Saint Joseph’s has posted their best record (22-5) through 27 games since the 2003-04 season, when they went undefeated (27-0). Much of their success this season can be attributed to their play on the defensive end, where the Hawks lead the A-10 in field-goal percentage defense and three-point-field-goal percentage defense. On the offensive end, they’ve also seen their production rise, as their points per game average has risen by 15 points this season.
Team-captain DeAndre’ Bembry and senior forward Isaiah Miles, who leads the team in scoring with 17.8 ppg, have garnered much of the attention this season. This is to be expected as Bembry is an NBA hopeful with a wide range of skills and Miles is having a breakout year, averaging career highs in points, rebounds, and field-goal percentage.
As good as Bembry and Miles have been for the Hawks this year, the team would not be where it is without the leadership and scoring of senior Aaron Brown.
Brown spent two seasons at West Virginia University before transferring to Saint Joseph’s for the 2013-14 season, in which he sat out of because of NCAA transfer rules. The Darby, PA native not only changed schools but traveled closer to home as a result.
“It’s always great to be closer to home with family because you get a lot more support,” Brown said in a recent interview with The Empire. “You just have that home vibe. It’s always good to be able play in front of family and friends.”
After primarily serving as the Hawks’ sixth man last season, Brown spent the offseason preparing for the 2015-16 campaign by continuing to improve his ball handling, shooting, and physical strength, which have all been central in his training regimen in the past.
As a result, Brown has started in every game this year and his offseason preparation has helped him deal with the adjustment from sixth man to starting shooting guard.
“I wouldn’t say it was a tough adjustment because I’ve prepared myself,” he pondered. “It’s definitely been different because [as a starter,] you're going against somebody very talented every night. It’s definitely a kind of an adjustment for me.”
Brown switched roles with current sixth man James Demery, who started in 29 games last season and has become a consistent spark off the bench for coach Phil Martelli. The two flip flopped roles at the beginning of the season, which has brought both players a lot of success. The play of Demery has not surprised the former Penn Wood high school standout.
“He's just a lot more confident this year,” he said. “Confidence goes a long way so, he’s been playing really well with all the confidence he has.”
More often than not this season Brown has been a consistent contributor for the Hawks. In 17 of Saint Joseph’s 27 games, Brown has scored 8 or more points, while shooting about 49% from the field. Furthermore, he has attempted and made more three-pointers so far this season than he did all of last year. As a result, his three point percentage has risen from about 29% to 36% and has placed him third among team leaders with 30 or more attempts from three, only trailing forward Papa Ndao (39%) and Miles (38%).
That being said, Brown has had lackluster performances throughout the season. Against Florida, in late November, he shot 0-2 from the field and recorded one point off of a free throw. Then again, in early December against Princeton, he didn’t tally a point in 24 minutes of play.
Brown did rebound after both of those outings. He scored 8 points against Old Dominion after facing Florida and 11 points against Big 5 rival Temple following the Princeton game.
Brown’s ability to bounce back after these performances was present until a six-game stretch from January 24th to February 10th, where he shot a mere 31% from the field. His worst outing during this stretch came against Fordham on February 6th, when he scored 0 points in 19 minutes.
Although Brown scored 5 points in the ensuing game against George Washington, his performance against La Salle three nights later (11 points, 5-7 FGM-A) was the true indicator that he had moved on from the rough stretch of games.
Coach Martelli spoke openly about Brown’s play of late after the Hawks’ 21st win of the year.
“It’s about time,” coach Martelli said in his postgame press conference after the victory against La Salle on February 13th. “Aaron Brown will tell you. His last past six games, he’s shot 26% from two, 30% overall, he dropped averaging 5 points a game. And yesterday when we were warming up, I told him ‘you gotta get going’ and he said, ‘I got you.’”
Martelli emphasized the importance of layups in college basketball as a whole and more specifically for Brown.
“It can swing momentum, it’s not two points,” he said again of the La Salle game. “It’s more than that and I think he did a nice job.”
Brown has taken Martelli’s advice to heart. In his last three games, he's averaging 12.3 points and shooting 50% from the field.
In an upset win over #15 Dayton on February 17th, Brown recorded 14 points for the Hawks, only two points behind Bembry, who scored a team-high 16 points. His efforts helped propel the team to major win against a ranked opponent.
When Brown is making his shots and scoring in double figures, the entire team benefits from it. In every game he has scored 5 or more field goals, the Hawks have won this year. He adds another dimension to the table: a strong lefty, that can take the ball to the rim, but additionally knock down the 20-footer.
He understands that he must trust the process and continue to get better. He believes that if he continues to work on being consistent and trusting the process, he’ll be fine.
Furthermore, the communication between Martelli and Brown shows the growth in their relationship since the six-foot-five guard enrolled at SJU.
“It’s been great. Just being able to get to know him a lot better,” remarked Brown.
Through ups and downs this season, Brown has remained a leader on this team and during his time with the Hawks, Brown has been sought out by younger teammates for advice.
“It’s always good to give them advice,” added the senior, “because I’ve been through everything they're going through so, for me to be able to share that with them is always helpful.”
Thanks to his success, Saint Joseph’s has impressed many people around the country and he hopes for that to continue.
“We’re surprising a lot of people,” Brown added. “So we just want to continue to surprise a lot of people and keep playing the way we are.”
Brown plans to graduate from SJU in the spring and will figure things out from there. Until then, Hawks fans will hope for Brown to continue on this recent hot stretch and continue to lead, even if times get tough.
Photo: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports
-Saint Joesph's loses to #25 Rhode Island in the Semifinal of the A-10 tournament