Judging by features that emanate youth and inexperience and a name that is shared by a famous cartoon character, you might think that Brown is somewhat of a pushover. This reasoning is strengthened when you see Saint Joseph’s disappointing regular season record of 11-19.
But freshman Charlie Brown has shined brightly with his play on the court and has put up impressive numbers through 27 starts. In 21 years of coaching, coach Phil Martelli is known to start freshmen who end up being a star. Charlie Brown joins an elite group of players including DeAndre Bembry, Langston Galloway and Jameer Nelson. These players -- as freshman -- started on a regular basis and averaged more than 10 points per game. Brown could undoubtedly be the next great Saint Joseph’s basketball player. Before we get into his numbers on the court, it is important to have some background information about him and his success at the high school level.
The 6-foot-6, 185-pound small forward, attended George Washington High School in Philadelphia for four years. While there, he was awarded the Public League B Division MVP but decided to take a prep year and attend Saint Thomas More School, an all boys catholic boarding school in Montville, Connecticut. It hails students from many different states and even has a large number of international students. The school has a rich athletic history and has sent many athletes from their basketball team to Division 1 schools around the country. The school also happens to be the alma mater of Detroit Pistons’ center and 2016 NBA All-Star Andre Drummond as well as George Washington’s Yuta Watanabe and former NBA player Quincy Douby.
In St. Thomas More’s 2015-16 season, Brown helped bring his team to the National Prep Championship game with an average of 16.4 points per game. His scoring prowess, however, wasn’t just limited to high school.
This season, Brown seized the opening at the small forward position with the departures of Aaron Brown and DeAndre Bembry. Among active St. Joe’s players, Brown is second on the team in points per game with an impressive 12.8 points. He also leads the team in free throw percentage (.819) and minutes (among active players) with an average of 34 minutes per game. On the entire team, Brown ranks second in both three-point-percentage (.382) and steals with 24. But how do these numbers stack up against Atlantic 10 conference opponents?
Brown places 21st in the conference in points per game and was the only freshman in the conference’s top 30 list. On the 15 best free throw percentages, he placed 14th in front of the La Salle Explorers’ sharp shooting senior, Jordan Price. On the list of the 15 best three-point-percentages, the Philadelphia native placed 15th, but tied for 4th place for most three pointers made. Finally, Brown placed 9th in most minutes played and was yet again the only freshman on the list of players who played the most minutes.
In addition, he’s shown a lot of maturity lately by stepping up his game after the leading scorer, (up to the point of his injury) Shavar Newkirk, tore his ACL and was sidelined for the year. From December 30th on, Brown had just one game where he didn’t have double digits in points. He also averaged an incredibly low 1 turnover per game. As the old adage says, numbers don’t lie. But there is certainly more to basketball than numbers.
Hawks coach Phil Martelli realized very early in the scouting process that Charlie Brown was a prime time scorer. During media day, he explained:
“That Charlie Brown kid can really really really really score. He’s a guy on this team that can make a correction when you’re coaching him. His eyes get real wide and I think he feels like he’s let us down or that he let me down and his feelings can get hurt. But he can really shoot the ball. He can score. And that’s one of the major areas of concern because we haven’t really scored the ball easily.”
This season hasn’t exactly been a dream for the Saint Joseph’s Hawks. After last year’s NCAA tournament berth and conference championship, an 11-19 record and injuries to arguably the best three players on the team, isn’t exactly what coach Phil Martelli and the St. Joe’s program expected. But for Charlie Brown, this season served as an opportunity to get his feet wet and to experience personal success. Brown has shown that he can pull his weight just as well as guys like Shavar Newkirk, Lamarr Kimble, and James Demery can. He can compete well against the rest of the Atlantic 10 conference. There are high expectations for Charlie Brown for seasons to come, but this year he has proved that he has what it takes to reach above and beyond what people think he can do.
Photo: Sideline Photos, LLC
On a night that started out in celebratory fashion with the Saint Joseph’s Hawks unveiling their 2015-16 Atlantic 10 Championship banner and winning their first game against the Toledo Rockets 77-76 in front of a sold-out Hagan Arena crowd, ended with junior James Demery sitting down at his locker after the victory trying to stand up.
Unable to get up and walk without a limp due to pain in his left foot, Demery asked Bill Lukasiewicz, Saint Joseph’s Head Athletic Trainer, to examine the lowest extremity on his left leg.
Lukasiewicz, who is in his 18th year at Saint Joseph’s, looked at Demery’s foot, which had swollen up, and told him “see me tomorrow,” hoping that Demery had just got stepped on or suffered a bruise, rather than a bone injury.
The forward did as he was instructed and returned the next day to meet with Lukasiewicz. As he re-examined the foot, it was apparent that the fourth metatarsal was the central point of the pain. He scheduled an MRI for Demery that same day at Lankenau Medical Center with Dr. Tricia M. Beatty, a Sports Medicine Physician and Musculoskeletal injury Specialist.
“I knew that it had to be a little serious because I tried to walk on [my left foot] but I could barely walk,” Demery recalled in an interview with The Empire. “I was hobbling so I knew that it had to be more than what I thought it was, so when we went over to [Dr. Beatty’s office], she showed me the x-ray and I had a little crack.”
The doctor’s diagnosis was more than discouraging.
“They told me I had a fourth metatarsal stress fracture, which was a shocker. I was mad about that,” Demery revealed. “That was really devastating for me in the beginning.” Demery tried to keep himself together. “I just have to do this rehab,” he reminded himself. “Take my time and get back.”
