Big 5 basketball celebrates milestone anniversary

Big 5
The Palestra
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A familiar buzz filled the Palestra on Wednesday night for a Big 5 doubleheader, starting with Temple (10-7) versus La Salle (5-11) and following with St. Joe’s (15-3) versus Penn (6-9). The night was less about the games and more about the night, which celebrated the Big 5’s60th anniversary.

It was the first Big 5 doubleheader since December of 2004 and it lived up to the billing. In a near sellout crowd, both Temple (62-49) and St. Joe’s (75-60) cruised to relatively smooth victories. In between timeouts in the second half of the first game, former coaches and players were honored by the crowd, including huge ovations for former Owl Mark Macon and Explorer Lionel Simmons.

“When you can get four of the five teams here, you get a little bit of everything,” Temple assistant coach and former guard Aaron McKie said. “You get St. Joe’s, you get Temple, you get La Salle, you get Penn, you get the fans and the fans pretty much know each other. It’s a melting pot of basketball minds and brains, and it’s a lot of people that are just from this area and rooting for their teams.”

McKie finished his three-year career at Temple in 1994, tied for sixth on the school’s all-time scoring list with 1,650 points. He was honored Wednesday night during the St. Joe’s-Penn game as one of the Big 5’stop players of the 90s decade. He’s just one example of the type of player that the Big 5 is all about, that holds tradition, Philadelphia toughness and heart alive in his everyday life.

But Wednesday night’s festivities shouldn’t be something so rare. St. Joe’s coach Phil Martelli has preached time and time again that the scheduling for Big 5 games should be fixed. Doubleheaders like Wednesday night should be a regular occurrence, not just a treat you get once every decade.

“I said it at Temple, we played Temple and La Salle played Villanova at the exact same time.” Martelli said. “So if I’m a Philadelphia basketball fan, I look at it and go ‘well you guys don’t give a damn about it anymore.’ I’m not knocking anybody, I don’t want emails from people saying ‘there you go again.’ I’m not. I’m just suggesting that it should look special when you look at a schedule. Tonight looked special.”

And that’s what the Big 5 is, special. When you walk down the hallways of the Cathedral of Basketball, you feel it. When you see the rollouts come down the participating team’s student sections at opposing hoops, you feel it. When you see the streamers hit the hardwood after a thrilling win, you feel it.

The traditions are still there, tucked inside of the 8,722-seat arena. It’s time for the team’s involved to set things right.

Villanova largely absent from event:

Although Villanova’s name was printed on the ticket stub as part of the Big 5 logo, there wasn’t much representation to be found elsewhere throughout the arena on Wednesday night. Former Wildcat players and coaches were honored as part of the Big 5’s decade’s celebration, but there was an undertone among fans as to why the team wasn’t part of the bill for the 60th anniversary slate of games.

Aside from playing Penn every other year, the Wildcats have played just two games at the Palestra (both against St. Joe’s) since 2006. This pales in comparison to the other Big 5 schools. They haven’t played Temple there since John Chaney manned the helm as coach of the Owls.

With Villanova’s national success and strong fan base, Jay Wright and Co. should be the team leading the charge to improve the Big 5’s strength and notoriety around the country. Being on the bill Wednesday night would have been the perfect time to do that. Instead, they decided to sit on the sideline and watch.