits. “I like defense way more than I like offense. So If I block more shots than (score) points, I’m cool with that.”
Aiken and St. Joe’s will tangle with Villanova at Hagan Arena at 8:00pm on Saturday night.