Just the evening before, the Williamston, North Carolina native watched as Saint Joseph’s A-10 Championship banner was displayed with the rest of his teammates and the 4,200 fans in attendance. Demery had worked his way up, starting at forward in the opener after only doing so one time last season. He played a major role in their victory, helping the Hawks defeat the Rockets by scoring the final basket of the game for Saint Joseph’s on a free-throw with 11 seconds left in regulation, which ultimately won them the game.
Despite feeling like something was in his shoe during the first half of the season-opener, Demery continued to play as if nothing was wrong. It was the first game of the season and his adrenaline was rushing, why would he stop playing?
He thought “okay, it’ll just go away,” and went on to play 15 minutes in the first half but the uncomfortable sensation persisted.
“[When] we went in the [Saint Joseph’s locker room at halftime], I sat down, got back up, and it literally felt like a rock was in my shoe,” explained Demery. “I’m thinking, ‘what in the world is this.’” Demery, however, decided not pay too much attention to it and thought “whatever it’s nothing too crazy.”
As Saint Joseph’s returned to the court for warm-ups in the second half, Demery felt tightness in his left foot and could hardly move but decided “I’m just gonna go through it” and went on to score 7 of his 11 total points, grab 6 of a then career-high 8 rebounds and hit a crucial shot from the charity stripe that won the Hawks the contest.
Now, less than 24 hours after that selfless performance, Demery learned that he had suffered a stress fracture in the fourth metatarsal of his left foot. He was still in some pain, so he was put into a walking boot and told by doctors to walk around using crutches, to rest and ice his sore foot.
“[I had] to walk around with crutches, which I didn’t like doing but I had too,” said Demery. “[They] told me ‘to rest and stay away from basketball’, which is a hard thing for me to do, so I had to watch my teammates practice but I was still cheering them on because I love the game.”
The pain and swelling in Demery’s left foot significantly improved in the first week of rehabilitation but he continued to use the crutches for an additional week. He had to find other ways than basketball to get in a workout.
“We had him in the pool doing some cardio,” said Lukasiewicz. “Brian [Bingaman] (Saint Joseph’s Director of Strength and Conditioning) did a lot of upper-body [work] with him in the weight room and bicycle work, to keep his cardio up.”
Sophomore Pierfrancesco “Checco” Oliva joined Demery and Bingaman for the upper-body workouts that would last for an hour and half to two hours, depending on how long team-practice lasted. Oliva, who is sidelined for the entire 2016-17 campaign due to a knee condition, should be ready for next season, according to Demery.
Once Demery's foot started to feel better, Lukasiewicz had to step in and make sure the team’s leading returning scorer (8.1 ppg last season) did not overexert himself.
“When [Demery] was starting to feel better, we had to put the reins on him a little bit because he wanted to go,” said Lukasiewicz. “I talked to him about not undoing three weeks of rest and setting yourself back three weeks.” He told him, “we need to be slow and smart about it so you're sure your healed before you go.”
Although Demery wanted to get back on the court as soon as possible, he understood that returning too soon could re-injure his foot and possibly extend his time away from the hardwood.
“Mr. Bill [Lukasiewicz] was just telling me to take my time,” said Demery. “He did not want to rush it. I understood that it was nothing but love. I’d rather be safe than sorry.”
The dialogue about remaining patient between Lukasiewicz and Demery was ongoing for about five weeks, which meant that Demery was unable to shoot and had to continue to lift weights.
“That was the hard part because I feel like if I can lift weights, I should be able to shoot but they just told me to stay off of [my left foot],” said Demery. “I know I have to do it (weightlifting) to be successful with the game I love. It was a good experience and it paid off, that I can say.”
Within that five-week time frame, Demery had two follow-up doctor appointments, according to FanRag Sports Network Columnist Jon Rothstein, which gave him a good idea of when he could possibly return for the Hawks.
Saint Joseph’s first A-10 conference game against the George Washington Colonials on the penultimate day of 2016, was the date he told his coaches and mom he would come back on.
Once Demery entered the sixth week of rehab feeling good, he was allowed to get back out on the court and shoot, which Lukasiewicz says is typically the amount of time (6-8 weeks) someone with a stress fracture in the fourth metatarsal misses, depending on the severity of the injury.
Poised to play against the Colonials, Demery was raring to-go after the sixth week but was limited during the next week of practice, as a precaution to make sure he did not do too much and experience a setback.
That being said, he was cleared during the few first days of the seventh week post-injury and sent out a tweet that Friday morning confirming his much-anticipated return and sharing his excitement to be back.
“I always try to keep a positive mindset about everything,” said Demery. “Even though that [foot injury] was a minor setback for me, I always kept telling myself, ‘I’m gonna come back better and stronger.’ That was my first game back, so I was excited.”
Before the Hawks’ 7 PM tip-off versus George Washington, coach Martelli talked with Demery about not trying to make up for the 10 games he missed while injured, all in one outing.
“When [Martelli] was telling me that, he knows how I think, so he said ‘alright James don’t worry about those ten games,’ because I would have come back at full speed,” said Demery. “If you come back too quick from something like that, you can hurt yourself quicker, so he worked with me.”
The game clock read 15:56 when Demery replaced freshman Charlie Brown after the first official media timeout and he received a warm ovation from the sell-out home audience. This was not the first time the Hawk faithful had showed their support for Demery, as fans would routinely offer him words of encouragement throughout his recovery.
“When the [PA announcer] called my name out and [the fans] started clapping, I felt the love,” said Demery as he smiled from ear to ear. “Even in the games I wasn’t playing in, I always had people tell me: ‘James, we’re praying for you, when you gonna be back’ or ‘We’re praying for, can’t wait for you to get back,’ and I’d let them know ‘soon.’ Hearing that from your crowd, peers, even older alumni in the SJU family, it’s a blessing.”
