La Salle's John Giannini is the only City Six coach not from the area. But he gets the city. He knows what we have and what we could lose.
"I'm a Chicago guy," he said. "I grew up in the era of Mark Aguirre and Isiah Thomas and Terry Cummings and DePaul having a great team."
Chicago college basketball was really special then. It did not last.
"When I got to Philly, frankly I was stunned at the importance of the Big 5 to so many people," Giannini said. "It's important to people in their 40s, 50s and 60s, probably 50s and 60s now because they've seen the double- and tripleheaders at the Palestra. I was struck immediately when I came back to the area, my friends were not saying, 'Wow, I can't believe you're coaching in the A-10,' they said, 'We can't believe you're coaching in the Big 5.' "
It did not take long for Giannini to understand the world he had entered.
"When I coached in my first St. Joe's-La Salle game and we were down at the time, but to see the support of the La Salle people in the Palestra meant so much to me," Giannini said. "It was at that point that I realized that the Big 5 games weren't like all the others and if it was in the Palestra, it really wasn't like all the others.
"So I learned rather quickly and being a little bit of a basketball purist and appreciating the tradition of the game, I just realized how unique it was. The next step was going to the Big 5 Hall of Fame inductions and hearing people talk about growing up in the Palestra and how emotional they were about those incredible memories."
All true and well said. Here is the concern.
"I started to think to myself that in 10 or 15 years, those memories aren't going to be there anymore because we just don't play games there," Giannini said. "I just think it's a great place to play. We have a tradition that Chicago doesn't have, that New York doesn't have . . . So why not play these games in a great place and continue to build the memories. It's not a disadvantage for any one team. You split the tickets and no one is being forced to play on the road. It's a great neutral-court environment. I just love it. I like being a part of it. I'm honored to be a part of it."
St. Joe's and La Salle always play at the Palestra. But Giannini is right. There are not enough City Series games there. That the powers that be let the season-opening tripleheader die was simply wrong.
"I would love to do what we do with St. Joe's with other teams," Giannini said. "But I know everyone has to do what's best for their school. I just think it's unique, it's special. I know I'm drawn to it and I would love to do more of it."
There is, of course, a way to play all 10 City Series games at the Palestra. That, however, would require four schools giving up some home games to restore a city tradition. We could all go back over the history of how we got to this point, but that will solve nothing. They could bundle the 10 games into an enticing premium-rate ticket package. It really could happen. There just needs to be a will to make it happen.
When news came of Rick Majerus' death, I thought back to the 1998 Final Four Saturday night outside his Utah locker room at the Alamodome, just listening to the man talk hoops for as long as anybody had a question. His passion for the game was so real.
If Tubby Smith had not coached a perfect game that Monday night, Utah might have beaten Kentucky and Majerus might have had the only thing his basketball resume lacked.
He left behind a complex legacy as he was a complicated man with disparate interests. In a world of political correctness, he was unafraid to talk about anything and offer an opinion.
And he could really coach. I have seen enough games to get a sense of what coaches are trying to do and why they are trying to do it. I was at Majerus games where I had no idea what he was trying to do. I just know that it worked.
BIG TEN IS REALLY GOOD:
The league's three unbeaten teams did not get there by not playing anybody. Illinois won Maui while Michigan won the preseason NIT and Indiana took the Legends. Add Minnesota and Michigan State to the mix and you have five teams that could be playing deep into March or even April in Atlanta.
The Patriot League is 33-15 against teams from similar-profile eastern leagues. Bucknell and Lehigh have two of the better players in America - C.J. McCollum (Lehigh) and Mike Muscala (Bucknell). Their games should be terrific and the league winner will not be an easy NCAA out.
McCollum (24.9 points) leads the nation in scoring. He has already scored 2,323 career points with 20 plus games to play. Muscala is just the second player in Patriot history to get more than 1,500 points and 800 rebounds. Colgate's Adonal Foyle (1,776 points/1,103 rebounds) was the first.
STEWART/ST. JOE'S CONNECTION:
Courtesy of SJU grad Brendan Quinn, the Tennessee basketball beat writer for the Knoxville News-Sentinel: Rider's Daniel and Derrick Stewart (both from Ss. Neumann-Goretti High) are the sons of former Hawks high-flyer Richard Stewart and SJU triple jumper Donna Crumety, the only NCAA track champion (1991 outdoor) in St. Joe's history. Quinn's father Kevin is closing on 50 years as the director of the SJU track program.
Courtesy of the Ivy League's Scottie Rodgers: Tennessee's coaching staff scored 5,381 Division I points, most of any college staff. Syracuse is second with 5,010, Tulsa, mostly because of head coach Danny Manning's 2,951, is third. Princeton, with Mitch Henderson, Brian Earl and Dan Geriot, is 10th.
THIS AND THAT:
-- Penn is one win away from becoming the 10th program with 1,700 wins. The problem is No. 1 Indiana (also with 1,699) is going to beat the Quakers there. Penn is off until Dec. 22 at Delaware. IU plays Butler and Mt. St. Mary's before Penn plays again.
-- Indiana leads the nation in scoring (89.1 points per game).
-- Syracuse is No. 1 in field goal defense (32.8 percent).
-- St. Joe's is committing the fewest fouls (just 11.6 per game). That may have changed after Tuesday night's game at Villanova.
-- Penn, Dartmouth and Harvard are among 20 teams with rosters that have an average of 1 year or less of experience. Others on that list include North Carolina and Larry Brown's SMU team.
-- Three schools have 60 or more 1,000-point scorers. They are North Carolina (67), Louisville (63) and Duke (60).
-- Drexel was 2-4 last season before winning 25 of its next 26. Well, it's a thought.
-- Everybody seems to think Kentucky's super young team (again) is going to be a major factor by March. It is quite early, but I am not as certain. I just don't see the depth of talent I saw on Coach Cal's first three UK teams. And they have already committed the unpardonable sin of losing at home. They were not happy with Tubby Smith in the fall of 1998 because his first team committed the unpardonable sin of losing several times at Rupp the previous season. Even winning the national championship that first season was not enough to calm the locals.