Saint Joseph's guard Nick Robinson, who is averaging 6.2 points per game, 4.9 rebounds, and 2.5 assists in 24 minutes per game, drives to the basket at Hagan Arena.
(Andy Lewis/Icon Sportswire)
It’s easy to look at the box scores and ignore Nick Robinson’s stats. Only 6 points per game in an average of 24 minutes? 24% from three? Nearly 3 fouls per game? Again it’s easy to throw Robinson’s contributions aside with a mere look at the basic stat line. But in actuality, Robinson has been a bright spot in a season that has been marred by inconsistency and struggles for Saint Joseph’s.
The 6-foot-6 guard had offers from Cal, DePaul, and Saint Louis coming out of high school in Chicago. A third team Illinois All-State selection during his senior season, he ultimately chose St. Joe’s and was primarily seen as a wing at the next level. When he arrived at college last year, Robinson saw minutes from the jump as a reserve wing who provided defensive prowess thanks to his length and versatility. Offensively, he was still feeling his way out, running the offense effectively and providing depth to the St. Joe’s lineup. Scoring and playmaking was not an expectation, with junior guard Shavar Newkirk and sophomore guard Lamarr Kimble running the show on offense.
But an injury to both Newkirk and Kimble threw a wrench into head coach Phil Martelli’s system, quickly thrusting Robinson into a bigger role as a ball handler. With the elevated responsibilities Robinson struggled to find his niche. In year one, he would play 23 games where he totaled 20 or more minutes, yet made a mere 2 or less field goals in 15 of those games. He topped that off by shooting 36% from the field, 23% from three, and 57% from the free throw line.
On the other hand, Robinson still showed signs of potential. With point guards Newkirk and Kimble injured, Robinson had to adapt as Martelli’s new point guard, despite being advertised as a wing in high school. The freshman was tough, never shying away from the competition in front of him. He did the little things, hitting players with an assist to an assist or having to cover the other team’s top perimeter player. He most importantly showed an ability to do a bit of everything. Whether he shot the ball well or not, you always knew Robinson was going to attack the boards, lock up on defense, and hustle. Even though his play was encouraging, the consistent production was not where it needed to be and Robinson was given a pass -- a freshman wing with minimal college experience thrust into a point guard-type role. It was okay.
This year, Robinson came out of the gate a new player. After turning the ball over in all but three of St. Joe’s games during his freshman season, Robinson rebounded by tallying only 6 turnovers in the first 10 games of his sophomore season. Throughout his freshman year, when Robinson was asked to handle the ball, he gave confidence to the St. Joe’s coaching staff that he could hold that same role off the bench in the following year. After another season ending injury to Kimble, this job proved invaluable as he gave Newkirk, who is recovering from an ACL surgery, much needed breaks. Robinson has also spotted senior James Demery for a few breaks, the versatile forward who is asked to cover the other team’s best player, whether that’s a point guard or a ‘4’ man. With Robinson’s length and athleticism, that has also been his job. He has even spilled junior guard Chris Clover off the ball, providing a more athletic and better defensive lineup for Martelli. In theory, he is the perfect man off the bench, giving the Hawks many different lineup options.
However, recently, he has moved into the starting role and, as a result, it has leaked into wins. Over the last three games, in which Robinson has started, he has averaged 9.3 points per game, 8 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 1.7 steals, and 1 block, while shooting 60% from the field and 50% from three. The result -- a three game win streak and the longest win streak since the opening week of the 2015-16 season.
Robinson’s insertion into the starting lineup has provided Newkirk with more stability as well, as Robinson can handle the ball in the backcourt. It’s not rare to see plays with Robinson at the ‘1’ while Newkirk perches off the ball, freeing Newkirk from constant playmaker responsibilities. It was just last year when, playing beside Lamarr Kimble, Newkirk had averaged 20 points while shooting 46% from the field and 40% from three. This year, with the ball in his hands a lot more, Newkirk has seen those scoring averages decrease to 17.5 points per game and shooting percentages of 38% from the field and 30% from three (also posting 4.6 rebounds per game and 3.8 assists).
Those dramatic decreases don’t exist, however, when Robinson has started with him. In the four games that Newkirk and Robinson have started together (Robinson actually started in five games, but Newkirk did not start in the game against St. John’s), Newkirk has averaged 18.5 points per game, 6.5 assists, 6.5 rebounds, and 42% from the field, all noticeable increases from his averages across the entire season. Ultimately, Robinson’s play has been contagious (fourth on the team in overall box-plus minus with 1.4), especially for the Hawks’ best playmaker, Newkirk.
A large part of that is because Robinson has brought energy night in and night out. He’s not particularly fast or quick, but he’s always attacking. When he has the ball in his hands, he puts it on the floor looking for openings. When he doesn’t have the ball, he’s focused on pressuring the defense and gathering offensive rebounds, averaging one per game. As a result, the opposing defense has to burn energy and always box out when Robinson is on the floor, an immeasurable asset.
On the defensive end, Robinson is equally as effective. When Demery leaves the game, Robinson takes his assignment. Even when they’re both in the game, Robinson will often pair up with him to stick one of the other team’s top two perimeter players.
