Interview Conducted 9/30/2008
For a lifelong Philadelphian, Saint Joseph’s University head coach Phil Martelli has a dream job at his dream school – and for the 2008-09 season – will get to coach all of his home games at his dream gym.
While Saint Joseph’s athletic complex is under extensive renovation and will be called the Michael J. Hagan Arena upon completion, Martelli and his Hawks will call the Palestra, known as the Cathedral of College Basketball, their home for the 2008-09 season.
Martelli has fond memories of the Palestra, located on the University of Pennsylvania’s campus, as a youth.
MARTELLI: “I lived in Philadelphia in the city limits. Instead of getting a babysitter, our parents would put us on public transportation when we were 9 and 10 years old. We would go down there every Friday night and Saturday night to see a Penn league game or a city series game. In a lot of ways, it took the place of professional sports for a lot of young people.”
“Back then, we might not have been able to afford a ticket to the Phillies or the Eagles or the Warriors at the time, but we knew we could get into the Palestra.”
The Palestra was not only the University of Pennsylvania’s home arena, but it also hosted round-robin games between Philadelphia universities in “The Big 5.”
While the Big 5 is not an officially recognized NCAA conference, it was formed in 1955 by five major Philadelphia Universities – LaSalle, Penn, St. Joseph’s, Temple, and Villanova.
Martelli chose St. Joseph’s as his favorite team growing up, even though he and his family had no direct ties to the university.
MARTELLI: “My #1 team was always St. Joe’s. It was all predicated on the spirit, the noise, and excitement. My first memories at St. Joe’s games were crowd involvement… and the spirit that their team was followed with.”
After a four-year playing career at Widener, Martelli spent a year at his alma mater as an assistant coach before moving on to become a teacher and the Head Basketball Coach at Bishop Kenrick High School in Norristown, Pa.
Jim Boyle, St. Joseph’s Head Basketball Coach, was once an assistant at Widener when Martelli played. In 1985, knowing that Martelli was eager to try the college ranks, Boyle offered Martelli a job as, what was called at the time, a restricted-earnings coach.
Martelli accepted the offer to join the team he had loved since he was just 9 years old. After he taught high school during the day, Martelli worked with Boyle and the rest of the St. Joseph’s coaching staff in the afternoons. He was not allowed to recruit due to regulations, but he was able to put together scouting reports and work with the players during practice. After one year, Martelli became a full-time assistant.
In 1995, St. Joseph’s named Martelli Head Coach of the basketball program. He was just the third Head Coach in St. Joseph’s history who was not an alumnus.
His teams have made the NCAA Tournament five times. His 2003-04 squad, led by future NBA guards Jameer Nelson and Delonte West, was at one point during the season ranked #1 in the nation. They made it to the Elite 8 and finished the season 30-2. Martelli received Consensus National Coach of the Year honors.
He is eager to coach a season’s worth of home games at his favorite childhood venue, where he still remembers the noise of fans from an entire generation ago.
MARTELLI: “The building might be empty right now… but if you and I were to go walk in you could hear the noise.”
“For a lifelong Philadelphian to have a chance to coach in that building and to know that maybe there’s a young kid in the stands like I was and to know you can have that kind of impact – it’s just the best building in college basketball.”
So what has kept Martelli in the city of Philadelphia his whole life and as a coach at St. Joseph’s University since 1985?
MARTELLI: “Certainly it’s the passion for sports that our city has. My family is all here and I can share my job with them and friends. There’s no greener pastures. No place would be better than that.”
The final seconds of the last game ever played
at St. Joseph’s Alumni Memorial Fieldhouse.
Phil Martelli Links:
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