The NBA Draft was a bittersweet time for Saint Joseph’s. The Sweet: Hawks fans were ecstatic to see their beloved DeAndre’ Bembry go in the first round and remain a Hawk (in Atlanta). It got even better when Isaiah Miles signed a contract with San Antonio for the summer. The Bitter: The draft was an unwanted reminder that the Hawks will have to play without these two stars next season.
Saint Joseph’s lost Miles, wing Aaron Brown and big man Papa Ndao, who are all out of eligibility, and Bembry, who declared for the draft following his junior season. 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 combined for 117.9 minutes per game last year. It’s a hefty load that St. Joe’s is losing this offseason.
Rising juniors Shavar Newkirk and James Demery seemed to really improve over the course of last season. Now, expected to play bigger roles, it’ll be vital that they continue to blossom. Demery has the tools necessary to really take over as one of the best players in the conference, but that is far from a guarantee. He’s a great defender and an elite finisher at the rim, but the biggest question marks in his game have always been his shooting ability and his confidence. Well, his shooting both from the line and midrange has improved and hopefully will continue to do so. In regards to his long range shooting, it has become less of an issue because of his improved shot selection.
His confidence, however, has been like a roller coaster with the constant highs and lows. If Demery can keep his confidence high throughout the season, he could quite possibly emerge as one of the top players in the Atlantic 10.
Newkirk has spoken extensively about his goals on the basketball floor. He’s not out there to score; he’s out there to distribute. Newkirk loves to drive and kick, which he’ll have plenty of opportunities to do with the incoming freshmen and returning shooters.
The rising sophomore class is a strong one as well. Pierfrancesco Oliva, who was one of just three freshmen ever to start the season opener under Martelli (Nelson, Bembry), didn’t quite live up to expectations last year. However, it’s easy for any basketball mind to see the raw ability in his game, with his ability to handle the ball and stretch the floor with his jumper. Chris Clover didn’t play a very crucial role in games last season, but his high school career at St. Joe’s Prep, where he scored a total of 1,248 points and averaged 20 points in his senior season, showed that the kid could score and shoot. Perhaps he just wasn’t yet ready for the college level, perhaps it’s something deeper. Regardless, if things go well, Clover could be a solid shooter and scoring source off the bench.
Lamarr Kimble, who made last year’s A-10 All-Rookie team, is an exciting rising star. If St. Joe’s could somehow figure out a way to play Kimble and Newkirk together in the backcourt, it could be the best pairing in the conference. What makes Kimble so impressive is his fearlessness and leadership qualities on the court, in addition to pure talent. Before “Fresh” played his first collegiate game last season, he was already giving Newkirk a run for his money as the starting point guard. Martelli admitted several times before and throughout the season that the decision regarding who to start at the point was incredibly difficult.
Gerald Blount, Charles Brown, Lorenzo Edwards, and Nick Robinson will make up the incoming freshman class. Charles Brown played his high school ball at George Washington High School in Philadelphia before transferring to St. Thomas More Prep in Connecticut for a fifth season. The extra year of preparation before college was a great decision resulting in an incredible improvement according to many scouts and head coach Phil Martelli. Martelli says, “Charles [Brown] is a developing player. His growth over the last 15 to 16 months is extraordinary. He has the ability to put the ball in the basket, an unquenchable work ethic and a love for Saint Joseph’s basketball. I’m expecting that his versatility will pay immediate dividends for our team.”
I’ll let Martelli continue to fill you in on this year’s freshmen. He adds, “Gerald [Blount] is a jack-of-all-trades kind of guy. He is the one guy coming in that I don’t have a cut and dry position for. I see him coming in as an energy provider both on the court, in the locker room and in the classroom. I also see him as a guy whose role will evolve this summer and even into next fall.
“Lorenzo [Edwards] is a skilled offensive player. He’s extremely well-schooled for a player entering college both by his father, who is an NBA veteran, and by a wildly successful high school coach and program [at Lake Falls in Illinois]. I expect Lorenzo to hit campus scoring baskets and I’m very interested in watching his rebounding abilities grow as his confidence grows and his body develops. He’s been praised by his high school coach as a shot blocker, but I’m excited about his ability to score the ball.
“Nick [Robinson] has an extremely high basketball IQ. He is prototypical of the guys that we’ve had in that he loves the gym. He has a unique ability to talk basketball with me and possesses very good court vision. We’ll be looking to further develop his perimeter shooting.”
Although it seems the Hawks have taken a big hit with the guys they’ve lost, it seems as though the additions of the four freshmen and potential growth of young players could make up for any damages. While many are expecting St. Joe’s to be significantly worse than last season, let’s not forget that they were picked to finish seventh in the Atlantic 10 Preseason Poll, and we’re all aware of how they shattered those expectations. St. Joe’s has a knack for being underestimated and Phil Martelli has a knack for leading his squad to prove the naysayers wrong.
Photo: Mike Stobe/Getty Images North America
-Saint Joesph's loses to #25 Rhode Island in the Semifinal of the A-10 tournament