It was just four years ago, in the summer of 2014, that the Saint Joseph’s Hawks were coming off of their best season since 2008. It was a year in which they tied for third in the Atlantic 10 conference and would go on to secure an NCAA tournament berth by winning the Atlantic 10 conference championship. Ultimately, they would end their impressive season at the hands of the eventual national champions, the Connecticut Huskies, in the Round of 64 of the NCAA Tournament.
Even though they were losing key standouts like guard Langston Galloway and forward Ronald Roberts, who would both go on to play professionally, it was time to bring in fresh talent. In their new recruiting class, they turned to another guard-forward combo: Shavar Newkirk and James Demery. The three-star recruits had big shoes to fill.
Both Newkirk and Demery jumped right into the rotation during their freshman and sophomore years, earning over 20 minutes a game. However, they posted unimpressive statlines in which they both averaged less than 10 points, 5 rebounds, and 5 assists per game. After Newkirk and Demery shot 17% and 18%, respectively, from beyond the arc in their freshman campaigns, they improved over the next year, as Newkirk’s percentage jumped to 30% and Demery’s to 24% during their sophomore seasons. Still, they were waiting in the wings and weren’t much more than a part of the supporting cast surrounding the centerpieces of the team, forward Isaiah Miles, guard Aaron Brown, and wingman DeAndre’ Bembry.
Saint Joseph’s performed well and went on to win their conference championship after another impressive season, one in which the Hawks captured another conference tournament victory and won their first round NCAA tournament matchup against Cincinnati. Newkirk started for most of the season and Demery provided a spark off the bench. They were integral parts of a good team. But with Bembry leaving for the draft, and Brown and Miles closing out their senior years, their playing days in a Saint Joseph’s uniform were over.
The keys were then given to Demery and Newkirk.
Saint Joseph’s would win their first game of the 2017-18 season against Toledo, but it was Demery who went down with a stress fracture in his foot. He would miss the next 10 games, returning on December 30th against George Washington. But just one half into Demery’s return, Newkirk torn his ACL, effectively finishing his season. The two would only play one game and a half together during their junior campaigns.
Newkirk, however, had been off to a hot start, posting career highs in scoring and shooting percentage. He averaged 20.3 points per game, while shooting 46% from the field and made a staggering leap from three, pushing his percentage up to 40% during his junior season. He did all this without the help of Demery.
While Newkirk was sidelined, it was Demery’s time to step up and produce. He scored at least 16 points in four of his first seven games upon returning from injury and finished the season in similar fashion, scoring at least 14 points in six of St. Joseph’s last seven games.
Unfortunately, Demery’s strong offensive production did not lead to victories for the Hawks, who never quite found their footing after losing Newkirk. They went on to fall in 10 of their last 11 games and finished second to last in their conference.
As Newkirk and Demery entered their senior seasons, with both finally healthy, the stakes were high. It was their final chance to lead St. Joseph’s back into the top half of the A-10 conference.
With the addition of freshman forwards Taylor Funk and Anthony Longpre’ and the emergence of sophomore guard Nick Robinson, St. Joseph’s had a solid core surrounding the duo of Demery and Newkirk.
The Hawks started the season up and down and continued that pattern until the end of the season. Coming into the last few weeks of the year, St. Joseph’s had not won more than two games in a row. However, led by Newkirk and Demery, St. Joseph’s managed to rattle off six victories in their final seven regular season games. Included in that stretch was a double-digit statement win over Rhode Island, the one seed in the A-10. It was a win, according to head coach Phil Martelli, that caught the eyes of the entire country and had his phone blowing up.
“Tuesday night was like any postseason win I’ve ever had...Geno Auriemma, John Calipari, Fran Dunphy, Bill Self, anybody that you could think of was on my phone,” Martelli said.
Demery shot 66% from the field to lead his team with 21 points and 7 rebounds, while Newkirk chipped in 14 points and paced the Hawks with 7 assists along the way. The win was a major part of the Hawks’ strong finish and helped them secure the four seed in the A-10 tournament.
The Hawks had a phenomenal team effort in their first round matchup against the #5 seed George Mason, in which they played stifling defense, holding their opponent to just 49 points, while also having four double-digit scorers in Funk, Robinson, Newkirk, and Demery to lead them to victory.
But the unpredictable 2017-18 season came to a screeching halt for the Hawks at the Capital One Arena in Washington D.C. It was Rhode Island who came back to defeat Martelli’s team in a thriller, effectively avenging their embarrassing loss to the Hawks just a few games before.
Newkirk injured his leg in the loss and missed the final minute of the game. However, that did not stop him from saving a ball that was going out of bounds and tipping it to a teammate despite limping on one foot. He would be taken out the game, but ended his St. Joe’s career fighting, as he did during all four years. Demery hit a putback layup in the final minutes of the game, trying desperately to keep his Hawks within range of Rhode Island in what he knew could be his final game.
Although the ending result was a loss and a missed NCAA tournament bid, it was not due to a lack of effort.
The college careers of Newkirk and Demery have come to an end and probably not in the fashion they would have wanted. Over the course of their careers, Newkirk and Demery have in many ways been tied at the hip, doing everything they can to make St. Joseph’s basketball better.
Following a victory in the regular season finale against La Salle, Matelli remarked, “I salute particularly James and Shavar for not allowing Senior Day to get to be too much for them, too emotional.”
At the end of the day, Shavar Newkirk and James Demery never allowed anything to be “too much” for them. Not injuries, not a lack of immediate starring roles, not Senior Day, not anything. Both of these players embody what it means to be a true Hawk and as they say at St. Joseph’s, “The Hawk will never die.”
-Saint Joesph's loses to #25 Rhode Island in the Semifinal of the A-10 tournament