Philly feels like home to Saints

The Siena Saints will hit Broad Street in Philadelphia today, and although Siena hasn’t played Templ
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Broad Street is a massive artery running for miles through the center of downtown Philadelphia.

Except for the asphalt, in no way does it resemble the tree-lined section of Route 9 that quietly winds its way through Loudonville past Siena College.

The Siena Saints will hit Broad Street today, and although Siena hasn’t played Temple since 1952, there will be a strong feeling of connectedness between the tiny upstate New York school and the Big 5 university on the north side of Philadelphia.

Siena point guard Ronald Moore (Conshohocken, Pa.) can name NBA players he knows from the area like his cousin John Salmons, Tyreke Evans and Mardy Collins; head coach Fran McCaffery goes back decades to cite names like Paul Arizins, Tom Gola, Guy Rodgers, Hal Lear and Wilt Chamberlain.

In the meantime, Siena, in its own way, is furthering the Phil­adelphia basketball heritage by making two straight NCAA tourn­ament appearances with players and coaches from the city and its surroundings, including University of Pennsyl­vania graduate McCaffery; Moore; power forward Alexander Franklin (Reading, Pa.); shooting guard Clarence Jackson, who is from just across the Delaware River in Marlton, N.J.; and freshman Denzel Yard (Philadelphia).

Also, assistant coaches Mitch Buonaguro and Andrew Francis have been assistants at Villanova, sophomore Owen Wignot is from Dallas, Pa., near Wilkes-Barre, and was recruited by Temple and Penn State, and freshman Jonathan Breeden is from Harrisburg, Pa.

“For many years, if you grew up in Philly, you really didn’t want to go anywhere else,” McCaffery said. “You wanted to stay in Philly and play, and the Big 5 was one of the most unique things in the history of college basketball. Five Div­ision I teams in the same city, we all played each other. On Saturday nights, they had double-headers.

“That just wouldn’t happen anymore. Thankfully, the teams still play one another, but there’s no double-headers, and they don’t all play at the Palestra. RPI gets involved now, you have to have home and road, stuff like that.”

“It’s always very competitive, year in and year out, whether it was out in the suburbs or right in the city, there was always a great player that’s being highly recruited or going to a big-time program,” Moore said. “You could say it’s an advantage over other players, who maybe don’t have great talent in their area where they live. Maybe playing against them when I was younger really helped my game and prepared me to play against great players, starting at a young age.”

In five short years, McCaffery has established a Philly enclave at Siena, which will play the Temple Owls at the 10,224 Liacouras Center at 7 tonight in the first of four straight games on Siena’s schedule that are part of the Philly Hoop Group Classic.

The Saints will play a Philly Classic home game against Delaware on Tuesday night and games at the Palestra on the Penn campus against St. John’s and Brown next weekend.

Siena also has a game against another of the Big 5 schools, Saint Joseph’s, at home on Dec. 29.

McCaffery opened up a pipeline of Philadelphia talent to upstate New York as soon as he was hired by Siena.

Moore followed Villanova closely when he was growing up, especially because the Wildcats played in the Big East against Seton Hall, where Moore’s brother, Chuck, played before transferring to Vanderbilt, and against Miami, where Salmons played. Villanova didn’t recruit Moore, though, so he picked the next best thing, Villanova North, where the Saints play a dribble-drive motion offense sim­ilar to Villanova’s and had a coach who understood the Philadelphia mentality and mystique.

“Him being from Philly, I was able to get to hear a lot of great info about him as a player and as a coach, so it really persuaded me to come here, simply because so many good things were said about him by a lot of people around me,” Moore said. “He’s a Philly guy, and a lot of people knew him, and his mom, who unfortunately passed away, lived right around the corner from my high school and was great friends with one of my mom’s great friends, so a lot of things tied in. It was kind of like a small world, and it just seemed to fit. As you can see, it worked out to be the best dec­ision.”

McCaffery never played a college game at Temple, but he was on the campus frequently in the summertime while playing in the Sonny Hill League, which was established in 1968 as a way to counteract gang activity and crime in the city by giving young men a venue in which to compete.

Most of the best players came through the league, which is thriving today and has divisions named after Chamberlain, Bill Cosby and Hank Gathers, and for decades ran a camp under the guidance of Hill and legendary Temple coach John Chaney.

“I played there from my freshman year in high school through my senior year in college, for eight years, twice a week in the summertime,” McCaffery said. “But when we played Temple, we played them at the Palestra. All the Big 5 games were there, and we had some great games there.”

Tonight’s game promises to be just as intriguing.

Siena (2-0) is flirting with its first-ever Associated Press top-25 ranking, but faces an extremely difficult team coached by Philadelphia son Fran Dunphy, the former Penn coach, in a difficult setting.

The Owls (1-1) appeared to have Georgetown beaten on Tuesday afternoon, but missed big free throws down the stretch and lost, 46-45.

“One of the consistent things with Fran Dunphy’s teams is they don’t make mistakes,” McCaffery said. “They never have, and this team is no different. So you look and say, well, how can they shoot so poorly and basically have Georgetown beat? Well, they don’t turn it over. So even if they shoot a low number, they’re going to get a good shot every time. They don’t have mistake guys on the floor. They had the game won. I thought they outplayed Georgetown.”

“I believe that [low score] had to do more with Georgetown’s style of play, of really slowing the game down,” Moore said. “Our game will be closer to the high 60s and 70s, with both of us having people who can put the ball in the hole and really can play the fast-tempo type of game.”

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