La Salle Explorers

La Salle's non-conference schedule highlighted by Northern Ireland trip

La Salle's non-conference schedule highlighted by Northern Ireland trip

As a Big 5 school, La Salle men's basketball has some constants year to year in its non-conference schedule. But in 2017, the Explorers will do something no other college basketball team has done before.

La Salle's 2017-18 non-conference slate, announced on Thursday, is highlighted by a trip to Northern Ireland for the inaugural Belfast Classic, the first sanctioned college basketball tournament ever played on the Emerald Isle. The Explorers will face Towson on Dec. 1 in the opening game, with a chance to take on either Manhattan or Holy Cross the next day.

Three of La Salle's non-conference opponents ranked in the RPI top 50 last season: Villanova (3), Miami (44) and Northwestern (48).

"We want to challenge ourselves, better ourselves, and gain quality wins to enhance postseason possibilities," Giannini said in a press release.

La Salle returns four starters, including leading scorer B.J. Johnson. The Syracuse transfer and Lower Merion product averaged 17.6 points and 6.3 rebounds per game in his first season in blue and gold.

The season begins with a Nov. 11 on-campus game against St. Peter's as part of the Naismith Hall of Fame Tip-off Tournament. Two days later comes a Big 5 bout with Penn, followed by another Naismith game against South Alabama on Nov. 16. The Explorers then travel to Connecticut for the tournament portion of the event, where they'll play Northwestern, which made it to the NCAA Tournamnet for the first time last season, and then either Texas Tech or Boston College. 

Miami, featuring Neumann-Goretti High School product Ja'Quan Newton, will come north to face La Salle at a neutral site in Reading, Pennsylvania, on Nov. 22. Temple comes to Tom Gola Arena Nov. 26, then it's off to Belfast.

The final stretch before Atlantic 10 play begins with a Dec. 7 home game against Drexel. Villanova, with its on-campus arena under construction, will then host La Salle on Dec. 10 at the Wells Fargo Center in South Philadelphia. After hosting Mercer a week later, head coach John Giannini and the Explorers will travel to Bucknell to close out non-conference play against a team that won the Patriot League last year and is returning all five starters.

La Salle's B.J. Johnson will return for senior season

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La Salle's B.J. Johnson will return for senior season

La Salle forward B.J. Johnson will return for his senior season with the Explorers. 

Johnson had previously declared for the NBA draft, but did not hire an agent, which allowed him to test the process and return. 

"B.J. received great feedback from exploring his NBA potential," head coach Dr. John Giannini said in a release from the team. 

"He is extremely focused and motivated to improve himself and our team to reach his highest goals. He had interest to workout for several teams. However, he has some minor health issues from last season that would be best to take care of now to maximize his preparations for next season. He has decided to take that route and it bodes well for him and our team."

Johnson was a first-team Big 5 selection last season after leading the Explorers in points (17.6 per game) and rebounds (6.3). He became the 30th player in school history to score 500-plus points in a single season. 

"My goal is to play the game I love professionally," Johnson said in a statement on March 23, when he declared for the draft. "This decision will give me the opportunity to test myself, better myself and receive important feedback in pursuit of this goal."

La Salle's B.J. Johnson declares for draft but could return for senior year

La Salle's B.J. Johnson declares for draft but could return for senior year

La Salle's B.J. Johnson has declared for the NBA draft but will not hire an agent, the junior forward announced Thursday.

Johnson (6-7/185) was the leading scorer (17.6) and rebounder (6.3) this past season for an Explorers team that went 15-15 and 9-9 in the Atlantic 10. It was his first year at La Salle after spending two seasons at Syracuse.

"My goal is to play the game I love professionally," Johnson said in a statement. "This decision will give me the opportunity to test myself, better myself and receive important feedback in pursuit of this goal."

Johnson's decision to declare for the NBA draft does not jeopardize his remaining college eligibility. 

Villanova's Josh Hart and Kris Jenkins did the same thing after winning the national championship as juniors. NCAA rules allow underclassmen to participate in the NBA scouting combine and one NBA tryout per year and then withdraw from draft consideration after the combine and return to college with full eligibility as long as they haven't hired an agent.