There was no time to fixate on the round of applause from Hawk fans, as Demery’s defensive assignment was forward Tyler Cavanaugh, George Washington’s primer player.
Cavanaugh entered the game averaging 16.8 points and 7.4 rebounds with 4 double-doubles under his belt. That did not faze Demery, who limited the Lute Olson Award watch-list member to 4 made field-goals on 20 shot attempts. Cavanaugh did record a season-high 13 boards but he was noticeably affected by Demery’s presence on the defensive end.
“[Demery] competed like heck defensively,” said coach Martelli at his postgame press conference after the Hawks held on to beat the Colonials, 68-63. “Cavanaugh is an all-league [player], Player of the Year candidate and he had to guard him for long stretches of time.”
While Demery put in a noteworthy performance on defense, he was not as aggressive on offense, pulling up for mid-range jump-shots instead of attacking the basket. Physically, he “felt real good” but mentally, he was wary of jumping hard off his left foot.
“I was second guessing myself during the George Washington game,” admitted Demery. “I was kind of hesitant to jump harder like I wanted to off of [my left foot].”
That cautious mentality did not last for long, as Demery came down the court at the Ryan Center in Kingston, Rhode Island four days later and attempted a dunk. Though he did not convert the basket, and Saint Joseph’s would go on to lose by 30 points, he proved to himself that he was fully healthy and his facial reaction in response to the play said it all.
“When I came down and almost had that dunk, if you could see my face,” Demery said before showing off the face. “If you could read my mind, I said ‘I’m back.’”
Demery’s return came at a critical time for the Hawks, as star guard Shavar Newkirk was ruled out for season with a torn ACL on New Year's Day.
Since the news of Newkirk’s injury and the game in Kingston, where he began to trust his body and scored a team-high 17 points (7-13 FGM-A), Demery has had back-to-back double-digit scoring outings, which included a career-high 25 points (9-15 FGM-A) in 38 minutes of play, to help Saint Joseph’s triumph over the Fordham Rams, 70-55.
More recently, Demery recorded his first career double-double (19 points and 11 rebounds) against the Minutemen of Massachusetts, in a narrow 5-point loss.
Reflecting back on his journey recovering from his injury, Demery focused on a positive learning moment he experienced, rather than on a unfavorable one.
“I thank God for allowing me to get through that,” Demery said while reflecting on his recovery process. “It was learning experience. I was able to watch the game and see open spots that I don’t really see while [playing] in the game. That’s why now, I’m able to see certain things, like when a defense is playing 2-3 [zone], I now know the spots to go at. You just have to take it in a positive manner.”
Besides the orthotic shoe inserts Lukasiewicz gave him to support the arches of his feet, Demery did not need any extra treatment on his left foot when he returned and has not had any [foot] pain. He and Lukasiewicz still meet though to discuss how Demery is feeling.
“We communicate daily,” said Lukasiewicz. “He has not had any issues, pain or discomfort [with his left foot] so, I’m feeling pretty good about him now.”
Now back closer to 100%, Demery is looking for more dunks like the one against Rhode Island to be slammed home.
Photo: Sideline Photos, LLC
The NBA has never been Toliver Freeman's main dream.
Yes, he was an all-state high school basketball selection three years running and scored more than 1,500 points, but the NBA hasn't been on his mind.
His dream is to go to medical school.
“The NBA was never something I wanted to do,” Freeman said in an interview with The Empire. “I’ll go to the NBA if I do well enough in college to lead to that, but my main goal is to get a great education and go to medical school. I’m a biology major, so that will set me up to do well in medical school.”
After having someone in the profession visit his high school, Catholic High School, Freeman decided he wanted to study to be an Ophthalmologist, or an eye doctor.
Vision, he says, is “the window to life.”
But unlike school, basketball didn’t always come easy.
Like anyone else, Freeman would come down on Christmas giddy. Looking through his gifts, he always knew he could expect one specific, valuable present: Better Basketball DVDs.
The basketball tutorial videos are normally for people who don’t know how to play basketball. Not Division 1 college athletes.
“I pretty much taught myself,” the Saint Joseph’s walk-on remembered. “I never had a trainer. I would go on YouTube and search: ‘How to shoot?’ ‘How to set your feet?’ ‘How to dribble?’ stuff like that...My parents weren’t sports people. My mom is a practicing lawyer and my dad is an [Emergency Room] doctor. So, education is the main thing that they’re worried about with me.”
Freeman had to learn elsewhere. This came from playing with his brothers in their backyard.
“We would play this game where we had to finish through contact,” Freeman said. “A person would go to the rim and the other person would foul him. Whoever scored the most baskets through the contact would win...I got a lot of my toughness from that, playing some of those intense games in the backyard with my brothers.”
Growing up in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Freeman was lucky to have a strong support system. The city is one of the most dangerous in the country. With a murder rate of .26 per 1,000 residents and a given crime index of 4 out of 100 (100 being the safest) by NeighborhoodScout, Baton Rouge is notorious for its violence.
On the other hand, Freeman’s structure at home has kept him on track by stamping education as a priority. That’s why he enrolled in Catholic High School, a blue ribbon, all boys school. Catholic offered many opportunities that also stretched beyond the classroom and onto the basketball court.
“It’s a 5A school, so it is the biggest a school can get in Louisiana,” Freeman says. “If you do well at a 5A stage, as opposed to a 1A or 2A stage, it carries more weight because you’re playing against bigger, better teams.”
