THE RAMS TAKE ON ST. JOSEPH’S WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 12TH AT 7PM ON YURVIEW, COX CHANNEL 4 IN RI
Rhode Island (9-4, 0-1) looks for its first Atlantic 10 win Wednesday evening when the Saint Joseph’s Hawks (7-6, 1-1) travel to Kingston. YurView has the game on tv and I’ll have the radio call for Learfield along with the Voice of the Rams, Steve MacDonald. But who better to get us up to speed on the Hawks than their voice, good friend, and veteran play-by-play man, Matt Martucci.
Matt is in his 13th season as the radio voice of SJU basketball and is a freelance television announcer for ESPN and TBT: The Basketball Tournament. Follow him on Twitter @toochpxp.
Chris DiSano: It’s year three for the Hawks under head coach Billy Lange. What is the identity of this team and your thoughts about the roster?
Matt Martucci: The difference this year is the level of athlete. This is the first year that he essentially has 99% of the roster that he assembled. Taylor Funk (13.8ppg, 7.2rpg) is the only player from the previous regime and at this point he’s played under Billy long enough he might as well be one of Billy’s guys anyway. It’s a long, athletic team that likes to get up and down the floor. When they’re doing it well, they’ll move the ball quickly and get the best shot possible, often a 3. It’s an NBA school of thought, predicated on trying to get as many shots as possible and knock down as many threes as possible. Almost 38% of our points come from the beyond the arc which is the 47th most reliant in Division 1, according to our friend Mr. Ken Pomeroy. Jordan Hall is every bit of an NBA player. Ejike Obinna (12.6ppg, 7.2rpg; Vanderbilt transfer) is a guy who Billy credits as one of the fastest developing – under the staff’s tutelage – that he’s ever seen. I’d agree with that. He’s a much better player offensively now than people ever gave him credit for in past years. I give credit to the coaching staff, Billy, and guys like John Griffin [Associate Head Coach] for working with him and accelerating his development.
CDD: The Hawks are sitting at 7-6 including a win over middling Georgetown and a surprise 83-56 road clubbing of Richmond. What is your read on their performance to date?
MM: People may think this is weird based on the last two seasons, but I don’t think there’s any other way you can look at it than that they’re ahead of schedule. They’ve already won more games this year than they did last year or the year before – individually, not combined of course. With seven wins already, they have eclipsed last year’s total and have some decent wins under the belt. Georgetown, depending on the day, is a pretty good win, and Richmond is still a good win based on personnel alone. Being able to do that to them on their home floor is impressive. This is still a fairly young team. Depending on what Jordan Hall decides to do he’ll have two more years, Cameron Brown will have another year, there are others. Other than Obinna and Funk graduating, the future looks bright. With what you have coming in… Rasheer Fleming, Christian Winborne, and Lynn Greer III – really excited about him… My read on the team is they’re ahead of schedule and have the makings of a potentially .500 or better team in the league.
CD: Let’s talk Taylor Funk. He could’ve transferred after the coaching change as many do… but has shown loyalty to the program and developed into an outstanding player. What are your thoughts about him on and off the court?
MM: I love T Funk. His record as a player may not reflect it, but this kid is a winner. He absolutely could’ve packed his bags when the institution decided to part ways with Phil [Martelli] and gone elsewhere. I forget the exact offers, but I’m certain he had some high major ones and decided to stick around because he enjoyed his experience here. The all-encompassing experience at Saint Joe’s, not just the athletic aspect. He genuinely liked the school and what he was experiencing on campus.
You look at him the last two years and he’s a completely different player. His body is in the best shape that he’s ever been in – credit to our strength coach Eric Lang for that – and credit to Taylor for his desire to work. He’s in the gym every day driving himself to be better. He did something last year that he probably didn’t want to do, play the five-spot. But now with the addition of Obinna, you’re seeing him play his best brand of basketball. Teams are keying more and more on him, but nobody benefits more when the ball is moving, and moving well, in this offense than Taylor Funk. I can’t say enough good things about him. He’s a great kid and I’m hoping he can finish with a .500 or better season. He hasn’t experienced it and deserves it.
— SJU Hawks MBB (@SJUHawks_MBB) November 15, 2021
CD: How do you feel about the young, perimeter talent on this team – particularly Hall and Erik Reynolds II? What makes them special?
MM: Jordan Hall (16.4ppg, 6.5rpg, 6.5apg) is uber athletic. The prototypical big guard, it’s easy to see why the NBA likes him. He can get his own shot any time he wants, can get to the basket off dribble penetration or backing his man down. He’s often in a mismatch where at 6-foot-7 he’s facing a 6-3 or 6-4 guard. He’s an excellent distributor too; Billy calls him one of the best passers he’s seen on any level.
Erik Reynolds (9.4ppg, 1.8apg) II is the quickest kid on the team, and I don’t think it’s close. Has a super quick first step and blows by people all the time. It happens once or twice per game where he’ll blow by somebody for an uncontested layup. Wise beyond his years, he’s a great kid and great teammate. He’s somebody who has fit right into this system and with his teammates from the moment he stepped on campus. His three-point shot is above average, and his free-throw shooting is very much above average. And he already has a knack for what it’s like to play in a big game, what it’s like to be in tight spots. The Bradley game was probably the best one he’s put together. They probably win that one in Peoria if he doesn’t get in foul trouble and foul out late because he played great the whole day. He’s a high IQ kid. If there’s one area to improve, he’s a college freshman body-wise so his defense will improve as he grows. Great kid, helluva lot of potential.
CD: When are the Hawks at their best?
MM: When they are moving the ball at pace and getting the best looks possible in the flow of their offense. When they start to settle for early threes in the half court, that’s when they struggle. They also excel when Obinna is hitting the offensive glass with consistency, when they run the pick and roll with him… and when they limit second chance opportunities. As with past teams, they don’t really foul a lot, they limit offensive rebounding percentage for opponents normally, and they defend inside the arc well.
They’re capable of surprising anybody and that’s what the first two league games have shown. The Richmond game is evidence of that. It wouldn’t surprise me if they went up to the Ryan Center and ended up winning. It’s a confident team that that can beat anybody in this league.
Chris DiSano, is an Atlantic 10 analyst and writer. He has served as the host of A-10 Live! at Men’s Basketball Media Day and founded the former College Chalktalk. DiSano, who was named an NBC Sports top Atlantic 10 basketball follow, can be found on Twitter at @CDiSano44