Holy War gains Albanian accent for St. Joseph’s

It didn’t take long for Halil Kanacevic to find out Villanova isn’t just another game for Saint Joseph’s. From the start of the preseason until now everywhere he’s turned, the Hawks’ fans are imploring him and the team to beat Jay Wright’s Wildcats.

“You’ve got people coming up to you during the week or even before the season saying, ‘Are you gonna beat Villanova this year,'” said the 6-foot-8 Kanacevic, who knew nothing of the rivalry when he transferred from Hofstra prior to last season. “It’s crazy how big the fans take the game. They’re over the top. As players, you try to take every single game the same. But I think this means more to the fans and alumni. You try to win it more for them.”

It will be easy to spot Kanacevic in the Cat House tomorrow night when the Hawks and Wildcats re-enact the Holy War. He’ll likely be the one in the middle of it all. While going to the glass is his main responsibility, Kanacevic is such an exceptional passer he led Phil Martelli’s team in both rebounds (and assists) last season and is No. 2 in both categories.

“I’ve grown up playing always passing the ball,” said Kanisevic, who grew up in Staten Island of Albanian descent. “They kind of put me in position at the top of the key to pass the ball around a bit. I’ve had to adjust every game because teams play me different this season. It usually takes a few possessions. Then I’ll figure it out.”

While guards Carl “Tay” Jones and Langston Galloway provide the offense and C.J. Aiken and Ronald Roberts control the paint for a balanced SJU team that has six players averaging 8.8 points or more, the versatile Kanisevic does a little of everything.

“He’s an old school player,” said Martelli. “His basketball IQ is extraordinary. He’s the guy everyone wants in a pickup game.”

Halil, whose name means “Dear Friend” in Albanian, says he’ll do whatever it takes.

“For me it’s not about the numbers,” said Kanisevic, averaging 8.8 points, 7.3 boards and 3.5 assists. “As long as we keep winning, I’m happy.”

He won’t be the only happy one if the Hawks can beat Villanova Tuesday night to win another Holy War.

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