Although he learned much of his skills by himself, it was in high school that Freeman really started to expand his game and win the backyard battles with his brothers. He cites his high school coach, Mark Cascio, as the person who helped him specifically hone his basketball IQ.
After a strong freshman year, he won the AAU championship with his team, Red Storm, in the summer of 10th grade. This was when he started to blossom as one of Louisiana's best young talents, earning all-state and all-district honors for the next three straight high school seasons.
As a legit scorer who could put the ball in the basketball “inside and out,” Freeman averaged 17.8 points per game, 5.9 rebounds per game, while shooting 47% from the field and tallying 31 total steals his senior season, according to Catholic’s website.
His successes earned him interest from small Division 1 schools in Louisiana, but Freeman wanted to leave the state and see somewhere new.
He found himself searching for schools where he could combine great academics, Division 1 basketball, and venture outside of Louisiana. His dream school growing up was UCLA because of his love of Russell Westbrook, but he noticed it was unrealistic. He tried Stanford, but it fell through. He heard from Ivy League schools, but had trouble maintaining consistent contact.
During the long process, however, he was able to get in touch with Saint Joseph’s assistant coach, Geoff Arnold. Freeman didn’t know much about Saint Joseph’s but he did know that they were the school that always seemed to bust his bracket.
“One of my friend’s uncles knew coach Arnold,” Freeman remembered. “He told coach Arnold about me and coach Arnold contacted me...They brought me up during March. I liked it. Everyone was friendly. It just felt like a family community.”
From the start, the coaches at Saint Joseph’s did not sugar coat anything. They were straightforward -- Freeman would be a preferred walk-on. This was okay with him. He was just happy he had found a fit where he could get a great education to pursue his dreams of a medical degree and play collegiate basketball away from home.
His adjustment from high school stardom to a walk-on at Saint Joseph’s has not been too bad either. Had he thought he couldn’t handle the transition, he wouldn’t have willingly accepted the challenge.
As one of four current Saint Joseph’s walk-ons, he understands that his role is make the other players on the team better and additionally, mimic their upcoming opponents’ strategies in practice.
“I try my best to get the team prepared for whatever team we’re scouting that day,” Freeman added of his role. “Just have fun with it and keep competing, you never know what it will lead to...My job is to make other people on my team better by continually competing on the practice court.”
Fellow Saint Joseph’s teammate, senior Brendan Casper, who also walked onto the team, but has since earned a scholarship, expanded on the expectations for Freeman.
“As a walk-on you just come in and work hard everyday,” Casper commented. “You push the guys next to you to make the team better and that's all you can really do. And then if you work hard, good things are going to happen to you.”
Off the court, Freeman is surprised at the amount of spare time he has, even as a honors student at the university.
“I really didn’t expect to have as much time as I have now,” Freeman added. “Being in sports, you’re forced to be on a strict schedule so you cannot really procrastinate as much as people expect. You have to get your work done and get your studying done.”
Although he has more time than anticipated, the classes have been challenging, but this was by design.
“I’m taking 7 classes a semester [right now],” Freeman said of his course load, which includes courses like calculus, chemistry, biology, and more. “I did that by choice to make my junior and senior year easier when I’m starting to apply for medical schools.”
Head coach Phil Martelli has also noticed Freeman’s abilities off the court as a student.
“Toliver is going to be a great doctor,” Martelli said. “He’s a very confident guy, very personable. He wants to be at Saint Joseph’s...and I’m delighted he’s a part of the program. He’s not a good student -- he’s a great student.”
And while most other Division 1 freshman athletes are thinking about the next level of basketball, Freeman is preparing for medical school.
“It’s tough right now but I’m definitely enjoying it,” Freeman said of his biology major. “It will get me ready for the MCATs (Medical College Admission Test) and if I do well on the MCATs, I will be able to get into some of the medical schools I want to go to.”
Toliver Freeman already has his eyes set past college basketball, but in this case, they’re aimed specifically at medical school.
Saint Joseph’s star Shavar Newkirk will miss the rest of this season due to a torn ACL in his left knee. Newkirk suffered the injury this past Friday as the Hawks defeated the George Washington Colonials in front of a sellout crowd at Hagan Arena. The guard will undergo surgery in three to four weeks.
The Hawks’ leading scorer (20.3 ppg) was injured on a non-contact play when he attempted to score a layup in transition after picking Jaren Sina’s pocket.
The New York native is not the first Hawk this season to suffer a season-ending knee injury, as sophomore forward Pierfrancesco Oliva was diagnosed with a knee condition this past summer. To add, junior forward James Demery made his much-anticipated return against the Colonials after he had missed the previous 10 games due to a stress fracture in his left foot.
Photo: Sideline Photos, LLC
Since he enrolled at Saint Joseph's in November of 2013, Brendan Casper has yet to start one game. His career high in points is 7, he's never averaged over more than 3 points or rebounds per game, and he's played just 257 minutes, barely enough to finish six college basketball games.
Despite all of that, Brendan Casper has been a vital part of the Saint Joseph's program for the past four seasons. Even though he might not be a superstar scorer, since the day he came to Saint Joe's, he has been a pioneer in spreading what he calls “team culture,” in the locker room.
The 6-foot-6, 213-pound forward describes team culture as the mindset of playing for each other and being stronger as a team. In other words, playing for the team name on the front of your jersey, rather than playing for the name on the back. The team culture of the program hasn’t always been there, according to Casper. Before he came here, the basketball team wasn’t always as unified as they needed to be.
