By Jon Rothstein
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The names of potential sleepers in the Atlantic-10 were bounced around throughout the conference’s media day in October.

Some said St. Bonaventure, others mentioned St. Joseph’s — no one said La Salle.

Boy were we all wrong.

After a 2-3 start, the Explorers have rallied to win 11 of their last 12 games, including a victory Tuesday night at the Palestra over Big 5 rival Penn.

“I’m not surprised,” La Salle coach Dr. John Giannini said of the Explorers 13-4 start. “We’re playing at the higher of our expectations but we expected to be a good basketball team.”

A big reason for that thought was the addition of Ramon Galloway.

The 6-foot-2 junior guard is leading the Explorers in scoring after playing the first two seasons of his collegiate career at South Carolina. Galloway was allowed to transfer without sitting out a season because of an NCAA waiver. His presence has given Giannini the chance to play a four-guard lineup for the majority of games, maximizing his team’s speed and break down ability.

“It allows you to have so many positives,” Giannini said of the four-guard alignment. “The addition of Ramon (Galloway) has allowed us to play that way and its paid major dividends. You turn it over less, create more turnovers, and shoot a better percentage. It’s really worked out for us.”

Another major reason for the Explorers fast start has been the development of sophomore guards Tyreek Duren and Sam Mills. While both players were in La Salle’s rotation a year ago, a tangible augmentation in each of their games is noticeable.

“Players make the biggest jump from their freshman to sophomore seasons and those two guys are proof of that,” Giannini said of Duren and Mills. “Tyreek, especially has been the extension of any coach on the floor. He gets other people involved and has a really good feel.”

Meanwhile, former Rutgers wing Earl Pettis has finally lived up to some of the expectations he had coming out high school. After an up and down first two years of his career in Piscataway, Pettis had a productive season a year ago for the Explorers, but has really taken a major step forward offensively as a senior averaging just over five points more per contest than he did as a junior.

“He’s used to being in big situations,” Giannini said of Pettis. “He doesn’t get rattled when the lights come on. He’s got a good demeanor.”

The same can be said of 6-foot-8 freshman power forward Jerrell Wright, who is frequently this team’s sole low post presence on the floor. Wright has grabbed at least eight rebounds in four of the team’s last five games.

“He’s a big key for us,” Giannini said of Wright. “There’s no question he has the ability to be one of the best players I’ve ever coached.”

Should Wright continue to blossom and fellow big men Devon White and Steve Zack continue to give La Salle something on the baseline, the Explorers should be a postseason team. Doing that in a league that seems deeper than its ever been will be a formidable thing to achieve.

“Never before have I been involved with a conference where there’s 14 good teams,” Giannini said. “That’s what we have this year in the Atlantic-10.”

Will La Salle keep up their hot play? Sound off in the comments below…

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