More people turned down this job than they did the opportunity to be George McGovern's running mate in 1972. Solid names, local names, alumni names, intriguing names. But finally, two weeks before Labor Day, the LaSalle administration went with a safe choice, and, perhaps, it's safety choice (the same way kids who apply to college have safety schools, A.D.'s have their safety choices).
As this article on ESPN.com points out, John Giannini is no stranger to the Southeastern Pennsylvania area, having coached at Division III Rowan and coached well there. He's been at Maine for a while, and he's graduating to a higher-level mid-major from his low-to-mid-major in Orono, Maine. Can he recruit at this level? Can he help take LaSalle to the next level? At least to a winning season? Can he get the best players in Philadelphia's Catholic League to stay home and play for him?
The best here is no. Giannini went to the America East Conference eight years ago, and, while he has gotten the Black Bears to the conference finals in two of the past three years, he has never gotten his team to the NCAA Tournament. He also hasn't proven to be a great recruiter, relying instead on transfers from higher level NCAA programs to help his teams win 53% of their games. Getting those transfers is great, but he'll need to get good players right out of HS to be competitive.
That record is not a ringing endorsement. It's not as if there's some 800-pound gorilla in the America East Conference that has created such a barrier to entry to a championship. Yes, some teams have played well, but this conference should have been ripe for the picking for an up-and-coming coach.
As it turned out, Giannini had a nice career at Maine, but nothing overly memorable. The Black Bears didn't get to the NCAA Tournament before he got there, and they still haven't gotten to the NCAA Tournament.
Giannini was at a hockey school, which can prove to be a problem for a northeastern U.S. hoops school, as hockey can take precedence over hoops (forget about football, as most of these schools play Division 1-AA football). So, if that's the explanation, there will be no similar out at LaSalle. Basketball is their big sport, dating all the way back to the 1950's where a 3-time all-American Tom Gola led the Explorers to a national title. Over the years, stellar players such as Ken Durrett, Joe Bryant, Michael Brooks, Lionel Simmons, Tim Legler, Doug Overton and many others played for this Big 5 school. At one time during Simmons' tenure at LaSalle, the Explorers were undefeated and ranked #1 in the country.
That seems like a long time ago. The strong tradition that LaSalle had forged over the years has atrophied quite a bit. John Giannini has his work cut out for him. The cupboard is relatively bare save 6'8" forward Steve Smith, and LaSalle fans are dazed and confused. They'll unite behind their new coach and root hard against their traditional intra-city rivals, but they'll know for a while that they'll lose more games than they'll win.
And during that time, John Giannini and his staff will be in search for the next NBA prospects to help the Explorers return to glory. In the process, he will learn that Maine might as well be a million miles away. The college hoops standards and expectations are a bit higher in Philadelphia than they are in New England, after all.
It will not be easy.