If you’re like me, you’re quickly falling in love with this La Salle basketball team. Yeah, sure, the fact that they’re in the Sweet 16 is the impetus for my bandwagonism, as is the fact that I’m a frontrunner, just like Jimmy Rollins said. But the more I watch these guys play, the more I read and hear about the guys on this team, the more I just sorta like them. This is a school that hasn’t been to a Sweet 16 since 1955 (I wrote about that 1955 team here), and there is definitely a cool feeling of the Big 5′s red-headed stepchild getting its moment in the sun.
All through the season, I’ve been made aware of this squad by the nonstop rantings of local comedian Gregg Gethard, a La Salle superfan (and LaSalle grad) who constantly raves about them on his facebook wall. Basically, he was a fan of this team waaaaay before it was cool to do so. He also knows his basketball…he used to run a very amusing basketball podcast called Holding Court. So I thought I’d ask him a bit about this year’s team so you and I could sound like we know what we’re talking about on Thursday night, tricking people into believing that we, like Gregg, hopped on this bandwagon way before it was cool.
JGT: Who is the MVP of this years La Salle team?
Gregg: The team’s leading scorer and heart and soul is Ramon Galloway, who grew up within walking distance of the campus on Bringhurst Street. He used to play at the rec center right behind our dorm complex.
Anyways, he has had the most troubling life. His dad was shot in the head and is blind. He has two brothers in lock-up. His grandfather needs a liver transplant.
Ramon ended up going to Florida for high school to get out of Germantown. He went to South Carolina for two years but then his grandfather’s health issues worsened and he came home to La Salle.
JGT: Do you have any “in” with the team? Do you know what these guys are really like or is this more from a “Superfan” perspective.
Gregg: La Salle is such a small school that you just know people who know people. I also worked on campus for a few years and have a bunch of professor friends. EVERYONE raves about the kids. They’re the most fun-loving bunch of kids. They’re really funny and silly and everything that’s good about college sports. You gotta see their behind-the-scenes videos of the tournament (The Sweet 16 one is above. The first round game is here. Both well worth a watch.).
JGT: The team is very Philly heavy, which is really exciting, I think. It seems almost quaint. How did they come to have so many Philly guys on the team? I know Ramon Galloway and Tyrone Garland are both transfers, but has this coaching staff really heavily invested in scouting locally?
Gregg: Oh yeah man. La Salle’s athletic budget isn’t big at all, even by mid-major standards. They’ve got to focus on Philly kids. And there’s certainly enough talent in the area to land those kids.
There’s Galloway and Garland. Tyreke Duren played at Roman (but is from Yeadon, I believe). Jerrell Wright’s a Philly kid, too.
JGT: So how do you explain their success? This is a team that was on nobody’s radar, with zero height down low, and now they’re in the Sweet 16.
Gregg: Their guards are great. They have a five guard rotation — everyone talks about the four guards but there’s actually five they run who are all good and work perfectly together.
Ramon’s the star — he shoots from anywhere within half court and also has universal athleticism. Tyreke Duren’s the most underrated PG in the country. He’s a smooth and steady floor general who has made less than five mistakes his entire career.
Sam Mills, from Florida, is the defensive ace. He’s also a very good shooter. But his defense is unreal. Ty Garland’s the sparkplug off the bench and unreal getting to the rim. And DJ Peterson’s the unsung hero — he’s 6’5″ and just guards the hell out of everyone.
They also have two bigs. Jerrell Wright’s the one playing now. He was a Philly player of the year and is just a beast down low, particularly going to the left. The other is Steve Zack who is unfortunately hurt. Zack’s a 7 foot white kid from out near York. He can PLAY. They run a lot of offense through him since he’s a really good pick setter and deft passer.
JGT: Who is your favorite player on the team?
Gregg: My favorite player is Taylor Dunn. He’s a little used guard. But the reason why I love him — he’s the first guy off the bench to give hugs and handshakes and the like. Every team needs that. You can just tell that even though he doesn’t play too much that he’s a team centerpiece.
JGT: What should we know about coach John Giannini?
Gregg: Dr. G is a character. Off the court, he’s a really charismatic and enthusiastic guy. He’s a terrific spokesperson for the school and is incredibly well regarded as a recruiter. I’ve talked with him a few times and he is very genuine and nice. Just a very fun, loose guy.
On the court, he has a history of being a lunatic. He’s legitimately frothed at the mouth. He’s the only guy I’ve ever seen capable of getting a technical foul for yelling at his own players. He’s calmed down a LOT this year though — he attributes it to having kids who finally get what he wants and pay as much attention to detail as he does.
JGT: What should we look for on Thursday night?
Gregg: Wichita State’s a tough team. Greg Marshall’s a great coach. They’ve got size and are really tough. It, once again, is going to come down to our guards versus their size. There’s talk that Steve Zack might return but no one knows for sure. If not, I still think they’ve got a really good chance. But there’s just a feeling I have that this is going to have a Friday Night Lights Season 1 ending.
JGT: Is it all gravy at this point, or do you desperately want a Final 4 appearance?
Gregg: It’s been gravy for me since Selection Sunday. I can’t even begin to tell you how great this past week was for the school. It was La Salle’s 150-year anniversary so all of these things coincided brilliantly.
I legitimately believe they will win this thing. If they don’t, I am nothing but ecstatic and thrilled for the week they gave me. I’ll never love or think about sports in the same way again. There are so many little stories that are going on with the team that are so wonderful.