St. Joseph's Men's Basketball
Pride of Philadelphia
Atlantic 10 East Division Champions
Every now and then, sports fans are treated to something magical, something special – something that we know does not come along too often and should be appreciated and treasured.
For Philadelphians, the 2003-04 version of the St. Joseph’s Hawks Men’s Basketball team was that something. They had that certain something that defines every great team.
Led by what many considered to be the best backcourt in the country - guards Jameer Nelson, the consensus National Player of the Year, and Delonte West – the Hawks became the first team since the 1990-91 season to go through the regular season without a loss, finishing 27-0. After opening the season as the nation’s 12th ranked team, they eventually made their way to the top, becoming #1 in all the land for the first time in school history on March 8th.
The Hawks also won their second consecutive outright Big 5 title and their fourth straight Atlantic 10 regular season crown. The squad was the recipient of the prestigious Wanamaker Award, given to the team/athlete that brings the greatest credit to the city of Philadelphia, and was named the Team of the Year by the Philadelphia Sportswriters Association.
The man behind the team was head coach Phil Martelli. Martelli joined Nelson to sweep the national coach and player of the year awards, one of the few times in history that the top player and coach came from the same school. Martelli also won the 2004 Naismith Award, the Henry Iba Award from the USBWA, the inaugural Adolph Rupp Cup, Coach of the Year Awards from both the Associated Press and CBS/Chevrolet, and the NABC Co-Coach of the Year Award. He was Atlantic 10 Coach of the Year for the third time and a repeat winner of both the Harry Litwack Award (Eastern Coach) and Big 5 Coach of the Year.
Even with all these accolades, the Hawks were not without their critics. Many “experts” – despite the Hawks’ impressive rankings in the polls, the RPI, and the Sagarin Ratings – simply did not give Martelli and the Hawks much respect. In fact, many “experts” were angered when the Hawks were given a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
The Hawks quickly and decisively silenced all doubters by defeating a team from what was considered a stronger conference than their own, Wake Forest out of the ACC, in the Regional Semifinals. Advancing to the Regional Finals for the first time since 1981, the Hawks came up a bucket short, falling to Oklahoma St. 64-62.
But just like “The Little Horse that Could” (Smarty Jones), the Hawks of St. Joe’s, with an enrollment of a little more than 7,000, was the “The Little School that Could” and showed the rest of the country that the Pride of Philadelphia is alive and well.