In a city renowned for its college basketball tradition, Saint Joseph’s University stands out. In the last 100 years a multitude of incredibly talented and unique athletes have made their mark on the locally and nationally respected program, all the while creating countless memories still fresh in the minds of students, alumni and fans alike.
In the last 25 years alone, City Avenue has been home to one National Player of the Year, multiple Atlantic 10 Players of the Year, a multitude of scoring titles, accolades and countless broken records. However, in a time frame that included two Atlantic 10 Championships, six NCAA tournament appearances, one Sweet Sixteen, one Elite Eight and one undefeated regular season, there are five Saint Joseph’s players that stand out as the absolute best.
That said, here is the St. Joseph’s Hawks Top 5 in 25:
Guard, Jameer Nelson (2000-2004) - Jameer Nelson is undoubtedly the most spectacular player ever to sport the crimson and gray. During his four-year tenure on Hawk Hill, Nelson seemingly broke every record, reached every milestone and dismantled every defender, all the while electrifying the world of college basketball. While Nelson called West Philadelphia home, SJU went 98-28 (.778) and racked up four NCAA tournament victories. In 2004, Nelson led the Hawks to a perfect 27-0 regular season, then on to an Elite Eight appearance. As the essential centerpiece, Nelson led the Hawks through the school’s most successful four-year time frame, going on to earn a number-one seed in the 2004 NCAA tournament.
Then there are his personal achievements; Nelson is SJU’s all-time leader in points (2,094), assists (713) and steals (256). In the A10, Nelson ranks ninth in points, third in assists and tenth in steals. In 2004, his senior season, Nelson was the Consensus National Player of the Year, along the way finding himself on the cover of Sports Illustrated magazine. After graduation, Nelson would go on to be drafted 20th overall in the NBA draft by the Denver Nuggets, before being traded to the Orlando Magic.
Nelson, in addition to consistently putting his team in a position to win, elevated the Saint Joe’s basketball program to a place it had never been before. For that reason, Nelson is the greatest Hawk in the last 25 years.
Guard, Delonte West (2001-2004) - Known more as Jameer Nelson’s back-court mate than anything else at that time, Delonte West had an extraordinary career during his three years as a Hawk. A touted recruit out of Maryland, West averaged 18.9 points and 6.7 assists in the “Perfect Season.” An excellent shooter that season, West shot 41.2 percent from behind the arc and 89.2 percent from the free-throw line. Despite being overshadowed by Nelson, West’s three years were some of the best in St. Joe’s history.
The 6-foot-4 guard was drafted 24th overall in the 2004 NBA Draft by the Boston Celtics. Since then, he has played for the SuperSonics, Cavaliers, the Celtics (again) and currently is on the Dallas Mavericks. Despite a few instances that exhibited emotional and mental problems at times, West has proven to be a formidable NBA player.
Guard, Rashid Bey (1994-1998) - Rashid Bey was quite often the smallest player on the court, standing just 5-foot-11, 150 lbs. in sneakers, on a good day. That said, the St. John Neumann product (now Neumann-Goretti) achieved more than anybody thought that the point guard would. As a junior, Bey and the Hawks stormed through the Atlantic 10, winning the 1997 Conference Championship. In the NCAA tournament the #4 seeded Hawks would beat Pacific and Boston College before losing to eventual national runner-up Kentucky. Bey was named to the All-West Region Team after leading the Hawks in scoring and assists.
In his senior year, Bey was atop the stat sheet in scoring, assists, steals, 3-point field goals made and free throw percentage, averaging 16.9 points and 4.8 assists. An All-Atlantic 10 second team nominee, he also captured his second consecutive Philadelphia Big Five MVP award. In his collegiate career, Bey would finish with 1316 points and 509 assists, one of four Hawks to achieve the 1000 point, 500 assist milestone. Historically, Bey is fourth in assists, 10th in three-point field goals and 24th in scoring.
Forward, Ahmad Nivins (2005-2009) – One would be hard-pressed to find a more dominating, consistent back to the basket power forward than Ahmad Nivins. Upon arriving on Hawk Hill, Nivins wasted no time in leaving his mark. During his freshman year his upside looked monstrous as he found his way into a staring role, earning A10 all-rookie honors along the way.
As his days as a Hawk came to a close in 2009, Nivins had put together one of the most impressive careers ever to be posted from 54th Street; Nivins is SJU’s all-time leader in field goal percentage (62.7), one of three Hawks to ever record over 1,700 points and 900 rebounds, and finished his career as the third leader scorer (1789) and sixth leading rebounder (955) in the school’s history. Nivins is SJU’s all-time leader in free-throws made (561), was the 2009 A10 Player of the year, and is just the second player in A10 history to lead the league in field goal percentage for three straight seasons (.631, .647, .612). After graduation, Nivins would go on to become the 28th Hawk ever to be drafted into the NBA as he was chosen 56th overall by the Dallas Mavericks. It is his unique skill, dazzling dunks and aggressive style that landed Nivins a spot as the third greatest Hawk in the last 25 years.
Center, Rodney Blake (1984-1988) – Even though rival Villanova was winning a national championship, garnering national attention and recruiting top class athletes, Rodney Blake gave Hawks fans a place to hang their hats. As a graduate of Monsignor Bonner High School, Blake was regarded as an incredibly coveted recruit both locally and nationally. In the midst of dozens of offers from respected programs, Blake realized that he would have the ability to start as a freshman at SJU, and the rest is history. At the time of his graduation from Hawk Hill, Blake held every Hawks record in blocked shots; he would go on to become the top shot blocker in SJU history (419), record the most SJU blocks in one game (12) and lead the nation is blocks his senior year (116). As a prolific, well-rounded player, Blake also ranks 11th on the Hawks all-time scoring list (1,679) and 16th in rebounds (818). In accordance with all of his achievements, Blake led Saint Joe’s to victory in the 1986 A10 Tournament Championship game. The pure skill, background and winning persona of Blake lands him as the second greatest Hawk in the last 25 years.
Guard, Marvin O’Connor (1999-2002) – A homegrown guard, Marvin O’Connor perfectly emulated the physical representation of Philadelphia basketball: gritty, edgy and fierce. After graduating from Simon Gratz High School in Philadelphia, O’Connor went on to play at Villanova for his freshman year. Upon realizing that his full potential was not being met as a Wildcat, O’Connor transferred across the great rivalry and quickly found himself contributing as a Hawk. O’Connor led SJU in scoring during his sophomore campaign, averaging 16.4 ppg in addition to hitting 73 three-pointers. O’Connor would truly come into his own as a junior, as he finished the season second in the A-10 and 10th nationally in scoring (22.1 ppg) while earning the A10 Player of the Year honors.
Although O’Connor enjoyed his share of wins during his tenure on Hawk Hill, it was ironically his performance in a losing effort that steered his way into the hearts of the Hawk faithful forever. During his junior year, O’Connor found himself and his teammates down big in a game against Big 5 rival La Salle. O’Connor, unwilling to take the loss lying down, went on to score 18 points in the final minute of the game to bring SJU within one point of the win, finishing the game with 37 points.
O’Connor would finish scoring 1678 points for the Hawks in just three years, hitting a then-record 221 three-pointers during that time.
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