Framed photos of former Hawk basketball players line the hallways inside the new offices of Hagan Arena. Mention the names of these players on the walls to the current Hawk squad and you will receive a dozen or so blank stares. When the Hawks play at the Palestra, the coaches urge their team to walk through the hallways. “Take in the history,” they’re told. But this generation of players is not one for nostalgia.
“That’s just their world; that is this generation,” said Saint Joseph’s assistant coach David Duda. “A lot of times we’re educating the team on the past and anytime an alumnus comes in who played here, Coach [Phil Martelli] makes a point to introduce them to the team and talk about them because they need to know that there is a history at this school and here in Philadelphia.”
Duda’s coaching philosophy was built by two of the architects of Philadelphia basketball: Herb Magee and Phil Martelli. Duda, who played for Martelli at Bishop Kenrick High School and coached under Magee for seven years at Philadelphia University, took his mentors’ coaching philosophies and blended them to fit his own personality.
“I feel very fortunate because I think I got the best of both worlds,” he explained. “I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I think I learned two different styles from two different guys who were successful in different ways.”
Herb Magee is a tactician who has the innate ability to draw up the right play for the right moment. He is an “X’s and O’s” coach. If coach Magee wants a player to take a shot in a certain situation of the game, that player gets the shot. His teams are so prepared, Duda explained, that it does not matter what kind of zone or man defense the opponent is playing. The player Magee wants shooting the ball gets the shot. It’s that easy.
Duda described Martelli as a born motivator. Martelli is someone who has proven time and again he can extract more out of his players than most coaches. With Phil, you play at a higher level because you simply don’t want to let him down, Duda explained.
“I think every guy who is a good coach has some type of genius inside them,” he said. “Herb’s thing was he was going to run those plays until he got exactly what he wanted. Phil is on the opposite end. He is more of the motivator. A `let me motivate you, let me get more from less’ kind of guy. Those guys really raised me basketball-wise.”
This season, Duda has leaned on the lessons learned from his mentors as well as his eight-year head coaching stint at Division III Widener University. In a testament to his coaching ability, wherever Duda has coached, his teams have won. He amassed an impressive record of 148-63 at Widener and was an assistant during Philadelphia University’s dominance. In his seven seasons as an assistant, Philadelphia University was an amazing 171-35, the most successful Division II school in the country in that span.
“I have been fortunate in my career up until this year really that I’ve had a lot of wins,” he said. “And I have coached really good players and I think these guys [on the SJU squad right now] are good players too. They’re just not ready yet.”
This season’s record for the Hawks is a byproduct of a young ensemble that includes three freshmen in the starting five, five freshmen overall who have played significant minutes, and two transfers. In reality, St. Joe’s has seven new players. For a college basketball coach who has won his whole career, this season has been difficult to endure.
“On one hand you can say the future is bright and it is, but on the other hand you can say why did we get in that situation?” Duda explained. “You are not supposed to win with such a young team, but as coaches, your ego is different. You think you will coach them up to that level. But many times you are just not going to.”
Duda pointed to a situation in a recent game against Temple. Freshman C.J. Aiken was having a difficult time rebounding against 23-year old power forward Lavoy Allen. In the heat of the game, Duda needs to see results. The team needs those rebounds. But after the game, in a discussion with the coaches, Duda realized that just a few years ago, it was Allen who was being dominated by former Hawk Ahmad Nivins. In fact, it is Duda who is credited for turning the raw but extremely talented Nivins into a pro basketball player, as the Dallas Mavericks selected Nivins in the second round of the 2009 NBA draft.
College basketball is cyclical, but in the middle of a hard-fought Big 5 game, it is difficult to step back and look at the bigger picture.
“In the heat of the battle you can’t process that,” he said. “As coaches you have to catch yourself and say, `I don’t want that to happen, but I understand why it did.'”
So Duda and the coaching staff press on. They will create new plans and new plays. They will develop their players and prepare them for life on and off the court as student-athletes. They will continue to ask them to take in the history, because as much as the college game is about X’s and O’s and wins and losses, it is also about the development of the individual. Hopefully those individuals can then grow into a team.
“You have to be willing to say not only am I going to be a coach to this guy but I am going to be a life coach,” Duda said. “And do whatever it takes to be that guy.”
A coach, a motivator and a mentor. The perfect mix.