Campus Celeb: Coach Phil Martelli

    Basketball season is in full swing on Hawk Hill, so who better to feature as Campus Celebrity this week than the head coach of the men’s basketball team, Phil Martelli?

    Coach Martelli has been with the Hawks since 1986, becoming head coach in 1995. In 2004 he was the Consensus National Coach of the Year, he is a four-time Atlantic 10 Coach of the Year, and has earned the most wins as head coach in Hawks history.

    I had the pleasure of meeting with Coach Martelli in his office (during this insanely busy time for him) to speak with him about his journey as coach, the current team, and what inspires him:

Her Campus SJU: Where are you from?

Phil Martelli: I’m a lifelong Philadelphian, I currently live in the western suburbs.

HC SJU: Where’d you go to college?

PM: Widener

HC SJU: How did you first become interested in basketball?

PM: In 7th grade, when I was 12 years old, I met three guys who were CYO coaches and from that moment on I was convinced of the power of coaches and the power of basketball. It’s nondiscriminatory; it’s the same game no matter who you are or where you’re from. I recognized the power a coach could have. Also, I recognized that basketball is a great social experience.

HC SJU: Did you have a favorite college team to watch growing up?

PM: Saint Joseph’s University, I always loved it. When I was a kid, I got caught up in the noise, passion, and fan spirit. It was different than the other Philly schools.

HC SJU: Why’d you decide to become a coach? How did you end up at SJU?

PM: I knew coaching could keep me in this game that I loved and I thought I could be good at it and I could impact others. My first job out of college was coaching at a high school, which I did for 7 years. I then got the opportunity to come here in 1986. I feel very fortunate and blessed because I got to chase my dream in the area I love. Once a Philadelphian, always a Philadelphian.

HC SJU: What drew you to SJU? What’s special about the basketball program here?

PM: The program here is inclusive, it always has been. Fans here feel like they have ownership. If you’re a student here you’re rooting for your friends, not just someone wearing a number. The attitude here is that we can play big-time basketball in a smaller school setting.

HC SJU: Do you have a favorite tradition that the student section does?

PM: The response to the Hawk, and it doesn’t matter who the Hawk is or what the team’s record is or where the game is held; the response to the Hawk when the team first takes the floor is the neatest thing that the students do.

HC SJU: What’s your favorite memory as coach?

PM: My favorite memories are the 20 SJU graduations that I’ve attended. I hope that all our players get the chance to play for money, and I know that’s not a reality for all of them, but when I get a picture with them and their family on graduation day it’s truly a proud moment. They cross over from being my players to being my friends. When I ask players to come to SJU, I tell them I’m here for life, for the highest of highs to the lowest of lows throughout their lives. I want them to know that I’d do anything to help any of them, because they proudly represent this school and my name as well.

HC SJU: What’s special about the team this year?

PM: The team this year are all great teammates. They respect each other, they get along, they have a really great work ethic, and they allow me to coach them. Sometimes you’re just managing players, but in this case we’re able to coach them. That’s why we’re successful.

HC SJU: What are your hopes moving forward for this season?

PM: I hope that we’re better today than we were last night. Daily improvement is the key to everything here. It’s the key to academics, to becoming better people, to bettering one’s social experience; the key for it all is to work on it every day. I don’t put specific goals out there like a certain number of wins.

HC SJU: What qualities do you look for in a recruit besides his basketball abilities?

PM: Are they coachable, are they competitive, what’s their relationship with their coach and teammates, do they respect the game of basketball, and what’s my dream for where they could become from where they are? If you can’t dream you can’t come here.

HC SJU: What/who inspires you as a coach and as a person?

PM: My parents. From a very young age my parents, without preaching, taught me about respect. What mattered wasn’t how well I was playing basketball, what mattered was what kind of person I was becoming. We all have differences but we can respect each other’s differences.

HC SJU: Word of advice to college students?

PM: I would ask them to enjoy each day and to be serious, but don’t take yourself too seriously. Also, no matter where they’re at school, to make their school better in any way they can.

HC SJU: What’s a typical day like for you during the season?

PM: Like any other corporate job there are a lot of phone calls, emails, and preparation. Two days before a game there is a lot of film work, for instance today I’ve been up since 5 AM watching film. There are a series of meetings so practice will be beneficial. That night I go home and debrief and spend time with family. Then, the day before a game is more office work and less practice, and recruiting experience within a drive. Everyday there’s correspondence, recruiting, and team preparation.

HC SJU: What’s the Magis mean to you?

PM: We’re all here for a greater good. The more we’re there for others, the more others will be there for us. We all need somebody. The Magis recognizes that there’s a greater good, no matter who or what, there’s a greater meaning.

HC SJU: What advice do you give to players after a loss? After a win?

PM: I’m very brief either way. I don’t want to get emotional and say something flying off the handle, but I want them to know that there’s always room for improvement either way, and in that moment in time they need to be with the people that love them. All of them need a hug because they’re young. One word of advice I give them is to look at the man in mirror and ask themselves if they’re satisfied.


HC SJU: Do you ever want to coach at the NBA level?

PM: No. When I was a kid I wanted to be a high school coach and teacher. When I had a chance to evolve I wanted to take a chance on college coaching. I never thought or wondered about what the next level would be like. This is the job I wanted, a dream come true.

HC SJU: What’s your greatest accomplishment?

PM: My children, they’re my greatest treasure, and the young man and lady they’re becoming. This is probably more attributable to my wife, since I’ve spent more time with other people’s children here at SJU or at the high school level. It’s not one win or one player in the NBA that’s my biggest accomplishment; it’s a text in the middle of a night from a player thanking you for what you’ve done, even if they graduated many years ago, that they would think of you in that moment speaks volumes.

HC SJU: By now, many people have seen the video of your grandson mimicking you in a press conference- so does he want to be a basketball coach like you?

PM: His father coaches at the University of Delaware and his other grandpa is a high school coach. He’s been around games since birth. It’s interesting because at age 6 he understands that there’s more to it than just being on TV. He knows that there’s preparation for it, he’ll even comment on games on TV. I hope that he latches on to this game because it’s given me and my family so much, whatever it is I think the social experience will make him a better person.


It is evident that Coach Martelli truly cares about his team’s development into well-rounded athletes and young men, about his family, and about this school as a whole. We are certainly lucky to have him on our team! Look for him on the sidelines these next few months, and be sure to keep cheering on both the men’s and women’s basketball teams. #THWND