Saint Joseph’s said goodbye to one of their greatest classes of players of all-time. This year’s senior class, comprised of Papa Ndao, Isaiah Miles, and Aaron Brown, had 83 wins in 143 games over the last four seasons. Ndao, a graduate student, sat out all of last year due to medical concerns and returned for a fifth season to play for the Hawks. Brown transferred to St. Joe’s from West Virginia following his sophomore season. Miles had been with the team all four years, but saw drastic improvement over that time.
Unfortunately, all careers, no matter how prolific, must come to an end. As Brown said, “It was bitter-sweet. At the time [of the loss], it wasn’t pleasant. The locker room was sad, we felt like we should’ve continued playing, but we went out and gave it all we had.” He then went on to say, “We definitely surprised a lot of people. No one predicted us to make it into the Round of 32 from the beginning of the year. We were picked 7th in the A-10 and we end up winning the A-10 and going to the Round of 32. It was definitely a special year”
The coaches were sure to remind Brown, as well as Miles and Ndao, that they had the second most wins as a senior class and the second most wins in school history. The coaches reminded them that they went out as champions. They reminded them that they made it to the NCAA Tournament and won a game. Brown recalled, “We did a lot of things a lot of players can’t say they did. We definitely went out with a high.”
Since Brown started playing basketball, he has been a fan of Kevin Garnett, which makes sense. Garnett’s fight and intensity was clearly reflected in Brown’s play every night. “I just want [fans] to remember me giving it my all and doing whatever it is the team needed me to do, playing as hard as I can,” Brown said.
He attributes that source of intensity from his transfer process. “I came to St. Joe’s with sort of a chip on my shoulder. I really had an edge to me and I always had stuff to prove,” Brown said. “Just being [at St. Joe’s] over these few years has made me a better teammate and more team-oriented. I’ve seen a lot of personal growth as far as being a good teammate. [Transferring to St. Joe’s] was definitely the right decision.”
Prior to his senior season, Ndao suffered an injury that would sideline him for the entire season. After receiving his bachelor’s degree in interdisciplinary health services, Ndao returned to St. Joe’s in pursuit of a master’s degree in health administration and a fifth year with the basketball team. He played a crucial role in the success of the team this past season.
Ndao wants to be remembered as a “great teammate, [someone who] competed every time, [someone who] enjoyed the game, somebody you could depend on, and somebody who was there for others.” It’s safe to say he’ll be granted his wish. Ndao was a great teammate who exemplified abundant leadership in many forms, especially in his final season.
Towards the end of the season, Ndao exhibited a fiery showcase of competitiveness. Most fans were a bit shocked when he received two technicals, and thus an ejection, from an Atlantic 10 Tournament game, or when he received another technical foul and screamed at the referees in another game.
“I feel like I’m just as competitive as everyone else out there. Maybe with the smiles, people think it’s different, but to me it’s nothing but a smile,” Ndao proclaimed. “I’m going to smile because I love what I do and I’m going to enjoy it, but at the end of the day I enjoy competing. That’s what brings a smile to my face. I’m a competitor all the way.”
Miles was the 2015-16 Atlantic 10 Most Improved Player. In more than just the jump from junior to senior year, but from his freshman year on, Miles only improved. He remembers, “During my freshman year in my first couple of games, I was like, ‘Whoa, these dude’s are good as hell. They’re big. They’re fast.’ I never thought I’d play at the level I did. As time went on, as I started getting used to it, I started adjusting to what’s going on. But my freshman year, I never thought I’d be at this moment that I am now.”
In his senior year, Miles also made the second All-Conference team, the All-Big 5 team, and won the Atlantic 10 Championship Most Outstanding Player award. He led the Hawks in scoring (18.1), rebounding (8.1), and blocked shots (1.0). He set the school record for most double digit scoring games in a single season (35). It was an incredibly successful season for him, but there was a time when a season so prosperous was unimaginable for Miles.
“My freshman and sophomore year I thought about transferring to another school because I didn’t play that much. I sat down with my parents and thought about it,” Miles shared. “Transferring to me made it seem like I was a quitter. I was going to quit and transfer to another school because I wasn’t getting my way. I didn’t want to be looked at as that so I just stayed with it and battled through adversity.” The schools that Miles was considering were Towson and Loyola (MD), both schools close to his home in Baltimore.
