A10 basketball has officially ended, so let’s take a look back at the La Salle Exploders’ season and look ahead to next year.
La Salle finished with a measly record of 11-19, winning just 5 conference games and losing 13; good for third to last in the A10. This certainly wasn’t what fans expected or wanted out of the program this year.
So, what happened?
This was the year that Ashley Howard and the Explorers were supposed to put it all together. After all, this was the first year that every single player on the team was a player that Howard recruited and didn’t inherit from John Giannini. La Salle wasn’t exactly expected to go dancing, but they were expected to be a middle of the pack team in the A10. This was supposed to be the year where maybe a 6 or 7 seed didn’t seem like it was too far out of reach (We all saw what 6 seeded Richmond did this year).
So why did fans think highly of this program at the beginning of the season?
Well for starters, it was beaten like a dead horse how much Jack Clark improved over the summer. All reports said that Clark was going to go absolutely bonkers come the start of the season.
There were key players that the Explorers were able to retain. Sherif Kenney, the 2020-2021 A10 Sixth Man of the Year, was expected to ride his momentum of his previous season where he averaged just under 10 points a contest. F/C Clifton Moore was back and looking like he wanted to prove how much of a dominate big man he is in the conference. And we can’t forget about Jhamir Brickus, a guy who helps facilitate the offense and can pull up from just about anywhere on the floor.
La Salle also picked up some key additions. Josh Nickelberry, a transfer from Louisville, was expected to come in and be that guy that can shoot the lights out of the arena. We also can’t overlook incoming freshman Khalil Brantley, who averaged about 34 points per game in his final high school season.
From someone on the outside looking in, you would probably think this is a team with a lot of pieces, and if they can put everything together, they can do a lot better than they have been the last 5 years.
And then the season started with non-conference play, and the team looked a bit streaky. They were losing to teams like Sacred Heart and Bucknell that they should have easily won, and they were losing games by very slim margins when they had multiple opportunities to close them out, like the game against Delaware. On the contrary, they were winning games that we didn’t expect them to, such as the win over Army and the win over Penn. Jack Clark looked off in non-conference play, he simply wasn’t hitting shots that we expected him to make. Josh Nickelberry was very inconsistent; there were games where he would shoot 60 or 70 percent, and then there were games where he put up 10 shots and none of them went in. In non-conference play, the Explorers never had one guy that was consistently solid every game.
They came into conference play 5-5, maybe not what they wanted but not terrible by any stretch of the imagination. Then conference play started; and I have never seen a team play up to really good competition one game and then play down to really bad competition the next quite like the Explorers did. In all their conference games, VCU and Saint Louis were the only teams to truly blow them out (To be fair, Saint Louis did it on three separate occasions). The Explorers played the Bonnies and Davidson really well; La Salle really made these teams work and sweat to beat them. They even beat Dayton, one of the best teams in the conference and the very first team out of the Big Dance (sorry Dayton fans…). They would play amazing games against the best teams in the conference, but they can’t beat Rhode Island? They can’t beat Fordham? The only team La Salle beat multiple times this year was St. Joe’s, and they did that three times.
So where does La Salle go from here? A disappointing season that really didn’t accomplish much other than getting out of the pillow fight (something they failed to do last year).
Well, what La Salle decided to do was give Ashley Howard the boot after 4 years.
Some people wanted to give Howard one more year, others wanted him gone this year. The athletic department ultimately decided that Ashley Howard’s time at La Salle has run out. This instituted a rather dark time for La Salle Basketball, as once Howard was fired, portals got opened left and right.
Here are the players that have entered the transfer portal since Howard was fired: Clifton Moore, Jhamir Brickus, Khalil Brantley, Jack Clark, Anwar Gill, Christian Ray, Mamadou Doucoure, Kyle Thompson, Brandon Dwyer. And we cannot forget that Sherif Kenney and Tegra Izay transferred before conference play started.
As of right now, here are the players that remain on the roster: Josh Nickelberry, Dasheon Sheppard, Matt McFarlane, Andres Marrero, and Charles Ireland. Those are five players remaining, three of which really didn’t play at all this year.
In today’s day and age, it isn’t uncommon for one or two guys to open their portal and transfer. If Sherif Kenney and Tegra Izay were the only two to transfer this year, I’d say that’s a pretty normal year in NCAA Basketball. But the fact that just about the whole roster opened their portal…doesn’t exactly give me the warm fuzzies.
So as of right now, La Salle has no coach and barley enough players to take the court. The first order of business is hiring a coach. There have been a few names thrown around the last couple weeks. As of right now, according to Mike Jensen, the job belongs to Fran Dunphy if he wants it, and he has until Sunday April 3rd to decide if he wants it or not. Other names that have been thrown around are Karl Hobbs, Dave Paulsen, and John Gallagher.
If Dunphy decides to take the job (it is important to note that Dunphy has turned down this job in the past), I think that fans would be satisfied. He is respected in the business of coaching, and there is the bonus of him being a La Salle alum. You look back to see how good some of the Temple teams that Dunphy coached, and it is easy to get excited about this potential hire. Hopefully he can convince some of these guys in the portal to come back if he decides to take the job.
If Dunphy doesn’t take the job, I think that Karl Hobbs or Dave Paulsen would be good hires. Both have experience coaching in the A10. And John Gallagher would also be a very good hire. He has experience at La Salle coaching as an assistant, so I think he would transition into the role of head coach rather easily.
La Salle is left with many questions, questions that only time will answer. Who will the Explorers hire? Will some of these guys in the portal transfer? Will some come back? What kind of recruits do the Explorers have? Will they be active in the transfer portal?
Hopefully we get these answers sooner rather than later, but as of right now fans are on the edge of their seats waiting to see what happens.