La Salle's 'Fab Five' freshmen will be key
A new era will begin this season for La Salle men’s basketball. Long gone is the Smith era, and his departure, along with the arrival of several young guns, has ushered in the Barrett, Green, Grimes, Guillandeaux and Mekongo Mbala era.
Coach John Giannini has drawn the “Fab Five” from nearby, with all five playing high school ball in Pennsylvania or New Jersey. The Explorers will fill several gaps with these players, and each is versatile enough to play multiple positions. Let’s take a look at them individually.
Kimmani Barrett is a 6’6”, 190-pound guard. This great size will cause fits for opposing head coaches and players who will have to defend Barrett. If a guard is covering him, he will have a huge size advantage. If a forward is guarding him, someone down low will get a mismatch.
According to GoExplorers.com, Giannini has confidence in the effect that Barrett will provide on the offensive and defensive ends of the floor, saying that “[he] scores from every area on the court, including the three-point line, mid-range shots and around the basket. He is also a good rebounder and defender.”
Rodney Green, a 6’5”, 190-pound guard, is from the Philadelphia area, playing ball last year at Prep Charter. He was named to the First-Team All-City, All-Area and All-State teams as a senior on the way to winning a state championship.
Green can also play all over the court and is difficult to match up with. Giannini says that Green is “an excellent defender and rebounder,” and sees him as “one of the most talented players in the Philadelphia area.”
Brian Grimes will be a force in the front court at 6’7” and 220 pounds. Some might say he is undersized to be a forward, especially considering that the two players listed above are 6’6” and 6’5” guards, but Giannini has called him “an outstanding rebounder.”
Grimes proved this convincingly by sharing the team lead in rebounds with 19 in La Salle’s games in Canada this fall. After playing high school ball at nearby Germantown Academy, he went to prep school in New Hampshire’s Brewster Academy, where he averaged 16 points and 10 boards a game. With the loss of Steven Smith, whose 7.9 rebounds per game led the team, the Explorers will certainly need this help under the basket.
Ruben Guillandeaux has great size for a point guard, at 6’5” and 185 pounds. Giannini thinks that Guillandeaux will create a mismatch often, as he can “play effectively against smaller guards and [use] size to his advantage.” Giannini calls him “an excellent ball handler and passer,” and his skills will be a big improvement on this team.
La Salle turned the ball over 13.9 times a game last year, and Guillandeaux will help to reduce that number.
At 6’7” and 210 pounds, Yves Mekongo Mbala will give additional help under the hoop. While somewhat undersized, Mekongo Mbala is a versatile forward. Giannini notes that Yves “is very athletic and can defend nearly every position on the court.”
Giannini calls Mekongo Mbala’s work ethic “truly exceptional,” and he is sure that this will be the reason for great improvements throughout his career at La Salle.
While not a physically big class, the freshmen will create a vibrant atmosphere both on the court and on the bench. This team is going to run, run, run. Without a legitimate big man, the team will have to play small ball, with lots of quick passes and transition offense, and the freshmen will be at the forefront of this style of play.
It would not be surprising to see all of these young players get substantial time this season, with lineups being juggled to create the best match-ups. This team is going to rely heavily on the play of the underclassmen in order to be successful.
The Fab Five bring two things to this team that Giannini has to love. One is an experienced winning attitude. Green won a Pennsylvania State Championship last year, and Guillandeaux and Mekongo Mbala played on the New Jersey State Champion St. Patrick’s squad.
The other is intelligence. Grimes was an honor roll student in high school, as well as the president of his class, and Guillandeaux and Mekongo Mbala were on the honor roll at St. Patrick’s. No one appreciates this more than Giannini, who earned a doctorate in kinesiology with a specialization in sports psychology from Illinois in 1992.
While many fans might be going through Steven Smith withdrawal, I’m looking forward to the new era. This brief article cannot possibly express the importance that the Fab Five will have on the team, so come out and see them play yourself. The season kicks off Nov. 18 at 1 p.m. against Mount St. Mary’s right here at the Tom Gola Arena.
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