For example in their most recent game against 15-12 Duquesne, Robinson was tasked with covering the Dukes’ star guard, Eric Williams Jr., who is second on the team in scoring with 14.5 points per game. Robinson played an integral role in forcing the freshman to 6-21 from the field, 3-11 from three, and four total turnovers.
Robinson brings size and tenacity to the defensive end (second on the team with a defensive box-plus minus of 3), just like Demery, and gives Martelli two talented perimeter defenders to play at the same time. This once again takes pressure off of Newkirk, allowing him to take the third best perimeter player in the opposing team’s lineup, and conserve more energy for the offensive end.
While it has felt like ages ago since St. Joe’s defeated NCAA Tournament hopeful St. Bonaventure at Hagan Arena on January 6th, the game was a pure representation of just how important Robinson can be for the Hawks. With about 7 minutes left in the contest, it was Robinson who dove on the floor for a rebound, tipping it to redshirt sophomore Pierfrancesco Oliva for the dunk to put the Hawks up 8. A minute and a half later, after the Bonnies had answered, Robinson cleaned up the mess again, slamming home a Shavar Newkirk missed three. Less than a minute later, he would pin a layup by Bonnies’ forward Josh Ayeni. Newkirk, who gathered the rebound, even took the time to high-five Robinson as the senior dribbled the ball down the court, something you rarely see. Robinson’s impact, especially in the energy department, was a big reason why the Hawks escaped with their biggest win of the year.
It’s the little things that Robinson has done all season. He has quietly filled up the stat sheet and shown that he can be the perfect “Mr. Do-It-All” player for Martelli in the years to come.
Saint Joseph's forward Pierfrancesco Oliva dribbles up the court against St. Bonaventure at Hagan Arena..
(Photo credit: Saint Joseph's Athletics)
Avi Cantor and William Derry
Staff Writer and Editor
For a majority of the first half in their game on January 6th, St. Bonaventure had been chipping away at Saint Joseph’s lead.
With seven minutes left in the half, St. Joe’s pulled ahead by eight points, the largest lead of the game so far. They finally seemed in control, comfortably winning against one of the top teams in the A-10.
It wouldn’t last for long though as the Bonnies managed to continue shaving away at the Hawks’ lead.
St. Bonnies’ forward LaDarian Griffin threw down a court-quaking dunk to cut the Hawks’ lead to six. After a defensive stand, Philadelphia native Izaiah Brockington hit a jumper, seemingly changing the momentum of the game.
Fellow guard Matt Mobley followed Brockington’s bucket with a steal and a layup of his own. The momentum hadn’t merely changed. Mobley’s shot managed to stab the Hawks’ dying lead, leaving them barely leading by two points.
Luckily for the Hawks, forward Pierfrancesco “Checco” Oliva wasn’t keen on the idea of losing a lead.
When Bonnies’ forward Josh Ayeni received the ball, hugging the sideline, Oliva trapped him and forced him to squirm around, yearning to get the ball out of his hands. Ayeni’s struggle created a turnover on a traveling violation, ending the Bonnies’ run of consecutive scores.
After a media timeout, Oliva promptly fed forward James Demery for a wide open bucket. Seconds later, Oliva boxed out Bonnies’ forward Courtney Stockard, allowing guard Shavar Newkirk to pick up the rebound, charge up the court, and draw a foul that would lead to two points.
Oliva’s game against St. Bonaventure was indicative of his play for much of the season. He contributed when they needed it most, doing the dirty work, and as a result, Oliva ended the night just one point, two rebounds and two assists shy of a triple-double. All season he has attacked the boards, grabbing a rebound from one play to the next and immediately serving as a threat on both sides of the ball. He has become a type of secret weapon for head coach Phil Martelli, even if his stats don’t always show it, specifically with his ability to handle and pass the basketball with ease.
When Oliva grabs a board on the defensive end, he doesn’t need to outlet. He can instantly dribble the ball up the court and start a fastbreak play for the Hawks, which allows SJU to get out in transition faster and score more points. Oliva can also create for teammates from the perimeter by beating his man off the dribble and dishing it out to an open teammate when their defender slides over to help. On offense, Oliva is a constant mismatch.
Not only does Oliva contribute on the offensive end but he also provides the Hawks with a presence on defense. The 6-foot-8 big can guard the ‘4’ and the ‘5’, with his lateral quickness on the perimeter and length in the post. As a result, he has recorded a block in 15 of the team’s games while leading the Hawks in defensive box plus/minus at 4.1 and is third on the team in overall box plus/minus at 2.3.
Three days before Saint Joseph’s game against the Bonnies on January 6th, Oliva scored 15 points, grabbed 7 rebounds, dished out 3 assists, and added a steal and a block in an overtime victory against VCU. However, Martelli considered relieving Oliva of his starting duties prior to the VCU game due to his subpar play.
“He’s a veteran player, he played in an NCAA [tournament] game, so he should be playing [well] and he hadn’t been,” Martelli said following the St .Bonaventure game.
Martelli instead decided to keep the former All-State Third Team player in the starting five in large part because of his skillset and how it would help defeat VCU’s press and man-to-man defense.
