You can't beat the Big 5 (6?)

Updated: January 13, 2006, 1:26 PM ET
By Andy Katz | ESPN.com

I can't tell you when it happened, but I became a believer in Philadelphia basketball -- in the Palestra, in Penn, Saint Joseph's, Villanova, La Salle, Temple and even Drexel -- sometime in the last six years.

I love that John Chaney is a walking quote machine. Phil Martelli isn't far behind. I love that the Hawks' coaching offices are for the height challenged. I love the Hawk flapping his wing/wings.

There are characters at every school, and I mean characters. There is nothing like it. Tell me what other city has six Division I teams that play each other (not everyone takes on Drexel every year but the rest go round-robin). Tell me what coach would take a few of his most heated games and move them off campus to where opposing fans could get plenty of tickets. That's what Martelli does with his Big 5 "home" games when he shifts them to the Palestra, Penn's home court.

I grew up in the Boston area, and New York had the sports teams we rooted against. We were indifferent about Philadelphia. I had rarely ever been there. Still, I'm sold on the city's college hoops. It didn't take long. The more I experienced games, practices and driving from school to school, I couldn't help but become absorbed.

The Palestra is a living hoops museum. I love that it blends within Penn's campus, next to famed Franklin Field. I can't get enough of walking around the concourse and checking out the black and white murals of past players. You can't beat the pretzels inside -- or the ones being sold outside on shopping carts.

Going to games in Philly just seems to mean more, whether they're at the "home of the Big 5" or down the block at Drexel or at Tom Gola Arena at La Salle or out in the suburbs at Villanova's Pavilion. They take on a bigger feel.

Name another pro town where college basketball has such a devout following. On Sunday, 6,500 packed the Pavilion for West Virginia-Villanova. Another 8,500 were at the Palestra for Saint Joseph's-Temple. That's 15,000 passionate fans in two gyms. Throughout the Villanova game, the Hawks-Owls score was passed along press row.

I also can't forget the media. The members of the fourth estate in this town are legendary: Dick "Hoops" Weiss, formerly of the Philadelphia Daily News and now with the New York Daily News (but still Philly-based), is an institution; Dick Jerardi and Mike Kern of the Philadelphia Daily News are about as passionate about their college hoops as any scribes in the country. The same is true of the Philadelphia Inquirer's Ray Parillo and Mike Jensen.

I could go on and on, but you can tell that I'm sold. I'm not moving there, but I love heading down to Philly whenever I can.

Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.

Andy Katz | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com

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