Phil Martelli Jr. – the son of the Saint Joseph’s University coach – coached with the 87ers last year and is bringing that knowledge back to Hawk Hill where he will work for his dad as Director of Basketball Operations
By Kevin Callahan
Phil Martelli Jr., yes, the son of the affable Saint Joseph’s University coach, was an assistant coach with the 87ers last year of the NBA G League and “loved the experience.”
“I was surprised how coachable guys were there,” Martelli said. “It is a misperception that it’s a misfit league and it’s not, it’s really not.”
“It’s a league of guys who are trying to make a team, to try to get in, of rookies who maybe don’t fit in the European league, who are not ready to be there yet. And there are older guys, really mature, who have been around the block guys, who had a taste of the NBA, but maybe bounced around, or maybe never got to the NBA.
“I was amazed at the maturity level of those older guys and their work ethic. It was like ‘this is my profession, this is what I do,’ it was the same way with me and coaching.”
Now, Martelli is bringing the pro basketball knowledge back to Hawk Hill where he will work for his dad as Director of Basketball Operations.
The 2003 graduate of Saint Joseph’s spent the previous five years before joining the Sevens staff last year as an assistant coach at the University of Delaware. He helped the Blue Hens notch their most-ever conference wins over five seasons (55). Delaware won the Colonial Athletic Association regular season and tournament championships in 2013-14 when it made the school’s first NCAA appearance in 15 years.
Martelli, who started his coaching career in 2003 at Central Connecticut State University as the youngest (22) full-time assistant in Division I, was also an assistant coach at Niagara and Manhattan
At Niagara from 2006 to 2011, he helped the Purple Eagles to a 95-69 record in his five years, including the 2007 MAAC Tournament title and a victory in the NCAA Tournament.
“I was used to working with younger guys and trying to help them figure out how to get better, but then I was working with older guys, by older I mean 21 to 31, and they were all eyes and years,” Martelli said about coaching the Sevens.
“With that they were also high IQ, they knew how to play the right way.”
Martelli recalled reviewing scouting reports in the locker room when the Sevens had back-to-back games and telling the players how they were going to guard and what they were going to do and how he was “blown away” how they adjusted to the changes so quickly.
“Their ability to pick things up was really amazing to me,” Martelli said. “Even the guys who were slower to pick things up were so much further ahead than the normal college guy, the average college guy I coached
“You have guys who were really coachable and were like, ‘how do I get better?’” Martelli added.
“The bottom line is it’s the minor leagues and whether it’s baseball or hockey, no one is content being there, so they are trying to get somewhere else like the NBA.”
Although the G League is a developmental league, he explained how game planning and strategy were involved.
He said teams would run some of the basic stuff of their NBA affiliate, but teams didn’t have Joel Embiid or LeBron James or Kyrie Irving.
“In the NBA, your best player might be a center but in the G League your best players might be a guard,” Martelli explained why plays had to be different.
However, Martelli said the preparation in college was harder because on a Saturday you might face a 3-2 team while Wednesday you may face a team pressing you for 40 minutes.
“In the NBA and the G League there’s a lot of similar stuff,” Martelli said. “Most teams are running ball screens and defenses are doing pretty much the same stuff, there’s not a lot of variation to it. The preparation is how are we going to stop individuals.
“Some of the players in the G League are really, really, really good and they are really hard to stop and so it’s geared more towards that,” Martelli said. “In college, it’s more of a system and how are we going to stop that, and this is what they like, and how are we going to guard that.”
Martelli, a four-year player for the Hawks and a member of his dad’s squads that made NCAA Tournament appearances in 2000-01 and 2002-03, will now switch over to basketball administrative duties, including travel, summer camps and Philadelphia basketball outreach.
Martelli enjoyed working alongside Sevens’ head coach Eugene Burroughs, a Philly product.
“Eugene was awesome,” Martelli said. “He was a great guy to work for. He let us do our thing, he let us take control things of certain things.
“That was really great and he really gave you an opportunity to work on your craft. He was really into our import put and our voice.”
Martelli said he didn’t see anyone trying to elevate themselves over any other coaches.
“It was a really good group to be around every day,” Martelli said. “It really was, there was some relationships I developed there that are as strong as anywhere I have in coaching.”
“We were on the same page, it was like we were all in this together.”
Martelli said he felt the buzz from the 76ers filter down to the 87ers. The buzz continues as former Sixers forward Elton Brand was recently named the general manager of the 87ers.
“As they were getting good, I noticed friends of mine who are Sixers fans were texting me and saying wow this guys really good,” he said.
Now being back in Philly and closer to the 76ers, Martelli will still be a fan of the 87ers.
“For the casual friends that live down in Delaware or Maryland and can’t get there,” Martelli said about a Sixers’ game, “they’ll be like let me and go to an 87ers’ game.”