For a college basketball coach, the summer always is a time for optimism.
The warm breezes outside of a gym, whistle-free evenings, days that begin after a restful night and, hey, maybe even a few rounds of golf relieve the stress and have coaches feeling positive and rejuvenated.
Sometimes, though, it’s a false sense of hope, maybe some personal convincing going on to prepare for the daily grind of Division I hoops.
During a July conversation, John Giannini has the expected excitement in his relaxed voice.
But don’t mistake, the La Salle coach has real reason for optimism.
It’s not just that the Explorers return almost everyone from a team that lifted a gorilla off the proud program’s back last season, ending the 20-year postseason drought with a berth in the NIT after a very good 21-13 campaign.
It’s not just that he’ll have the steady Tyreek Duren running the point, with offensive/defensive spark Ramon Galloway on one side and lights-out long-range shooter Sam Mills on the other.
It’s not just that he can call on lock-down defender D.J. Peterson, long and rangy at 6-foot-5, or Philadelphia Public League’s third all-time leading scorer in Virginia Tech transfer Tyrone Garland after seven games.
It’s not just that he has one of the Atlantic 10’s top young big men in Jerrell Wright, a sophomore now with the experience and understanding of the college game. Giannini also has high hopes for big man Steve Zack, of whom the coach says could follow departed senior Earl Pettis as back-to-back winners of the A-10’s Most Improved Player award.
Well, those pieces – and more – do have Giannini feeling confident.
But it’s not just that.
There is a special quality to this group – a togetherness, a likability, coachability, dependability – that gives the Explorers coach genuine hope that La Salle can take that next big step and earn its first NCAA tournament berth since 1992.
“I do think we can have a very good team,” Giannini told Philahoops Tuesday. “We’ve always worked hard but our confidence is pretty high right now because we did do well and I definitely think we can take the next step.”
It’s called chemistry.
La Salle had it last season.
And Giannini expects nothing different in 2012-13.
“I think the chemistry is already there and one of the reasons I feel really good,” he said. “The chemistry was good because we had guys who could count on each other and liked each other. And we had a lot of good guards who passed the ball well.
“That’s what I think chemistry is: a team that will share the ball and a team that won’t quit on each other. We just have those kinds of players and those kinds of kids.”
The coach has seen it at the team’s summer workouts.
“Collectively, we’re just behaving more and more like a good team all the time,” Giannini said. “I don’t have to do a lot of yelling and screaming to get them to work hard. This is a group that shows up and works hard every day. They want to get better, they want to win and they’re very enjoyable to coach that way. They’ve worked really hard this summer.”
The pieces and the intangibles are there for the Explorers to have a breakthrough season, but it won’t be easy. Not in a league loaded with talent – and that’s minus the addition of Butler and VCU.
This, Giannini realizes. But he is not deterred.
“We made the NIT, we’re trying to take that next step,” Giannini said. “We’re probably going to have to do it in one of the deepest Atlantic 10s ever and one of the deepest conferences in the country this year so it’s going to be a great challenge.
“But I just like our team.”
Notes: The Explorers’ nonconference schedule is highlighted by a Jan. 2 game at Miami, a 2-for-1 arrangement that will land the Explorers back in Florida next season before the Hurricanes return the favor at the Palestra in two seasons. The game was arranged as a homecoming for Mills. Other nonconference opponents, according to Giannini, are Delaware, Penn State, Villanova, Penn, Bucknell, Northeastern, Rider, Hartford, Central Connecticut, Iona and Sacred Heart.
…Stay with Philahoops for more from our conversation from Giannini in the days and weeks ahead.