“Some guys weren’t all in, some guys were, and that was the biggest difference in the locker room,” he said. ”Sophomore year was our one bad year. We kind of leaned on DeAndre [Bembry] all the time, and we all expected him to do great things and we wanted to follow it and we ended up not having as good of a season as we wanted. We understood that if we want to win, just like my freshman year in 2014 and last year in 2015, we [will win] because of everybody, we were a team, we didn’t rely on one guy. And sometimes, you can rely on a guy and it does work, but most of the time, that's just so very hard to do.”
Reflecting on his sophomore year and seeing what the 2016-17 team has to offer, Casper believes that “with this year's team, we don’t have a guy coming back who can carry the torch.”
Although Bembry was one of the best players in Saint Joe's history, his departure might not be as bad as people might think. Casper argues that it forces the players “to all step up, [so we] all have to contribute in our own ways, and I think over the last four years I’ve been here that that has been the culture, and it has to be the culture. I think it's very hard relying to win on one guy, so that is kind of our motto. You have to be a good team, everyone has to contribute their part, everyone has to do their part, everyone has to be all in.”
The team culture Casper describes is apparent after looking at arguably the top three players on this year’s team. Shavar Newkirk, James Demery, and LaMarr Kimble had a combined 21 schools offering scholarships coming into their freshman years, including Iowa State, Providence and Tennessee. These schools have gone further and had more berths into the NCAA tournament than Saint Joseph’s in the last six years. All of these players had options about where they wanted to go, but they decided to pick Saint Joseph's and now make up a large part of the team culture. Part of the reason that you see such a commitment to the program is a philosophy that “basketball doesn’t last forever but an education does.” Casper is a walking example of that.
The former two-and-a-half year walk on is especially dedicated to his academics. Casper is a multiple time honors student who was named to the NABC Honors Court recognizing academic excellence, SJU Athletic Director's Honor Roll for both semesters of 2016, and the A-10 Commissioner's Honor Roll in the spring of the same year.
His schedule is meticulously created. He always schedules his classes early in the morning so he can get his classes done before practice. In between classes he gets his homework done so he can go to practice in the afternoon. The team captain’s dedication to his team is not only seen in the classroom, but also on the court.
“All the guys look up to me now, being one of the two seniors, so this year I’m more of a leader on the team and guys look up to me,” Casper said. “When you see guys working hard, they want to work hard as well. So that's my goal, to go in every day and work hard and hope guys follow. I’m trying to be one of the leaders on the team this year because we are a younger group. I’ve been a part of two championship teams, so I understand what it's about, especially when I lead those guys and show them by example that you have to work hard if you want success. So, that's kind of my goal, I want to leave my legacy saying like, you have to work hard to get where you want to be and hopefully the younger guys will follow in doing that.”
Brendan Casper isn’t your typical player. He's neither a flashy and-one scorer nor a sharp shooter or a defensive wall, but he means so much to a rebuilding Saint Joseph's team. He provides leadership, experience, and a contagious amount of motivation to be the hardest working player on the court and in the classroom.
Photo: Sideline Photos, LLC
The Empire will be running a series called “Statistically Speaking,” where we touch on different topics with a specific spin towards statistics.
The Saint Joseph's Hawks, after winning their first two games of the season, traveled to the Virgin Islands to take part in the Paradise Jam. After winning the opener, they lost to Ole Miss in the semifinals and proceeded to drop the third place game to NC State. Their record now sits at 3-2.
Last year, the Hawks participated in the Hall of Fame Tip-off preseason tournament. After falling in the semifinals of the tournament to Florida, the Hawks squeaked by Old Dominion for their fourth win of the season. If it weren’t for Shavar Newkirk's last second jump shot, the Hawks and the Monarchs would have gone to overtime. Had the Hawks lost that game, they would have opened their season 3-2, much like this year's team.
But they didn't. They won. So the Hawks began 4-1 before falling to the then eighth-ranked Villanova.
If St. Joe's can defeat Temple this Wednesday, they will have opened both this season and last season with a 4-2 record. According to KenPom.com, the Hawks are scoring about as efficiently so far as they did at the beginning of last season. Their defense has been about as equally efficient as well.
One major difference this year is that St. Joe's is playing at a slower pace. Although they’re averaging just two less possessions per 40 minutes, that’s enough for more than 100 NCAA teams to pass them in the rankings.
Another big difference is Luck Factor. Last year’s 4-2 start statistically outperformed their expected start than this year's 3-2 start by small margin. KenPom’s Pythagorean Rating is the expected winning percentage of a team against a perfectly average Division I team on a neutral court. This number is based off of Bill James’s Pythagorean Win Expectation formula, but adjusted for college basketball. The Luck Factor is simply the deviation of a team’s actual win percentage from the Pythagorean Rating.
Last season, the Hawks won 67% of their first six games, but their statistics apparently claimed that they were playing like a team with a .544 winning percentage at the time. This season, the Hawks have won 60% of their first five games, but based on their statistics, this team is instead playing like a team with a .566 winning percentage.
What can we take from this? Not too much, honestly. But what we can take from this is the idea that last year’s team didn’t look any better through their first six games than this year’s team looks through their first five. In fact, KenPom’s Pythagorean Rating claims that this year's team has actually played slightly better. Statistically speaking, the 2016-17 squad is so far playing like a team that would claim two more wins per 100 games played than last year's team would at this point in the season.
Their strength of schedules to this point rank similarly as well. Although this year’s Hawks have faced lesser defenses than last year’s Hawks, they’ve also faced stronger offenses.