That versatility that Martelli mentioned has been evident in Oliva’s play since the Hawks beat VCU. Oliva has found ways to impact the game despite not being a consistent scorer this season. For example, when the Hawks beat Dayton on January 17th, Oliva did not record a single point but he led Saint’s Joseph’s in rebounding with 15 boards (all defensive), helping them outrebound the Flyers 43-32. Now, the redshirt sophomore, despite only weighing 210 pounds, leads the A-10 in defensive rebounding percentage at 23.7.
Oliva followed up that performance on January 20th with a season-high 22-point effort in Saint Joseph’s win against Fordham. Although Oliva has not shot the ball well this season, he had it going against Fordham shooting 9-17 from the field for 22 points and adding 8 boards, 2 assists, 1 block, and 2 steals.
While Oliva had his best scoring outing of the season against the Rams, the next 5 games he would make his mark in the paint, recording 26 rebounds and on the perimeter, tallying 13 assists.
In conference play Oliva has not shot the ball too consistently, but his rebounding has made up for it. Oliva has recorded 7 or more rebounds in all of Saint Joseph’s conference wins this season as he is averaging 6.3 boards in A-10 play. Even more, Oliva is averaging 3 assists, 1 block and 1.2 steals in conference play.
As spontaneous as it is to see both a statistically and non-statistically impressive steak of performances from Oliva, coach Martelli credits his overall success to an impressively high basketball IQ.
“Of the guys on our team with IQ’s, he has the highest IQ so he saw some plays that other players don’t see,” said coach Martelli.
Oliva’s high basketball IQ may be his greatest strength and he has relied on it when he’s been unable to get things going this season. At the times when Oliva has struggled to score, his high basketball IQ has kept him on the floor. He takes pressure of Newkirk and often jumpstarts the offensive himself, putting a lot of stress on the defense. With Lamarr Kimble out for the season, much of his ball handling responsibility has fallen upon Oliva and he has not disappointed. While the nightly box scores may not always show the contribution that Oliva makes for Saint Joseph's, the forward’s versatility on offense and defense has been one of the team’s most effective aspects.
Saint Joseph's forward James Demery attempts to block former Oregon forward Dwayne Benjamin's shot.
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images North America
In the days leading up to the Saint Joseph’s Hawks game against the Maine Black Bears, there had been a constant point of emphasis in the locker room. The team had not won a game in December.
Although they had played only two games during the span, the Hawks were disappointed. The two losses had come at the hands of Big 5 rivals Villanova and Temple. Even though it was finals season for the college students, their record in December was unacceptable.
“It’s the whole idea of ‘I want to be a kid, I just want to go home’ but the fact that we hadn’t won this month, I was on them about that,” head coach Phil Martelli said of the players and finals.
Coming into the month of December however, St. Joe’s had won two straight games over Sacramento State and Bucknell. They were confident and playing well heading into the week stretch that would pit them against two of their biggest rivals and two of the best teams they would play all season: Villanova and Temple. But in both games, defense would be their kryptonite.
Against Villanova, the Hawks kept it close early, matching the Wildcats offensively, but could not sustain the pace. They would go on to give up 94 points and a school record 19 3-pointers. St. Joe’s threw many different looks at the number 4 ranked Wildcats, including a 2-3 zone, but could not slow them down.
In their matchup versus Temple, St. Joe’s took the game down to the wire, but once again, they were let down by their defense. Although they would lose by only 3 points, the Owls shot 44% from the field and 50% from 3 for a total of 40 points in the first half. St. Joe’s had dug themselves a hole. In the second half, the team would buckle down, as Temple would shoot just 39% from the field and 29% from 3. They also held Temple star Shizz Alston to 5 points (after 15 in the first half) and 2 of 7 shooting from the field.
The hope was that the same second half intensity against Temple would translate into their Sunday evening battle against Maine. However, after a disappointing practice on Friday, they struggled defensively once again.
“Friday was a brutal, brutal, brutal practice,” Martelli said.
So, fifteen minutes into the game against Maine, the Hawks were losing 25-21. Redshirt sophomore Isaiah White had notched 14 points, including four 3’s for the Black Bears at the time. Coach Martelli tossed multiple looks at White, hoping to slow him down. While they started with junior Chris Clover on the the Black Bear’s guard, it wasn’t long before Demery, their star defender, would switch on to White. White would not score again the rest of the first half.
“Just to speed him up,” Demery said of his goal when covering White. “Get inside his space, make him feel uncomfortable. That’s like a major key for a defender to do for a person who can actually score the ball. Just make him rush his shot.”
As a matter of fact, Maine would only score two points the rest of the half and St. Joe’s would take a 30-27 lead heading into halftime after trailing for most of the first half.
“We just went harder on the ball. We became more aggressive on the ball,” Martelli said. “I would say that was the biggest deal and at some point you get to your number. They were seven for their first eleven I think from three or whatever that was. That’s not their game.”
The Hawks also made a concerted effort not to foul. Coming into the game, opponents averaged 19 free throw attempts per game.
“Usually we just play a no fouling defense,” Martelli said. “That’s what we're trying to do and we did it again, two free throws.”
In the second half, they would hold the Black Bears to just 32 points, going on to win 72-59. It was the second lowest amount of points they allowed all season.
