St Peter’s run may be best one yet
By: Aidan Joly, Editor-in-Chief
We all know the Cinderella stories of past NCAA tournaments: Butler, Davidson, VCU, Florida Gulf Coast, UMBC, Oral Roberts.
Saint Peter’s may be the greatest Cinderella story yet.
The program etched itself into March Madness lore by becoming the first No. 15 seed to ever reach the Elite Eight, knocking off some of the sport’s top juggernauts, such as Kentucky and Purdue. It was the third No. 15 seed to ever reach the Sweet 16.
This is a program that was unlikely to ever even see an NCAA tournament game in the first place, much less win — one, no — three games. Saint Peter’s annual men’s basketball expenditures total just $1.6 million, the third lowest out of all 68 teams that qualified for the tournament. Meanwhile, its first-round opponent, Kentucky, spends $18.3 million per year on the men’s basketball program. That $1.6 million per year is the lowest in the MAAC by a wide margin according to Athletic Director Rachelle Paul, who is ironically a Canisius alumna.
Last summer, Saint Peter’s made significant renovations to its facility in Jersey City, once called Yanitelli Center, now called Run Baby Run Arena. A recent Twitter thread by Ryan Woerner, a former staffer at Saint Peter’s, laid out some of the issues. Flooding was a common occurrence in the basketball coaching offices due to its location inside the facility. The offices were below the “tennis bubble,” which was an air-supported roof on top of the rec center. When snow would melt, water would leak down into the staff offices. The arena was also used as something of a community center, Woerner writing that one time the players came in for a weekend morning practice only to find an inflatable bouncy house in the gym and were told there was a last-minute facility rental. Bake sales were also an occurrence, with the team being forced to practice on a side court. Unpaid assistant coaches would sleep on couches in the facility 2–3 nights a week to avoid paying New York City tolls.
He also noted: “There was a pool in Yanitelli that SPU would rent to any paying customer. A visiting coach walking downstairs postgame would regularly encounter screaming kids in swim gear and random people in towels post-workout.”
Another Woener story is a time when Canisius went to visit, and a pipe burst and flooded the hallway to the visiting locker room. The hot water stopped working when Loyola-Chicago came to town for a game in December 2012.
Around this time of year, the phrase “put the school on the map” is thrown around a lot. This run puts Saint Peter’s on the map. Most of its roster is made up of local players because it doesn’t have the resources to do much recruiting travel.
This change all starts with Shaheen Holloway, whose four-year tenure — which ended earlier this week as he was hired to be the new head coach at Seton Hall — produced the longest sustained success that the program has seen in decades. Under the previous head coach John Dunne, who is now the head man at Marist, there was a cycle: struggle for two years while young players get experience, then be successful for two years. This produced an NCAA tournament berth in 2011 and a CIT title in 2017: but nothing close to this. The stars of this improbable run like Daryl Banks III, Doug Edert and the Drame brothers, Fousseyni and Hassan, were part of Holloway’s first full recruiting class. In three years in Jersey City, they have won 14 MAAC games twice, something the program had achieved just one time before their arrival.
This run will also pay off dividends for the MAAC. The MAAC will be receiving $8.1 million dollars to be spread across the 11 schools over the next six years. Canisius’s cut will be just under $123,000 annually, which will come out to approximately $736,300 by the time the payments end. It’s unclear what the Canisius athletic department will spend it on, but it’s something that can be used to upgrade the program.
Maybe, a run like Saint Peter’s can happen again.