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The Mouse that Roared

"You Gotta Be Kidding!"
by Mickey Charles CEO, The Sports Network

Phil Martelli
St. Joseph's head coach Phil Martelli, indicated that what we have seen this year "may never be repeated in college basketball...and [we] have nine games left."
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -- The year was 1959 and it was the genius of Peter Sellers, from the tiny Duchy of Grand Fenwick, totally bankrupt. He, the minister, decides to declare war on the United States, be defeated and receive Marshall Aid. It works, amazingly enough.

It is now 2004 and the magic number headlining the sports page of The Philadelphia Inquirer is 27-0, the current record of the St. Joseph's Hawks basketball team located in Philadelphia. They have declared war on the basketball cosmos as we know it and the sounds coming from their less-than- high-school-size gym are strangely synonymous with Grrrrrrrrr!!!

27-0 blares from the headlines of the local papers and no one really cares who they played to get there. Years go, when I was broadcasting for CBS, doing seven hours of talk and interview on radio every weekend out of Philadelphia, Randall "Tex" Cobb, an aspiring heavyweight boxer was my guest. As he climbed a rather small ladder on his way to a championship bout for one of the titles in vogue then, he stopped by the studio. I asked him who he had fought and what his record was that earned him the right to challenge for the title.

Tex Cobb
Randall "Tex" Cobb was 43-7-1 with 36 KOs. He fought in the last 15 round fight ever sanctioned by a major boxing commission.
"On the way into the studio tonight," he replied, "I punched out the security guard at the door [someone that was about 76 years old] and then encountered the cleaning lady in the stairwell so I shoved her down the flight of stairs. There are two KOs. You need the rest?" The man had a sense of humor and his boxing career gave credence to Andy Warhol's 15-minute allotment for all of us in the fame category. His subsequent acting stint did not last much longer. His record in the ring was 43-7-1 with 36 KOs including the security guard and cleaning lady. Leon Spinks, Buster Douglas, Ken Norton were some of his opponents and he bested Spinks, not exactly like swimming the English Channel in record time.

Which brings us to the mouse that roared, St. Joseph's. Grrrrrrrrrr!!!

Their rather outspoken and often given to outrageous comments coach, Phil Martelli, indicated that what we have seen this year "may never be repeated in college basketball... and [we] have nine games left." In the decades ahead, no one will recall the teams that were faced, just the record.

I sat down and watched the Hawks destroy St. Bonaventure the other night with impunity and disdain. Understand, however, that the Bonnies could not best any one of 100 high school teams that I could list from New York and Philadelphia to Dallas and Los Angeles. They gave new meaning to the word, "brick," and could not find the hoop with radar or heat seeking missiles. Laughable would be kind.

27-0. Grrrrrrrrrrrr!!

Nowhere on the schedule - which is not their fault - do I see the likes of Stanford, Michigan State. North Carolina, Duke, Kentucky, Pittsburgh or others of that ilk. What about the undefeated season? Hello, Tex Cobb.

Let's pick out the high points and see what sort of surprise might be waiting in the weeds of the Atlantic 10 Conference Tournament this week. St. Joe's defeated Gonzaga, now 25-2 and ranked fourth in the country, at their season opener at the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic in New York City by the score of 73-66 but the Bulldogs played the bulk of that game without their leading scorer and rebounder, Ronny Turiaf (15.3 ppg and 6.0 rpg). Aha!

Boston College is now 19-8 and was 6-0 when these two played. Not a bad club but not a great one. The game was on almost home turf, at The Palestra, and SJU won by 10, 67-57. The Eagles are probably much better today. Yeah and so is St. Joe's!!! Maybe.

California is a decent Pac-10 club but just 13-12 now. The game was played in Oakland, CA as part of the Pete Newell Challenge and the Philadelphians squeaked by with a 59-57 win. Yes, they won. Can Duke, Stanford and Kentucky be far behind? What about North Carolina? This is not to diminish the record but objectivity works when one has cold water splashed on his face. That will not happen in the world of Hawks fans or Phil Martelli. The season will be savored forever.

Grrrrrrrrrr!!!! A national championship is not in the offing.

Jameer Nelson
Jameer Nelson has been dubbed an All-American and deservedly so. But, he is not a future NBA franchise player and might be nothing more than a point guard, if and when he gets there.
Earlier this year, another recognizable and not bad team, Xavier (now 17-10 overall and 8-6 in the A-10) took the pipe 81-73. Dominated? No. Beaten? Absolutely. Part of the number, 27-0. The Musketeers were reasonably talented but do take count those that were, these folks among them. Next came Dayton, as a name and talent, now 21-6 and 11-3 in the A-10. When the Flyers came to town, the Hawks sent them home with an 81-67 win to add to their unbeaten skein.

The fact of the matter is that they have played only one ranked team all season and that was Gonzaga in the opener. The combined record of all their opponents today is 340-247 and that of their A-10 buddies, 144-147.

Still, 27-0. The atmosphere and city of Philadelphia, the fans, are filled with youthful exuberance, right down to the aging alumni, parents and friends. They will not, and who can blame them, accept the fact that this is not a second-ranked team in the nation. Brushing aside St. Bonaventure was equivalent to wiping off the counter at the diner before sitting down. An effortless act. Local platitudes aside, they are neither UNLV of 1991 nor Indiana of 1976, not by any stretch of the imagination, and they are certainly not the UCLA teams of John Wooden's era or the Michigan State of Magic Johnson... not even Larry Bird's Indiana State.

The media will pander to the locals and those who vote and never saw them play will cast a ballot on the record, not even recognizing the schedule or the opposition. It is the nature of collegiate ratings. Jameer Nelson has been dubbed an All-American and deservedly so. But, he is not a future NBA franchise player and might be nothing more than a point guard, if and when he gets there. Instant starter? For whom? Calling him the best college guard the city has ever seen when some of us can remember Mark Macon, Hal Lear, Bob Mlkvy, Guy Rodgers or Wally Jones is stretching it a bit, with all due respect to his leadership, talents and desire to win. It is their moment; their year and they are all being swept away in an uncontested euphoric state.

Pardon the cynicism of the moment, but I would not be trading in my Nikes or Reeboks for a glass slipper yet if I were Phil Martelli heading to March Madness in a few weeks.

It is a moment to revere, to cherish, to shout to the rooftops, to laugh at and reproach everyone around you that chants, "Over-rated!! Over-rated!!" But, it is their moment and they earned it. 27-0. Grrrrrrrrr!!! Talk about a national championship is a bit premature. Even winning the A-10 Conference Tournament that gets underway next week is not a lock. That is what comes from being undefeated and having a coach that tells everyone in sight his team cannot be beaten. Bad move. Top dogs are targets. Big time. And the NCAA Tournament is about as big-time as one can get. Sure, get seeded and play some unheralded club that just managed to get in. But, check their record and credentials first before you roll out your All-American. Then come the heavyweights, those that look at your schedule and scratch their heads. Time to belly up to the bar boys.

No one will remember whose scalps hung on the 2004 St. Joeseph wigwam in the years to come, but the hunt is not over and they are now the hunted, by much bigger Indians, dogs and players. Should be an interesting few weeks ahead. Yes, they deserve the accolades because it was done, because the numbers say so and because the mouse has puffed its chest and made a loud Grrrrrrrrrrrr!!! Is a national championship celebration in the stars to take place on Hawk Hill? You gotta be kidding!