“This improves our confidence a lot,” Demery added following Sunday’s game. “I can tell in the guys. We needed that but now it’s time to move on to the next game and continue to grow. And hopefully everybody is picked up from this win and we continue to win.”
The only other team that the Hawks held below 60 points this season was Princeton, whom they beat in November. However, defense has been a clear indicator in the Hawks’ success. In their five wins, they’ve allowed an average of 67 points per game, a noticeable difference from the 85 points per game they’ve allowed in losses. In addition, defending the 3-ball, as shown by Maine’s Isaiah White, has been a major struggle for the team. Opposing offenses are shooting 37% from 3, which ranks the Hawks 273rd in the NCAA. Despite the statistics, Demery sees improvement in the team, especially after a suffocating second half defensive performance against Maine where the Black Bears shot 25%.
“I feel like we're making good progress,” Demery said. “Everybody’s starting to connect, starting to know where we're supposed to be on the help side. So that’s very important..A lot of teams can beat us from the three...We have to contest those and make them feel uncomfortable.”
If the Hawks want to make a run in A-10 play, they’ll have to focus in on their defense. That will start with senior James Demery. Night in and night out, Demery is tasked with covering the opposing team’s best player. Whether that is a guard or forward, Demery’s versatility has been a major asset for the St. Joe’s defense. But it also extends past Demery. Senior Shavar Newkirk has struggled defensively this season, tallying the lowest defensive box plus-minus (-3.1) of any players registering regular minutes. If Newkirk can showcase his ability to cover the opposing team’s best guard, that will be important down the stretch. As a result, Demery could cover the opposing team’s best forward, which would have everyone covering someone their own size. This would limit the mismatches for Martelli’s defense.
Sophomore Nick Robinson is another player who will be a major key on the defensive end. Robinson comes off the bench, but often comes in for Demery. He is usually tasked with covering one of the opposing team’s best perimeter players. Robinson’s size and length present immense potential. If he can be a go-to defender off the bench, that will be key in making sure that the team keeps their defensive focus throughout the entire game.
Heading forward, on Wednesday, St. Joe’s will attend the “Basketball Hall of Fame Holiday Showcase” to square off with the 9-2 St. John’s Red Storm. The New York City school is led by five players who average double digit points per game. If St. Joe’s wants to secure their potentially best win all season, they’ll need to lock down on defense from the first half to the second half, just as they did in the final 25 minutes against Maine.
Saint Joseph's guard Shavar Newkirk dribbles against Toledo at Hagan Arena.
(Saint Joseph's athletics)
There’s some kind of mystical fascination when it comes to the number three. The number three is featured in adages like ‘third time’s the charm’ and in fairy tales where characters have three wishes. The number three has even found itself into commercial America in the form of the iconic trios: the Three Musketeers, the Three Stooges and DC comics’ three greatest super heroes, Superman, Batman and Superwoman.
Last Saturday’s battle between two epochal Philadelphia college basketball teams--the Saint Joseph’s Hawks and the Villanova Wildcats--was all about essential pieces of the game that had to do with the number 3: ‘Nova’s press and the 3-pointer.
For much of the game, Villanova ran a 1-2-2 press late in the first half that completely dismantled St. Joe’s offense. The top three guys of the press were responsible for aggressively trapping, which ultimately tired out the St. Joe’s starters, especially Hawks’ star guard Shavar Newkirk.
Newkirk shot just 37% from the field and just 33% from 3-point range. Of the six 3’s he took in the first half, three bounced off the front of the rim. A large reason why he struggled from deep was due to the pressure put on Newkirk, offensively and defensively, causing him to lose energy.
‘Nova’s press forced Newkirk to bring the ball up the court in an average of 6.35 seconds when the press was on. This would cause the guard to constantly scramble just to advance the ball up the floor. Newkirk is also just 6-foot and needs to use his legs twice as much as his taller counterparts to be able to shoot over a defender.
Although the Hawks went zone for much of the beginning portion of the game, covering ‘Nova’s star guard Jalen Brunson up top (who would go on to drop 11 points and four assists in the half) was just as draining for St. Joe’s star.
After Hawks’ forward James Demery sunk an and-1 after being fouled by fellow forward Eric Paschall, the Wildcats went on a rampage. In under two-and-a-half minutes, ‘Nova would drop four 3-pointers in a row, effectively silencing the once roaring student section. At the end of the half, Nova was up 41-27 and showed no sign of slowing down.
St. Joe’s, on the other hand, had just one player who scored in double digits in the first half. Instead, they had three guys who played double digit minutes, but scored 0 points.
In the second half, the Hawks tried to remedy Brunson’s play by covering him with different defenders, including Chris Clover and James Demery. But this didn’t work so well and Hawks’ head coach Phil Martelli alternated the defense so that as soon as Brunson drove into the lane, the bigs would converge like hungry sharks to try and stop Brunson. However, Villanova forward Mikal Bridges knew this wouldn’t work.
“Jalen can really score the ball so when he’s looking to score, everybody’s looking at him,” Bridges explained. “And [Brunson] is a really good point guard so he finds us. As soon as he feels that pressure, with the defense stepping up or if [the defense] is ball watching him, he just finds us for wide open 3’s.”