To put his improvement into perspective, Miles scored only 26 points in his freshman year on just 19 shots, 13 of which were three-point attempts. In his senior year, Miles took 426 shots and scored 653 points, more than his first three seasons combined and enough to put him over the 1,000-point plateau for his his career. It’s safe to say that any St. Joe’s fan is beyond grateful Miles decided to stick it out on Hawk Hill and continue to work hard.
That hard work is a characteristic of his that he hopes will influence and inspire future Hawks. “My season was just set on hard work and what hard work can do if you stick to it. Hopefully when I’m gone, anyone below me can realize Isaiah got to where he went because he worked hard. If they think about that, that allows them to work hard to get to where they want to go.”
All three players discussed how much it hurts knowing that they won’t be playing with their teammates next year. “I love this school,” he said. “I love what we accomplished as a team. I love my team and it’s going to hurt not playing with them next year. [I’m going to miss] the environment, our rivalries against Villanova, that sense of community, the fans - I love the fans! The fans here were amazing. They were so supportive.”
Miles made sure to elaborate on his appreciation toward the fans, by adding, “Thanks for the support, thanks for everything that you’ve done. A lot of fans wouldn’t do that. I just want to thank my parents. They came to every single home game and every single game of this season. They never missed a single game this whole season. Everyone’s asking me for the #TeamMiles shirts [that my parents wear]. The fact that everyone wants to wear my name on their back is a great honor. As a whole, I want to thank everyone for their support. Without them, we wouldn’t be able to accomplish what we accomplished.”
Brown and Ndao also wanted to show some love to the fans. Brown said, “Thank you for your continued support. Even when we were terrible the year before, we still had fans like ‘you know it’ll get better, keep working.’ For us to have this past year for them, it was great.”
Ndao added, “It’s been rough. It’s been ups and downs, but they still came out and showed love regardless, for whatever reason. Whenever somebody comes to support you doing whatever you love, you should thank them for that. They didn’t have to. Whether they enjoyed the game, or want to come on a date, or are die-hard St. Joe’s fans, they came to support you and you cannot pay them back for that.”
He made sure to thank a few specific fans as well. “There are these ladies that sit in the corner. They were there since my freshman year. I actually really wanted to go up to them and say thank you on senior night, but it was just so hectic that I didn’t get a chance to do that. Wherever they are, I don’t know their names, I just want to say thank you to them. I always noticed them while warming up. They were always there with a smile, cheering for us. I really appreciate that.
Each of the three players were thrilled to share their favorite memories from their time at Saint Joseph’s. Ndao’s memory was a fairly specific one, actually. Ndao explains that in the second game against Dayton during his junior year, “We ran a play, I set a screen for Lang [Galloway] to hit a three.” That three-pointer would win the game for the Hawks and go on to remain has Ndao’s favorite memory.
Brown added, “My greatest memory of my time here would be hands down winning the A-10 championship. That run we had in the A-10 tournament, it was special. For us to go out like that, we couldn’t ask for more.”
According to Miles, his favorite memory is “that game-winning shot I hit. That was the first game-winner I ever hit, I ever shot. The setting - NCAA tournament, national TV - the feeling afterwards, everyone embracing you, everyone calling you. I got to the locker room after the game and the feeling of you making your teammates proud [is great]. Everyone jumping on top of you, feeling like you’re on top of the world. That’s probably the best feeling I’ve ever had.”
Moving forward, Isaiah Miles has signed with Mike Siegel, the same agent that represents former Hawk guard Langston Galloway. Brown has also signed with an agent. Both plan to continue playing, whether professionally in the D-League, overseas, or maybe in the NBA. Ndao, on the other hand, is unsure of what the next chapter of his life will be. He says, “Of course I want to keep playing. It’s my plan to get my masters in medicine. Whether it’s next year or ten years from now, I plan on getting it. The ball’s going to stop bouncing sooner or later and it’d be a great thing to have.”
Miles says that the thing he’ll miss the most is his team, or as he calls them, his brothers. “That’s a group I’m never going to forget,” he says. “And hopefully they never forget me. I wish I would’ve redshirted my freshman year so I could have one more year with these guys.”
No one on this team, nor any of the fans, will ever forget these guys. They each had an opportunity to thank the fans, but the fans haven’t had the opportunity to thank them back. So on behalf of St. Joe’s fans everywhere…
“Thank you Papa, Aaron and Isaiah.”
Photo: Associated Press
-Saint Joseph's ends season with loss in first round of A-10 tournament against UMass