Entering the 2009-10 season with four battle-tested senior starters, La Salle (12-18 overall, 4-12 Atlantic 10) figured that it had a legitimate chance to win the Atlantic 10 and advance to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1992.
However, instead of being near the top of the league's charts, the Explorers ended up being one of just two of the 14 Atlantic 10 teams -- the other being last-place Fordham (2-26 in 2009-10) -- that failed to qualify for the A-10 tourney.
The reason? John Giannini's club clearly led the league in bad luck in 2009-10 as three of the four senior starters that appeared on their preseason media guide ended up suffering serious injuries. Only Rodney Green, a 6-foot-5 stat sheet-stuffing guard who will play pro ball somewhere next year, was able to stay healthy and he had a great year -- leaving as the No. 9 all-time scorer in La Salle history with 1,914 career points.
Guards Ruben Guillandeaux (10.1 ppg average last year) and Kimmani Barrett (13.4 ppg average this year) missed large chunks of the season with foot injuries. In fact, because Guillandeaux was injured in the fourth game of the 2009-10 season, he'll be able to return for a fifth year in 2010-11. Barrett played in only 16 games for the Explorers, missing nearly half of the season with his broken foot.
Yves Mekongo (11 ppg average) sat out eight of the season's final nine games while recovering from surgery to repair a broken pinkie finger suffered on Feb. 14 vs. Duquesne. Mekongo played in the regular season finale vs. Saint Joseph's with his ring finger and pinkie taped together and scored eight points, while Barrett also played in the last game of the season and scored 15 points vs. the Hawks (a March 6 game that both teams needed to win to reach the A-10 tourney and that the Hawks won, 74-59).
So what does the future hold on 20th and Olney? Guillandeaux, if his stress fractures heal he's 100%, will give Giannini a proven perimeter scorer and some veteran leadership for what will be a young, talented La Salle guard line. Because of all the injuries this season, freshmen T.T. Carey and Parrish Grant were pressed into service more than expected and that game experience will be helpful in 2010-11. In addition, the addition of 6-5 Rutgers transfer Earl Pettis, a former Philly Catholic League star who decided to transfer back closer to home, will help ease the loss of Green and Barrett on the perimeter.
Pettis isn't La Salle's only promising newcomer. The Explorers also welcome two highly-touted point guards in Tyreek Duren from Philadelphia's Neumann-Goretti High School (who chose La Salle over Temple, among others) and Sam Mills from Cardinal Gibbons High in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. Both Duren and Mills were rated among the top 35 point guards in the high school Class of 2010. If they are as good as advertised, Guillandeauex is healthy, Pettis is a difference-making guard and Carey and Grant continue to grow, then the perimeter should be fine -- even without the superb Green.
The frontcourt has some talent too. Big man Aaric Murray, who had a strong freshman season for the Explorers in 2009-10, must improve his upper body strength and his shot selection in order to fulfill his NBA potential. Murray will be rejoined by 6-8 senior-to-be Jerrell Williams (10.2 ppg, 7.3 rpg), 6-8 senior-to-be Steve Weingarten (5.3 ppg) and 6-8 redshirt sophomore Devon White (3.0 ppg) in La Salle's frontcourt. Williams and Weingarten, in particular, were thrust into bigger-than-expected roles when the injury bug hit and both grew by leaps and bounds as players, If Terrell Williams, Jerrell's twin brother, can get his academic house back in order and returns to La Salle in 2010-11, then La Salle will have plenty of depth -- a luxury they didn't have in 2009-10.NOTES, QUOTES
FINAL RECORD: 12-18 overall, 4-12, 13th place in the Atlantic 10.
WHAT WENT RIGHT: Rodney Green (18.7 ppg) and Aaric Murray (12.4 ppg) were quite a one-two punch for the Explorers. Green leaves La Salle as one of the top-10 all-time scorers, while Murray showed flashes of future superstardom as a freshman. When injuries wreaked havoc on La Salle's rotation, the Explorers never quit. In fact, Jerrell Williams (10.2 ppg) and Steve Weingarten (5.3 ppg), both 6-8 juniors, really came into their own down the stretch of what was a disappointing 2009-10 for the La Salle program as a whole.
