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SJU vs Nova Holy War @ Palestra phil martelli sju head coach Credit: David Wang

There are few people more knowledgeable when it comes to keeping a pulse on the Philadelphia sports scene than Big 5 mainstay and Saint Joseph's head basketball coach Phil Martelli.

Born in Media, Pa., Martelli grew up with the City Series in his backyard and has been with the Hawks for 22 years.

But Martelli's expertise isn't limited to the hardwood.

When approached by Philadelphia sports talk radio station WIP to host a show twice a week, Martelli quickly agreed. He even picked the correct outcome for 18 straight Eagles games.

The DP sat down with this man of many talents to hear his thoughts on the Big 5, the Eagles and his experiences during 23 years of coaching college hoops.

Daily Pennsylvanian: Where do you think this year's Big 5 stands as compared to years past?

Phil Martelli: I think that the teams - Penn and Villanova in particular - lost a lot of senior experience. Certainly Penn and Villanova are breaking in some youthful players. La Salle still has a team full of sophomores and freshmen, and [St. Joe's] would have the most experienced group along with Temple. So I think that right now in this city we have five teams that are trying to find their way. At this point in time, Villanova seems to be playing the best basketball of all of us, and that's due to the gifts that Scottie Reynolds brings to their team. I think that everyone else is trying to still find their way and find out what's going to be effective for their team.

DP: Is there any player in the Big 5 that you see as head and shoulders above the rest?

PM: I think that this year you're talking about Scottie Reynolds and [Temple junior guard] Dionte Christmas and certainly [St. Joe's junior forward] Ahmad Nivins. Probably those three, along with [Temple senior forward] Mark Tyndale stand above the rest of the players.

DP: Do you see any tournament contenders coming out of the Big 5 this year?

PM: I don't care what happens in the pre-season, to win the Ivy League championship, somebody's going to have to knock off Penn. In the Atlantic-10, I'm sure hoping that St. Joe's and Temple or La Salle can be in the mix for the regular season and post-season championships. And certainly I see Villanova as being a threat to win the Big East title. So I think we're going to have multiple representatives in the NCAA tournament, and that's always a great feather in the cap of the Big 5.

DP: What does St. Joe's need to do to be competitive for the A-10 title this year?

PM: We have to make sure that we grow up. I'm not talking about emotional maturity, but we have to get more of a basketball maturity. We've had some early-season opportunities with Syracuse and Gonzaga at home and we let those get away from us. So I'm looking for the daily growth that is important in this program. I'm looking for a basketball maturity that I haven't seen yet, but I do feel confident is there, and it's my responsibility to get it out of them.

DP: Do you still see Penn as the team the rest of the Ivy League has to go through, despite the Quakers' inexperienced lineup?

PM: Well, it's always been that way, Penn and Princeton, and Penn's taking their knocks early in the season playing a challenging schedule. So I still think - without studying the Ivy League and knowing the teams intimately - that once you're the champion, somebody better knock the crown off your head. Penn's been the champion for a long time.

DP: Who's the best personality you've come across in the years you've been involved in college basketball?

PM: Well, it's easy to say Dick Vitale, but the most overwhelming personality that I've ever had a chance to spend time with would be John Wooden. I met John Wooden when he was in his nineties and his intellectual sharpness, his awareness of what was going on in today's basketball game was simply and utterly amazing. When you add in there the successes and obviously the championships that he has accumulated, to still be as humble and good a human being as he is, is just astounding to me.

DP: Can you talk about your 18-straight correct picks for Eagles games?

PM: When we started this a long time ago, I picked about 18 games straight. I've been just about the way the Eagles have been the past two years: I've been up and down. It was beginner's luck I'm afraid to say.

DP: How did you get started doing that?

PM: The people at WIP thought that I had somewhat of an engaging and a risk-taking personality and they started to put me on Fridays and Mondays just to give an opinion or two. It started to have its own life because I was lucky enough to make some picks, never against the point spread, just winning and losing, and it's developed basically into a little bit of a shtick.

DP: So how do you think the Eagles will finish this season?

PM: I think that the Eagles are in some trouble. I think they're a little bit deficient talent-wise. Obviously they are a team that will go as far as their quarterback and [Donovan McNabb has] been hurt and recovering from injury all year long. So I think you're looking at a team that will end the season .500. No playoffs this year. We'll have to concentrate on Big 5 basketball.

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