Brunson would contribute with assists and shots as he led the Wildcats to a school record of ten 3’s in one half. However, Brunson wasn’t the only part of ‘Nova’s sudden surge of scoring.
In the second half, Bridges, Collin Gillespie, and Phil Booth would all score three 3-point baskets and combine for four assists and five rebounds in the half.
St. Joes’ performance would slowly deteriorate as the game went on. Newkirk scored just two more points in 12 minutes of second half play. Demery also added just 4 points and 1 rebound, after scoring 10 points and grabbing 4 rebounds in the first half. However, two players for Saint Joe’s would improve in the second half.
Philadelphia native Chris Clover, scored just four points, and two rebounds in the first half but found his second wind and competed at a much higher level. Clover doubled his first half points (finishing with 12 on the night), collected two more boards, and dished out an assist to fellow Pennsylvania native, Taylor Funk.
Finally, it was freshman forward Taylor Funk, who wears number 33, who hit three 3’s to end the night. He tallied an admiral 13 points, 2 assists, and 3 boards.
Despite the fact that Villanova Wildcats’ head coach Jay Wright won the game by over 40 points, the decorated head coach sung nothing but praises of his opponent.
“When [the Hawks] get their guys back” Wright said, touching on the injuries to sophomore Charlie Brown and junior Lamarr Kimble, “and they have these young guys for the next couple years, they’re gonna be good.”
While Villanova will travel to Creighton on Tuesday night, St. Joe’s can take this loss and figure out how to gain the upper hand in their next game against Temple, who is also a staple of the Philadelphia college basketball stratosphere. And maybe, just maybe, they’ll be able to steal a little from Villanova and utilize the number 3 in a win against Temple.
Saint Joseph's forward Taylor Funk dribbles past Princeton guard Aaron Young at Hagan Arena.
(Saint Joseph's Athletics)
In the first half of Saint Joseph’s home opener against Princeton, the Hawks struggled with containing junior guard Devin Cannady.
The Tigers’ Cannady put on what head coach Phil Martelli called a “shooting exhibition.”
In Princeton’s season opener at Butler, Cannady scored 12 points, shooting 57% from 3-point range and 40% from the floor. The team’s home opener against BYU featured an even better scoring night. The Mishawaka, Indiana native scored 19 points while shooting 46% from the floor. Cannady’s scoring numbers only went up against St. Joe’s in the first half
The 6-foot-1 Ivy League star scored 17 points in the first half, shooting a 83% from 3-point range--nailing five of six threes in the half--and made it rain from the field, shooting 75%. Cannady’s excellent shooting gave Princeton momentum, despite being down a point going into the second half.
Part of his success in the first half can be attributed to him breaking down the Hawks man-to-man defense. The former All-Ivy honorable mention was being guarded by Shavar Newkirk, who struggled to contain Cannady. This would force one of the forwards to come help out. When someone arrived to assist, they’d be too late. Cannady would’ve already knocked a 3, further pulling apart coach Martelli’s defense.
Because of Cannady’s offense, Princeton had the clear upper hand in the first half, leading for over 18 minutes. In addition to Cannady, senior guard Amir Bell produced 9 points, 5 boards, 2 assists, and 1 steal.
St. Joe’s numbers were the exact opposite coming into the second half.
In the first half, star guard Shavar Newkirk, who put up 16 points, five assists, a steal and a block against UIC (11/13), had an underwhelming 3 points and shot 33% from the field. James Demery had an uncharacteristically quiet first half as well. The former All Big-5 second team recipient went from scoring 25 points, collecting 5 rebounds, and notching 3 steals in the game before, to scoring no points and turning the ball over twice in the first 20 minutes against Princeton.
And then suddenly, the momentum changed completely.
After Cannady made a layup and hit a three to tack on 5 points to his 17 from the first half, he seemed to leave the gym. The former McDonald’s All-American nominee would have a 15 minute period where he would take just three shots (making none).
The adjustment that changed the tides of the game was the Hawks’ switch to a variation of a matchup 2-3 zone. This would allow the Hawks’ guards to attack Princeton’s shooting, playing man-to-man defense to an extent, but always having support from the forwards if the Princeton guards were to drive. This defense forced Princeton to go from shooting 41% from 3-point range to shooting just 36% in the second half.
Five percent might not look like the Hawks adjusted anything major. However, Princeton made three less threes in the second half which results in nine possible points left on the table. Those nine points would’ve made a huge difference, cutting St. Joe’s lead to just four points instead of 13.
This sudden lack of scoring caused Princeton to completely unravel.
Princeton would commit 11 fouls, shoot barely over 40% from the field, and 20% from 3-point range. Seeing Princeton scrambling to come up with points allowed the Hawks to become much more comfortable, as opposed to constantly trying to get the ball out of Cannady’s hands. This calmness was exhibited the most by the Hawks’ leading scorer, Taylor Funk.
Coach Martelli praised Funk’s ability to stay calm in his home opener, especially when some newcomers find themselves “in awe or enamored with being at home. Sometimes you can play at home and you can get really mental.” This calm and collected demeanor allowed Funk to knock down 3 after 3.