Roster-wise there are some major differences as well. St. Joe's lost DeAndre’ Bembry, 2016 Atlantic 10 Player of the Year, to the NBA draft following last season. They also lost Isaiah Miles, the Atlantic 10’s Most Improved Player last year.
“We knew going into last year that we had a superstar [in DeAndre’ Bembry],” head coach Phil Martelli said before the season. “We watched [Isaiah Miles] develop in front of our eyes. We had older guys. Papa Ndao was a sixth year player. Aaron Brown was a fifth year player.”
The team did return Lamarr Kimble, who made last year's All-Rookie Team. Although he’s not quite yet on the level of stardom that Bembry was, he's a star for sure. We’re also watching a player develop in front of our eyes similarly to the way that Miles did. Shavar Newkirk is averaging 21.8 points, 3.8 assists, and 4.2 rebounds per game thus far. He’s shooting 53.6% from the floor and 41.2% from long range. His contributions have far exceeded expectations and have played a major factor in St. Joe’s success.
This past preseason, the Hawks were picked to finish ninth in the Atlantic 10. Being underestimated and proving naysayers wrong is not something Martelli’s team is unfamiliar with though.
Prior to last season, St. Joe’s was picked to finish seventh in the conference preseason poll. They wound up taking fourth place in the regular season, but made a favorable case that they were the best team in the league by the end, highlighted by an Atlantic 10 championship.
While it's easy to say this year’s Hawks just simply aren’t what they were last year, first take time to recognize that last year didn't start to differently. Even more trivial events like barely escaping a team St. Joe’s should’ve blown out in the season opener seem to be recurring. However, despite this, there's no doubt that Phil Martelli’s Hawks are heading in the right direction.
Data retrieved from KenPom.com on Nov. 25
Graphics by Nick Mandarano
Photo: Sideline Photos, LLC
Saint Joseph's announced today that forward James Demery has suffered a stress fracture in the fourth metatarsal of his left foot and will be out for a few weeks. Demery’s status will be re-evaluated in a few weeks, according to a Saint Joseph’s press release.
The North Carolina native played an integral role in the Hawks’ 77-76 season opening win against Toledo. He tallied 11 points and grabbed a career-high 8 rebounds.
The Hawks take on Columbia tonight at Hagan Arena before traveling to the Paradise Jam in the U.S. Virgin Islands for a 3-day tournament.
Photo: Sideline Photos
Saint Joseph’s was down 37-32 with 2:45 left to go in the first half. The offense was sputtering and having trouble to crack Toledo’s lead. That was until junior James Demery made a game changing play that caused the crowd to reach one of its highest decibel levels of the night.
After freshman Charlie Brown nailed a long three, Demery stole the ball on the following defensive possession and ran past everyone on both teams for a huge dunk. He fell into the first row of the crowd, screaming with pride after such a game changing slam. It was a large momentum builder in the Hawks 77-76 victory over Toledo, as they had finally cut into the Rockets’ lead, bringing the game closer heading into halftime.
It was also a clear turning point for Demery, who began the game struggling offensively. After failing to convert two tough takes to the basket, missing a three pointer, and three turnovers, it was clear Demery was out of sync. It took until the 3:40 mark in the first half for Demery to score his first points, after a good cut and assist from sophomore guard Lamarr Kimble.
“It was the first game,” Demery said after the contest. “Everyone is nervous out there. Then in the second half, I said, ‘it’s time to pick it up.’”
Demery played a big offensive role in the second half, putting away the jitters. He came out attacking, scoring 6 points in the first 3 minutes of the second half, including a drive and dunk, energizing the team and crowd.
“I said ‘drive the ball to the basket,’ ” head coach Phil Martelli exclaimed. “‘You don’t have to show anyone that you’re a jump shooter. Drive the ball to the basket’...if you look at his plays in the second half, he was going to the basket. In the first half, his brain was racing. We just had to slow him down.”
Although he played a large role in their second half offensive performance, it was on the defensive end that Demery made his mark. While Shavar Newkirk kept scoring and Markell Lodge had monster blocks, Demery quietly won them the game. The 6-foot-6, 198-pound forward was asked to stick Toledo’s 6-foot-9, 240-pound big man Steve Taylor, Jr. Taylor, a transfer from Marquette, showed his versatility from the get-go, grabbing a rebound in the first half and dribbling the length of the floor for a transition dunk. It was clear early on that it would not be an easy test for Demery.
“[It was about] playing strong,” Demery noted. “He had me physically, but mentally and heart wise, you just have to go out there and do the best you can do.”
Demery contained Taylor, only allowing the mature big man to score only 5 points in the first half on 2 of 5 shooting from the floor. Although Taylor finished with 14 points (not all of them with Demery on him), Demery noticeably held his own. Although the Toledo big man should have torn apart the smaller forward, he did not.
“I tried not to let Taylor get comfortable with the ball because he’s a big guy,” Demery said. “He knows how to use his feet as well. So I just tried to get him out of his comfort zone, which we did. In the first half of the game, he was kind of struggling. In the second half, he started to pick it up a little.”
Demery not only worked to disturb Taylor’s positioning in the post, but also fought for positioning in the rebounding department. Despite the mismatch, Demery outrebounded Taylor 8 to 7.
But Demery’s defense on the opposing team’s ‘4’ will not be an anomaly for the 2016-17 season.
“That’s what the coaches have been talking about for me, covering the four,” Demery added. “Then on the offensive end, that will make the lanes easier for me to get by a ‘4’ because most ‘4’s’ don’t have [good footwork].”
However, as the game progressed and Toledo went to a smaller lineup, Demery was then asked to play on the perimeter and cover Toledo's star guard Jonathan Williams, who averaged 19 points per game last season.