WHAT WENT WRONG: Injuries ruined the 2009-10 season for La Salle as seniors Ruben Guillandeaux, Kimmani Barrett and Yves Mekongo were all sidelined for considerable amounts of time. Despite those injuries and the spring semester-long suspension of 6-8 junior Terrell Williams, the Explorers didn't, but just didn't have the horses to stay with most A-10 teams for the full 40 minutes. As a result, they've dropped nine of their last 10 games and were one of only two A-10 teams to miss the league tourney entirely -- the other being A-10 laughingstock Fordham.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I'm happy they were able to finish their careers on the court." -- La Salle coach John Giannini said of the return of Kimanni Barrett and Yves Mekongo for the final game of the 2009-10 regular season, a 15-point loss on Hawk Hill to Saint Joseph's. Barrett had missed the previous 14 games with a broken bone in his foot, while Mekongo missed eight games with a fractured pinkie finger.STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
THE GOOD NEWS: Aaric Murray, whom one Philadelphia sportswriter compared to Bob McAdoo because of his shooting range for a 6-foot-10 guy, has through-the-roof potential. To reach that potential, Murray (12.4 ppg, 6.6 rpg) needs to get stronger and look to score more on the low blocks rather than drifting out to three-point range so much. Even though the 2009-10 season was derailed by injuries to key seniors Ruben Guillandeaux, Kimanni Barrett and Yves Mekongo, their absences gave players like Jerrell Williams, Steve Weingarten, Devon White and T.T. Carey more playing time than expected and all four of those played really grew up during the latter stages of the season. Another plus is that La Salle welcomes a quality Big East transfer in 6-5 Earl Pettis and a three-person freshman class that includes two top-shelf point guards in Tyreek Duren from Philadelphia and Sam Mills from Fort Lauderdale, Florida as well as 6-10 project in Matt Lopez from Sewell, N.J.
THE BAD NEWS: Rodney Green (18.7 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 4.2 apg in 2009-10), one of the best players in the A-10 the past two seasons, is gone. Green, who scored a whopping 1,914 points at La Salle, will be sorely missed. He'll be playing pro ball somewhere next year. Green isn't the only accomplished player leaving as fellow seniors Kimmani Barrett and Yves Mekongo will both graduate too. Sadly, injuries robbed both Barrett (broken bone in his foot) and Mekongo (broken pinkie finger) of the kind of senior years that both deserved.
KEY RETURNEES: Aaric Murray (12.4 ppg, 6.6 rpg as a freshman in 2009-10) has three years of eligibility, but he'll likely turn pro before using all of them. Blessed with terrific shooting range for a guy his size as well as innate shot-blocking skills (he was second in the nation among D-I freshman in blocked shots), Murray only needs to get physically stronger (which will help him become a much better rebounder) and must improve his shot selection (read: spent more time in the low post rather than behind the three-point arc, because athletic 6-10 guys don't grow on trees in the A-10) in order to reach his vast potential. La Salle figures to have a strong frontcourt with Murray back -- along with hard-working seniors-to-be Jerrell Williams and Steve Weingarten. Ruben Guillandeaux, a 6-6 guard who missed all but four games of the 2009-10 campaign with stress fractures in his right foot, will apply for an NCAA redshirt and will be back for a fifth year in 2010-11.
--La Salle coach John Giannini must replace three departing seniors from his 2009-10 team in Rodney Green (18.7 ppg), Kimanni Barrett (13.4 ppg) and Yves Mekongo (11 ppg).
--Senior guard Rodney Green, one of only two La Salle players to finish in the top-10 in school history in both scoring and assists (the other being Donnie Carr), has accepted an invitation to participate in the annual Portsmouth (Va.) Invitational Tournament in hopes of raising his NBA draft stock. If the NBA doesn't call, then Green will certainly play pro ball overseas.
--Guard Ruben Guillandeaux, a 6-6 guard who appeared in only four games this season for John Giannini's squad due to stress fractures in his right foot, is applying for a redshirt year and will be back for a final year in 2010-11. The return of Guillandeaux and the arrival of 6-5 junior-to-be Earl Pettis, a Rutgers transfer who appeared in 60 games for the Scarlet Knights over his first two seasons before deciding to transfer back home to his native Philadelphia, should help ease the losses of Rodney Green and Kimanni Barrett a bit.
--La Salle welcomes three freshmen into the fold in the fall -- including a pair of highly-touted point guards in Tyreek Duren from Philadelphia and Sam Mills from Fort Lauderdale. Both will see lots of court time from Day One. The Explorers' third new recruit is 6-10 center Matt Lopez from Sewell, N.J. Lopez is considered to be a bit of a project.
Previous Report: 03/31/2010