The freshman forward seemingly traded places with Devin Cannady, scoring 15 points in the half and shooting 100% from the field and from three-point range. In fact, Bernard Blount is the only other player in St. Joe’s history to score more points than him in his first three games. His scoring forced Princeton’s defense to focus their energy on stopping a red hot Taylor Funk.
This opened the door for fellow forwards James Demery and Pierfrancesco Oliva to catch fire.
Demery scored 10 points, shooting 42% from the floor--a huge improvement from shooting 33% in the first half. He even racked up 3 rebounds and a steal.
Oliva scored 7 points after scoring just 1 point in the first half. Oliva helped the Hawks pull away from Princeton, dunking home a bucket that would put St. Joe’s up four. Then, he hit a layup to increase the Hawks’ lead to 7. Finally, he punctualized St. Joe’s lead by laying the ball up and increasing the Hawks lead to 15.
The Hawks play next in the Wooden Classic in Fullerton, California. The Hawks are riding a two game win streak in which both opponents were beaten by over ten points. If the Hawks can continue to score at a similar--if not better--rate than they already are, they will have more than a chance win something more rewarding than turkey.
The Empire's season podcast series will cover college basketball in the City 6. We will be releasing a podcast to accompany a written report covering our outlook for the teams' seasons. Please note that the podcasts and the written season previews may differ in writers and opinion.
William Derry and Benjamin Simon
Phil Martell enters his 23rd season with the Hawks after an injury-riddled 2016-17 campaign. The first to go down was Pierfrancesco “Checco” Oliva, who was sidelined with a chronic knee condition, which required surgery in June of 2016. Oliva reaggravated the injury prior to the season and subsequently missed the entire year. To make matters worse, James Demery suffered a stress fracture in his left foot in Saint Joseph’s season-opening win against Toledo that caused him to miss 10 games. Just when the Hawks thought they were back to full-strength with Demery returning against George Washington two days before New Year’s, Shavar Newkirk torn the ACL in his left knee. As a result, Newkirk needed season-ending surgery.
A little over two months later, Lamarr “Fresh” Kimble suffered a fracture in his left foot against UMass on February 11th and would miss the last 7 games of the season. With Newkirk inactive, Kimble was Saint Joseph’s leading scorer up until that point, averaging 15.5 points. The Hawks needed someone new to step up again. Demery and freshman Charlie Brown answered the call. Demery led SJU in scoring (14.5 ppg) after Newkirk and Kimble went down, while Brown scored in double-figures in all but 6 contests.
Oliva, Demery, and Kimble are all back fully healthy this year and are set to play major minutes for coach Martelli. Brown, on the other hand, who appeared in every game last season, suffered a wrist injury during practice three weeks before the Hawks season-opener at Toledo. Brown’s wrist required surgery on October 24th but he began rehab immediately. Saint Joseph’s announced on November 2nd that Newkirk was cleared for limited practice and is still progressing towards a full recovery.
Brown and Newkirk hope to play in Saint Joseph’s season-opener but that is yet to be seen. In the meantime, the Hawks will look rebound this season and compete for another Atlantic-10 championship.
Who’s Gone? Brendan Casper (F, Graduation), Javon Baumann (F, Graduation)
Brendan Casper and Javon Baumann both graduated last spring after spending four seasons playing for the Hawks. Casper joined Saint Joseph’s as a walk-on and ultimately earned a scholarship during his junior year. The former team captain was a rotation player throughout his collegiate career and received numerous team awards (Robert O’Neill Memorial Award for Most Improved Player, Patrick D. O’Pake Unsung Hero Award, and SJU’s Scholar-Athlete Award). Baumann was also a team captain for the Hawks last season and provided them with a defensive presence in limited playing time. Casper and Baumann will both be missed for their leadership and selflessness.
Who’s New? Anthony Longpre (F, Fr.), Taylor Funk (F, Fr.), Mike Muggeo (G, Jr.)
Anthony Longpre moved to the United States from Canada in 2014 and went to Glenelg Country High School in Maryland. The Quebec native is a 6-foot-10, 240-pound forward who has the size to play the ‘5’ but can comfortably play the ‘4’ as well. He was a successful high school basketball player, exceeding 1,000 career points and was named a Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association All-Star three times. Longpre also won a Gold Medal at the FIBA U19 Basketball World Cup in Cairo playing for Canada’s Under-19 National Team. Longpre has accomplished a lot before even suiting up for the Hawks and should see significant playing time this season.
Taylor Funk is a talented forward from Lancaster, PA who can score from all three levels on the basketball court. At 6-foot-9, 225 pounds, Funk has the ability to play the ‘3’ or ‘4’ and, although unlikely, could even switch on to an opponent's '5' if the Hawks want to go small ball. What separates Funk from most incoming freshman forwards around the country is his touch from mid-range and behind the 3-point line. Funk scored a Manheim Central record 1,977 points and drilled 229 career 3-pointers during his high school career. While Funk may not start for the Hawks this season, he will likely see a considerable amount of playing time due to his adept shooting and versatility.
Mike Muggeo joined Saint Joseph’s as a practice player this year.