“Once we’re looking at four perimeter guys,” Martelli said, “we’ll pick the matchup for [Demery].”
It was a game that showed the true colors of Demery. His versatility and fearlessness was a large part of why Saint Joseph’s walked away with their first win of the season.
And although Demery may not look like the star of the night with only 11 points, the forward form North Carolina had a major impact on the outcome of the game. But after years of playing behind DeAndre Bembry and Isaiah Miles, he’s accustomed to the role of the unsung hero, just like he was last night against Toledo.
Photo: Benjamin Simon/The Empire
Saint Joseph’s is on the heels of a magical season. Predicted to finish seventh in the Atlantic 10 in the preseason poll, the Hawks far outperformed their expectations this past year. After finishing the season fourth in the conference standings, the Hawks went on to win the Atlantic 10 championship and advance into the second round of the NCAA tournament.
This year, the Hawks are looking for the same kind of underdog story since it’s been announced that they’ve been voted to finish ninth in the preseason poll. Although without DeAndre’ Bembry, Isaiah Miles, Aaron Brown and Papa Ndao, it’s been a concern as to how the Hawks plan to replace so much production. However they plan to do it, so they’ll have to do it without Pierfrancesco Oliva. It was announced a few weeks ago that Oliva would be sidelined for the entire season with a knee injury. The freshman started 30 games last season and was expected to be a starter again this year, but now the lineup will be shaken up a bit.
St. Joe’s also named tri-captains for this season: Javon Baumann, Brendan Casper and Lamarr Kimble. Like every year, the captains were decided by a player vote and are a strong representation of the team.
Aaron Brown (G, Sr.), Isaiah Miles (F, Sr.), Skylar Scrivano (F, Sr.) DeAndre’ Bembry (F, Jr.), Papa Ndao (F, Gr.)
St. Joe’s lost Miles, Brown, Scrivano and Ndao, who are all out of eligibility, and Bembry, who was drafted by the Atlanta Hawks last summer. Miles, Bembry and Brown were the team’s three leading scorers last season, combining for close to 46 points per game. The four of them also combined for 117.9 minutes per game last year. It’s a hefty load that St. Joe’s is losing this offseason. Bembry, who averaged 17.4 points per game, 7.8 rebounds, and 4.5 assists per game, was the MVP of the A-10, while Miles, who led the Hawks in scoring, won the A-10’s Most Improved Player and made second team All-Conference. Now playing in Iceland, Brown thrived in the Hawks’ starting lineup, averaging 10 points per game and shooting 45% from the field.
Charlie Brown (F, Fr.), Nick Robinson (G, Fr.), Gerald Blount (F, Fr.), Toliver Freeman (G, Fr.), Lorenzo Edwards (F, Fr.)
St. Joe’s will welcome five new freshmen to the team this season, including a walk-on, Toliver Freeman. Brown, the Hawks’ top recruit, is rated three stars on ESPN.com. Originally from Philadelphia, he played a fifth high school season at St. Thomas More in Connecticut in order to better prepare for the college level. The forward is a deadeye shooter with a silky jump shot. Robinson, Blount, and Edwards, all versatile players with athleticism, will round out the squad of newcomers that will inevitably play a significant role on this year’s squad due to a lack of upperclassman depth.
Projected Starting Lineup
G: Lamarr Kimble (Proj. Stats: 12 PPG, 6.5 APG)
Returning as the reigning Atlantic 10 Rookie of the Year, Kimble will be playing the role as a captain in his sophomore campaign. After averaging less than twenty minutes a game last year, he can be confident in the fact he’ll see a drastic increase in playing time. The Philadelphia native should be on the early watch list for the All-Conference team and will almost certainly earn his first career start in the season opener.
G: Shavar Newkirk (Proj. Stats: 9.5 PPG, 5.5 APG)
Newkirk’s improvement from his freshman year to his sophomore year was impressive. He learned to play more under control and more intelligently. In the process, Newkirk evolved into one of the conference’s top point guards. After starting all 36 games for the Hawks last season, it would come as a shock if he wasn’t named a starter for the upcoming season. It’ll be interesting, though, to see how Coach Martelli decides to handle the playing times of Newkirk and Kimble.
F: James Demery (Proj Stats: 15 PPG, 6 RPG)
The number one flaw in Demery’s game has been his shooting ability, but after some work with the assistant coaches last year, fans saw some minor but noticeable improvements. His game progressed in various other areas as well and if the progressions continued as expected through this past offseason, then Demery may be ready to take over as one of the premier players in the conference. His ability to finish at the rim has already shown glimpses of his potential elite status. However, it is not a secret that his defense is what really stands out. When walk-on Toliver Freeman was asked who is the best defender on the team, he didn’t hesitate, calling Demery the team’s toughest defender to get by. His ability on the defensive end will be an unbelievably valuable asset for the Hawks this season. The loss of DeAndre’ Bembry leaves fans wondering who will assume the role of shut-down on-ball defender and Demery is ready to do just that.
F: Charlie Brown (Proj. Stats: 13 PPG, 5 RPG)
Charlie Brown could become just the fourth freshman to start the season opener for Martelli (Galloway, Bembry, Oliva). Standing at 6-foot-6 and weighing in at just 185 pounds, he is a bit of an undersized power forward, so the Hawks will have to make adjustments to their game style. Much of the talent for St. Joe’s is among the guards this year, so it’s not unlikely Martelli decides to run smaller lineups more often than not. Expect the Hawks to run and play an up-tempo style offense, which would fit Brown’s skillset perfectly.
