I’m back for another part of the “How Long Until We’re Back?” series. A fan reached out to ask about the LaSalle Explorers, which is really great to see from some of the smaller schools in the A10. After a lot of research, hopefully I can provide some optimism from the other Philly fans on when their Explorers are going to be back. Let’s go.
The Story So Far
Last season, the LaSalle Explorers had a new man at the helm after Dr. John Giannini and the school agreed to part ways after 13 seasons and one NCAA tournament birth. In comes Ashley Howard, a coach who worked under Jay Wright at Villanova and helped the Wildcats to two NCAA championships. Known as a very dynamic recruiter, Howard is just the guy needed to help get the right guys to come to LaSalle. In his first season, Howard and the Explorers had a season to forget, going 10-21, but had a decent 8-10 record in the A10. This season is a different story. The team is 10-7, already matching their win total from last year and started off conference play at 1-4. Their leader on offense is senior guard/small forward Isaiah Deas, averaging 12.4 ppg for the Explorers. He seems to be the go-to, “put the team on my back” guy for Howard’s team. Saul Phiri is the other senior leader, who is averaging 8.2 ppg. David Beaty is a junior starting point guard who transfered into the program from South Carolina. He contributes offensively as their second leading scorer. Scott Spencer, the starting power forward, is a junior and contributes lightly on offense. These are the main upperclass guys that Ashley Howard has to work with. It’s not ideal that their best player is gone after this season, but that’s where the development of their underclassmen is crucial to the future of this program.
Let’s look at the young players on LaSalle’s roster. The first name that pops off the page is sophomore forward/center Ed Croswell. Croswell is posting 8.9 ppg and is the leading rebounder at 6.9 rpg. Another sophomore big man is Jared Kimbrough who contributes very minimally on offense and plays only about 12 minutes per game. Croswell is definitely the main young player for the Explorers.
Ayinde Hikim is their young, freshman point guard that has started one game this season. Hikim is getting a lot of minutes regardless if he is starting or not, which bodes well for his development. These two players in Croswell and Hikim seem to be the two guys that Ashley Howard is going to center his team around over the next 2-3 years. Sherif Kenney is their freshman guard that comes off the bench and plays around 18 minutes per game and also averages 6.7 ppg. Same goes for freshman guard Christian Ray, who averages 20 minutes a game. Freshman Brandon Stone gets around 10 minutes a game and does not contribute much offensively. These four freshmen look to be the future for the Explorers; it just depends on if Coach Howard can develop them into good players. Hikim, Ray, and Kenney were rated as two-star players out of high school, while Stone was a three-star player. This is a decent start for Ashley Howard’s first big recruiting class.
Howard has had one commitment for the 2020 recruiting class in Anwar Gill. Gill is a 6-4, 185 shooting guard out of Washington, D.C. He was rated as a two-star recruit on Verbal Commits and by ESPN. Gill seems to be the kind of tall, lengthy shooter that Howard likes on his teams, kind of like how Deas is now. Gill was one of the main scorers and rebounders on a high school powerhouse program in Gonzaga College High School in D.C. He is also the third player from D.C. that Howard has gotten a commitment from. The other two were Hikim and Kenney, which shows Howard has a little network set up in our nation’s capital.
As for transfers for next season, Howard has gotten Clifton Moore from Indiana to come back home to Philly to play for the Explorers. Moore played quite a bit for Archie Miller and the Hoosiers, and contributed occasionally. He is a 6-10 athletic forward, which goes along with the lengthy, athletic players that Howard likes on his team. Clifton is sitting out this season and will have two years of eligibility left when he starts playing next season. He looks to be a strong contributor for Howard for the next two seasons.
Hardships at LaSalle
It has been talked a lot on twitter and various online articles about the university’s financial problems. Over the past 4-5 years, LaSalle has been rumored to be on the verge of bankruptcy and possibly closing its doors. After researching the google machine, it seems that LaSalle had experienced a major decline in enrollment in 2016, which forced the university to reduce tuition by almost 29%. Since then, enrollment has increased, but the university is apparently still in some debt. They ended up having an art auction for some of its most expensive pieces of art from their museum on campus in 2018, which students did not take very well. It is hard to find anything on the subject that isn’t from 2015-2018, but from the articles I read, it seems the school is slowly getting back on its feet financially, and the debt is going down, which is good.
Now, what does this have to do with the future of the basketball program? Well, a sports program that is not well-funded makes it hard for it to thrive or even grow. It seems that the university is starting to get back on its feet. If it doesn’t, or if it takes a while, the program could be in for a lot of losing or at least a long rebuild back to being relevant in the A10.
For all intensive purposes of this article, I am not going to speculate the future of this team based on its financial means, but rather by what I see in Ashley Howard, young players, and recruiting. It is so hard to tell with LaSalle since they are usually a middle of the pack team in the A10, and their NCAA tournament births are few and far in-between. I think their best chance at getting back to the top 4 of the conference is in three years, but it can happen in two if these young freshman develop into great players. I will have to give props to Ashley Howard and the Explorers for already improving from last season at this point in the year with 10 wins, matching last year’s total. That is a good start for his second season, but the hardest part is yet to come. Coach Howard really needs to focus on developing his own guys and establishing a culture of staying in the program. You don’t want your program to become a Fordham and have a culture of leaving to a bigger program once you figure it out at LaSalle.
Nonetheless, LaSalle is in good hands with Ashley Howard, but it could continue to be a while before LaSalle is back in the NCAA tournament. The A10 is a different story, though. As long as Howard develops his plethora of young freshmen, they can be in the top 4 in 2-3 years and possibly in the NCAA tournament in that time span as well, if all goes according to plan.