Projected Starting Lineup (if everyone is healthy to start the year):
G, Sr.: Shavar Newkirk (Proj. Stats: 20 PPG, 5 RPG, 4 APG, 2 SPG, 48 FG%)
Shavar Newkirk returns for his senior season after breaking on to the scene last year. The junior was electrifying, averaging 20 points per game, along with shooting 46% from the field and 39% from 3, before going down with an ACL tear. As of right now, it is unclear whether or not Newkirk will begin the season injured or healthy. Newkirk is back practicing and according to a Philly.com article, he still has a chance to start the beginning of the season in the lineup. If he does, he will have the tools around him to succeed once again. If the Hawks decide to go small, Newkirk will be able to run out in transition. But if they go big, Newkirk will be able to use his high basketball IQ to operate in the pick-and-roll. Either will be a big success for the guard, especially if he is surrounded by shooters like Charlie Brown, Anthony Longpre, and Taylor Funk.
Saint Joseph's guard Shavar Newkirk dribbles down the Hagan Arena floor.
(Kyle Ross/Icon Sportswire)
G, Jr.: Lamarr Kimble (Proj. Stats: 14 PPG, 5 RPG, 4 APG, 40 FG%)
Lamarr Kimble returns after a promising yet challenging sophomore season. The year saw him struggle to consistently score efficiently as he shot only 36.2% from the field, 32% from 3, 69.6% from the free throw line, and averaged a team high 3.3 turnovers per game. Those stats don’t tell the whole story however, as Kimble was tasked with handling a bigger load than previously anticipated after Newkirk’s injury. Kimble didn’t have a ton of scoring help outside of Demery and Brown during the stretch. Kimble also did his fair share of scoring the basketball and did everything he could in the situation that he was put in. He showed his ability to man the offense and score in tough situations. Year two of sharing a backcourt with Shavar Newkirk can only mean (albeit 12 games) that the two grow more comfortable together.
F, So.: Charlie Brown (Proj. Stats: 14 PPG, 6 RPG, 2 APG, 40 FG%, 40 3P%)
Charlie Brown’s spot in the lineup is really contingent on his health. Assuming that he is ready to go by the Hawks’ first game, Brown will certainly start after a promising freshman season. Brown averaged 12.8 points per game on 37.5% shooting from the field, 38.4% shooting from 3, and 81.9% from the line. The Philadelphia native is a go-to 3-point shooter. He is also an ideal size for the ‘3’ at 6-foot-7. Brown will be extremely valuable for the Hawks as someone who can spread the floor for Newkirk, Kimble, and Demery to attack the basket.
F, Sr.: James Demery (Proj. Stats:10 PPG, 7 RPG, 2 APG, 39 FG%)
Demery is a superior defender and an electrifying athlete who can attack the basket. What has held the rising senior back has been his jump shot. Demery stepped into a larger role last season after Newkirk and Kimble went down, which led him to taking 12 shots a game and averaging 31 minutes of play. He tallied 14.5 points per game and 6.5 rebounds during that time period, while shooting 42% from the field. Had he shot better from 3 (25%) and the free throw line (59%) that scoring average could have easily been in the 20s. Demery is a must in Martelli’s starting five because of his defense. If his jump shot finally comes together, that could spell another tournament berth for the Hawks. Although Demery could also very well come off the bench in favor a bigger lineup featuring Anthony Longpre, Demery’s role as a defensive stopper fits perfectly into the St. Joe’s starting lineup. The team could also play faster with Demery at the ‘4’.
F, R-So.: Pierfrancesco “Checco” Oliva (Proj. Stats: 9 PPG, 5 RPG, 2 APG, 40 FG%)
The native of Italy started 30 of the team’s 33 games as a freshman. He was primed for a bigger role in his second year on City Line Avenue, but Oliva was deemed out for the entire season after reaggravating his knee over the summer. Despite not scoring much, Oliva averaged 16.5 minutes per game on a team that reached the second round of the NCAA Tournament. It is not common for coach Martelli to start freshmen, but Oliva’s ability to shoot, pass, and put the ball on the floor provided a unique skillset. Despite being more of a ‘4’, Oliva could start the year at the ‘5’ if everyone is healthy. This will provide the most talented lineup for Martelli’s Hawks. They’re going to want to run, score, and attack the basket. Oliva will fit in perfectly as a well-rounded basketball player who can run the floor, handle the ball, and execute the pick-and-roll.
Reserves: Nick Robinson (G, So.), Taylor Funk (F, Fr.), Anthony Longpre (F. Fr.), Chris Clover (F, Jr.), Markell Lodge (F, Jr.), Jai Williams (F, Sr.), Lorenzo Edwards (F, So)
Thrust into primary ball handling duties after several key injuries, Nick Robinson made the most of his opportunity during his freshman season. Robinson, who played in all 31 games last year, showed that he could adapt to any situation by dishing out 60 assists while splitting time between point and shooting guard. Although Robinson is better suited to play the '2', he may see time at both guard positions since SJU does not have a true backup point guard.
With Demery and Oliva fit a perfect small ball lineup at the ‘4’ and ‘5’, Taylor Funk’s ability to space the floor as a 3-point threat will be an invaluable asset for SJU off the bench. Funk should be able to combine with both Newkirk and Kimble on pick-and-pops, which would keep their opponents honest on defense. Funk could also slide in at the three and create matchup nightmares for opposing coaches.