F: Javon Baumann (Proj. Stats: 4.5 PPG, 9 RPG)
There’s not much size on this St. Joe’s squad, but Baumann will provide a presence on the interior and on the boards. The biggest question mark surrounding Baumann is his physical status and whether or not he’ll be in shape enough to keep up with the guard-dominated roster. There won’t be much pressure placed on him to score, but he’ll be assigned to play strong interior defense and rebound at a high rate in order to compensate for the otherwise undersized lineup.
Gerald Blount (F, Fr.), Brandon Casper (F, Sr.), Chris Clover (G, Soph.), Lorenzo Edwards (F, Fr.), Toliver Freeman (G, Fr.), Markell Lodge (F, So.), Nick Robinson (G, Fr.), Jai Williams (F, Jr.),
With a lack of size on the roster, Williams will play a crucial role off the bench, often replacing and perhaps sometimes teaming up with Baumann in the post. His 6-foot-9, 240 pound frame will take up space on the defensive interior and will help him bang down low on the offensive end of the court. He’ll also play a key role in keeping Baumann out of foul trouble.
Outside of those two, there is a real lack of size on the team. If the Hawks do play up-tempo, an athletic freak like Lodge could be useful and fit smoothly into the game plan. He hasn’t played much thus far in his collegiate career. However, on a team without any pre-declared superstars, this year could be an opportunity for Lodge to showcase his abilities.
Both Newkirk and Kimble stand at 6-foot-0, so Robinson could be useful as a 6-foot-6 point guard against bigger opponents. Since the Hawks will be lacking big men in the post, perhaps they could counterbalance that in the backcourt. A taller point guard would, at the very least, help with the rebound battles against opponents.
at Villanova (December 3, 2016)
After Philadelphia has been painted with giant blue and white V’s, there has never been a larger target on the Wildcats’ back for the Hawks. It doesn’t sit well when your city is parading around in your rivals’ colors and championship gear. This year’s Holy War will be intense.
vs. St. Bonaventure (February 22, 2017)
The Bonnies were the only team to beat the Hawks twice last season. St. Joe’s hasn’t beaten St. Bonaventure since they faced off in the 2014 Atlantic 10 semifinals. After losing five consecutive games to this team, St. Joe’s will host St. Bonaventure in late February in the first match of their two-game season series.
at Dayton (February 7, 2017)
St. Joe’s has just one game against Dayton, who is ranked number one in the Atlantic 10 preseason poll, this year. After a thrilling 82-79 win over the Flyers in the semifinals of last season’s A-10 tournament, the Hawks will travel to Dayton to play the conference favorites.
The Hawks have lost a load of production, but seemed to have done a decent job compensating with their incoming freshman class headlined by Charlie Brown. They will play a schedule that is maybe moderately strong, but certainly not too difficult. Their non-conference schedule isn’t much to brag about unless they can pull off an upset victory at Villanova. Otherwise, expect St. Joe’s to get off to a hot start prior to their Atlantic 10 season. Following that, they should be capable of managing to earn a decent enough conference record to finish with twenty wins.
“First of all, [the freshmen] fit. They’re good teammates on a group that that’s a priority with all of these guys - to be a good teammate and develop into a great teammate. We have a lot of opportunities here and so far they’ve measured up. They’ve measured up in the classroom, they’ve measured up socially and they’ve measured up on the court. Now we’ll see. Now, it’s no long about an individual, it’s about us. How do they fit in our plan and our work to make sure that we have a chance to beat Toledo. That’s the whole thing. That’s the only thing that matters here. It’s not about what people thought about them or didn’t think about them. It’s whether or not they can help us beat Toledo. And then at that point, they’re not freshmen. They’re basketball players.”
-Head Coach Phil Martelli
“We knew going into last year that we had a superstar. We watched a guy develop in front of our eyes. We had older guys. Papa Ndao was a sixth year player. Aaron Brown was a fifth year player. We don’t have that, so we have inexperience. We have a lot of competition and we have a lot of opportunity, so my thing to them is seize it. Seize the opportunity. I’m not giving anything to anybody, but they’re going to be able to seize what they all want, which is to play and to win. It’s about winning. Winning beats the alternative.”
-Head Coach Phil Martelli
“The goal is to end up in the same spot and further. It’s like that every year and so far we’re trying to get back and win another A-10 championship. The goal is never to lose or say that it’s a rebuilding year. We’re coming to win.”
"We're obviously disappointed for Checco, but he has the best in terms of medical care and rehab. His teammates and coaches will keep their arms wrapped around him as he goes through the day-to-day grind of not just getting back, but getting better. I anticipate that as we go on we’ll see a much better Checco."
-Phil Martelli via Philly.com
Photo: Sideline Photos, LLC
After a promising freshman season that included 30 starts, it was announced that Pierfrancesco "Checco" Oliva will have knee surgery following further worsening to a chronic knee condition during offseason workouts.
"We're obviously disappointed for Checco, but he has the best in terms of medical care and rehab," head coach Phil Martelli said in a press release. "His teammates and coaches will keep their arms wrapped around him as he goes through the day-to-day grind of not just getting back, but getting better. I anticipate that as we go on we’ll see a much better Checco."
The 6-foot-8 forward averaged 16.4 minutes per game, 4 points, 3.7 rebounds, and shot 38% from the field. Oliva was expected to be a large part of the team throughout the upcoming season, but now the team will have to rely on other big men, inlcuding senior Javon Baumann, junior Jai Williams, sophomore Markell Lodge, and freshman Lorenzo Edwards.
-Saint Joseph's ends season with loss in first round of A-10 tournament against UMass