Jalloh not Nelson ... just yet
COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- Abdulai Jalloh has the right attitude.
The 6-foot-1 guard from National Christian Academy in Maryland showed Saturday he's got a pretty good game.
When it comes to the media, well, he's a natural.
None of this, of course, means he'll be able to replace Jameer Nelson or Tyrone Barley in the Saint Joseph's backcourt next season.
But he's on his way to Hawk Hill to try.
"I've got big shoes to fill, bigger than my size 13 and a halves,'' said Jalloh, who is much more comfortable already when it comes to interviews than Nelson was even as a senior. "I've got to duplicate what (Nelson) does. I'm taller, more athletic ... but his court vision was spectacular and that's not something you can do in a year. I'm going to try."
Yes, Jalloh is slotted to play the same position as last year's Naismith Player of the Year, not to mention Barley. And, apparently, the majority of those minutes left behind by the graduating seniors are reserved for the incoming freshman next season.
And why not?
Jalloh, the 6-1 guard, was the MVP of the regional game at the Jordan Capital Classic Saturday at the Comcast Center on Maryland's campus. Doing a little bit of everything. Jalloh dunked, drained 3s (two), got to the free-throw line (5 of 6), grabbed rebounds (four), dished out assists (3), and picked up a few steals (2) on his way to 19 points in 16 minutes.
Sounds like a Nelson kind of night.
Still, Saint Joseph's coach Phil Martelli said he's not sure if Jalloh is a point or a shooting guard. He's expecting him to be both, playing each position and mesh well in the Hawks' four-guard offense with Delonte West, Pat Carroll, Chet Stachitas and Dwayne Lee.
West will likely declare for the NBA draft, and expects to make the announcement by the end of this week or the beginning of next week. West, like Nelson a year ago, wants to go to the Chicago pre-draft camp in June and won't stay in the draft unless he's guaranteed a first-round spot. (Nelson wasn't a year ago and returned to lead St. Joe's to the Elite Eight as a senior).
The Hawks also return inside players John Bryant, Dwayne Jones and redshirt freshman Robert Ferguson, who is expected to have a major impact. So, if West returns and Jalloh is as good as he showed Saturday, the Hawks may not fall completely off the national radar.
"We're right there, where we want to be," West said. "We'll be very competitive and a team to be reckoned with in the A-10. Our guys are hungry."
West said Jalloh's aggressive style, similar to Barley as a defensive stopper, would definitely help. But Jalloh is concentrating on becoming as productive as Nelson. He said he plans on watching tapes of Nelson throughout the summer, and hopes that if Nelson is on campus finishing his degree, he may play a few pickup games against the potential lottery pick.
"He set the bar for the next four years for me and I'm not going beneath that bar," Jalloh said. "There's going to be a lot of pressure on me, but I was aware of that this time last year when I was being recruited by St. Joe's."
Jalloh said during his recruiting, the St. Joe's coaching staff told him they had a player of the year candidate. Jalloh asked, "who?"
"I knew about Jameer, but I didn't know a lot about him and then when I played against him (on a visit) I knew he was for real," Jalloh said. "I committed to them after the ABCD Camp (last July). I love that the school is real intimate.
"We don't have a football team so all the focus is on the basketball team. There will be a lot of expectations, and the minute I don't live up to those, everyone will let me have it."
Jalloh attended the St. Bonaventure game this season, a game that completed the Hawks' perfect 27-0 regular season. He then watched on television as the Hawks fell a basket shy of the Final Four, losing to Oklahoma State when Nelson's fadeaway jumper was off the mark at the buzzer. (West said he watched that Elite Eight game Friday night for the first time and wouldn't change a thing about the final shot.) Jalloh, meanwhile, said he like many other fans wondered why Nelson didn't take the 3-pointer, instead of the jumper over Daniel Bobik.
"I already told the coaching staff that I'm going to get us into that same situation and I'm going to make that shot," Jalloh said. "I'm not going to fadeaway. I'm going for the 3."
One thing is certain: Jalloh isn't fading away from any of the attention that will come with replacing the consensus 2004 national player of the year.
Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.
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