It's been a stressful month for Saint Joseph's guard Delonte West.
Injuries and personal issues have dominated his thoughts. But at least the 2001 All-Met Player of the Year has had his "families" to lean on.
West has three groups of people he considers near and dear -- his relatives, his teammates and his former high school coach, Glenn Farrello of Eleanor Roosevelt, as well as several members of the Raiders squad.
"Even from a distance, he's taken our younger players under his wing. We talk all the time, and he's family to me and the team," Farrello said today. "He spends time on the phone telling our kids about what they need on the court and academically, and he works with them in the summer."
In preparing for Friday's first-round East Region game against 10th-seeded Auburn at St. Pete Times Forum, the sophomore has needed the support of his families more than ever.
West, seventh-seeded Saint Joseph's second-leading scorer (17.6 points on 48 percent shooting), is recovering from a stress fracture in his lower right leg that forced him to miss three of the Hawks' past seven games and play limited minutes in the others.
However, the pressure of playing hurt in his team's biggest game of the season pales in comparison to the stress of worrying about his brother Dmitri's heart problems. Dmitri, 21, spent much of the past week in a Maryland hospital suffering from the effects of an enlarged heart.
"He and my mom haven't had many chances to see me play all season, and I was looking forward to them coming to Tampa, but that wasn't possible. I'm trying to just focus on the game, but it's tough," West said. "And when my mind gets on basketball, I'm sometimes trying to stop thinking about the my leg instead of just playing."
West's injury is in his thoughts, but it may be gone from his body. He said he was surprised by his "100 percent pain-free" training session today. During the practice, West, who is known for his strong work ethic -- several times he's shot 1,000 jump shots in a day, he says -- was asked by Hawks trainers to lower his intensity level.
"I haven't felt that good in a long time. I was moving well laterally, and if I can stay like this I'm going to help the team a lot, not hurt it," West said.
A healthy West on Friday would mean Saint Joseph's (23-6) could play its heralded three guards together -- West, sophomore Pat Carroll and junior point guard Jameer Nelson. They combined to score nearly 70 percent of the Hawks' points this season.
Nelson and West were all-Atlantic 10 selections, and Nelson also made the conference's all-defensive team. He led a ferocious man-to-man defense that allowed just 59.3 points per game.
Opposing coaches often focus on breaking down the Hawks' pressure, but today, Auburn Coach Cliff Ellis seemed most concerned about Carroll's three-point shooting. At 47 percent from beyond the arc this season (159 of 329), Carroll is one of the best long-range shooters in the country. If Saint Joseph's outside game is at its best Friday, the Hawks could have a decisive edge against Auburn (20-11), which doesn't have the speed to contain an effective run-and-gun offense.
A Saint Joseph's victory would put it in the second round for the second time in as many years. A win also would set up a quality bonding session for some Eleanor Roosevelt High School players.
"If Saint Joseph's makes it to Sunday, our whole team will be together to watch that game and pull for Delonte," Farrello said. "No doubt about it."