At 6-foot-10, 240 pounds, Anthony Longpre could replace Oliva or even Demery when they are subbed out of the game but with Longpre’s versatility and scoring ability, it wouldn’t be far-fetched to see both big men on the floor at the same time, maybe even starting together. Like Oliva, Longpre can step out and knock down a mid-range or 3-point jump shot as well as score from the post. When Longpre does enter the game, look for him to connect with SJU’s backcourt on pick-and-rolls to the basket. That will be a dangerous weapon for the Hawks with their two best players being smart point guards who can effectively run the pick-and-roll. Don't suprirsed to see Longpre as a part of the starting lineup on opening day as well, as coach Martelli could go with Demery as a spark plug off the bench.
Chris Clover rebounded last year after a disappointing freshman season. Clover flourished when his number was called upon, averaging 12.6 PPG and shooting 35% from the field in the last 11 games of the season. After injuries sidelined SJU’s starting backcourt duo, Clover saw his minutes increase and took advantage of the opportunity. Some would say that Clover benefitted mightily from the injuries and because of them he was left to take more shots than usual which helps to explain his increase in offensive prediction. Nevertheless, SJU needs Clover to be a productive reserve and he will be given the chance to make that happen.
After starting every game last season, Markell Lodge returns for his junior year. The unworldly athletic big man will look to build off a solid sophomore campaign, where he successfully completed his role on a game-by-game basis. Lodge protected the rim for the Hawks, blocking a team-high 29 shots and was the only team member to start all 31 games. When coach Martelli decides to rotate his lineup due to an opponent's frontcourt dominance, look for Lodge to be inserted into the starting five and find more playing time.
Jai Williams returned for his final season with the Hawks in peak shape, weighing in at 235 pounds. Though Williams did not fill up the stat sheet during the 2016-17 campaign, he did receive the Robert O’Neill Memorial Award for Most Improved Player. The Philadelphia native could factor into SJU’s rotation if the Hawks face a dominant frontcourt player and need someone to bang in the post.
Lorenzo Edwards missed most of last season due to shoulder surgery and will likely see limited action due to incoming freshman forwards Funk and Longpre.
Ultimately, coach Martelli will have many lineups with varying identities to play with. It will be interesting to see how he mixes and matches them during the course of the games and the season.
vs. Washington State (Nov. 23rd, 2017)
The Hawks take on the Pac-12’s Washington State in the Wooden Legacy tournament. If St. Joe’s can get by the Cougars they will not only have won against a Power 5 team, but they will have also had the opportunity at playing Saint Mary’s, San Diego State, or Georgia later in the tournament. Beating Washington State would be a good confidence booster and would provide them the opportunity to add to their resume with strong wins.
at Temple (Dec. 9, 2017)
St. Joe’s takes on local Philadelphia team, the Temple Owls, in a non-conference, Big 5 showdown. The past few meetings have been very close, almost always coming down to the wire. This year should prove no different as both teams are evenly matched and primed for a competitive game. A win against a nationally recognized Temple team would provide the Hawks with confidence and swagger before beginning conference play soon after.
at Rhode Island (Feb. 27, 2018)
In their second to last game of the regular season, the Hawks face off with A-10 preseason favorite Rhode Island. The Rams return a year after upsetting 6th seeded Creighton in the Round of 64 and losing to 3rd seeded Oregon in the final minute of regulation during the Round of 32. Rhode Island returns leading scorer E.C. Matthews and third leading scorer Jared Terrell. They also bring in Philadelphia native Daron “Fatts” Russell, who was the Philadelphia Public League Basketball Player of the Year. Last year, the Rams beat down on St. Joe’s twice. They will look to get revenge late in the saeon with a potential resume building win.
A lot for St. Joe’s will rely on their ability to stay healthy. If the team can avoid serious injuries and get Shavar Newkirk and Charlie Brown back as soon as possible, they are as talented as any team in the A-10. Their guards are proven scorers, while coach Martelli’s complements them with a well rounded, versatile frontcourt. The keys will be the team’s overall ability to shoot from deep and the freshmen’s ability to play substantial minutes. Having perimeter shooters will provide lanes for their guards to operate, while the freshmen could add much needed roles and skillsets for coach Martelli’s offense. Their contributions would also give depth to a possibly suspect bench.
“He’s (Anthony Longpre) kind of the quintessential high school pick-and-pop — probably the best one I’ve seen...It’s a cliché now, but he’s a European-style basketball player. I think they just like his overall skill set. He’s very agile for a big guy. Great hands, great vision. He can shoot the heck out of the ball — you can just see it when it leaves his hand. He’s deceptively athletic. He can jump well and has a strong body. And he also really handles the basketball well. The strongest part of his game is his passing; he’s very unselfish. Great court vision, great technique in passing the ball. I’ve seen a ton of growth in him over these years. ‘- Glenelg Country School coach Kevin Quinlan on his standout high school player, Anthony Longpre, to The Baltimore Sun
“Hampered by a slew of injuries last year, Saint Joseph’s returns an experienced core of players and is picked third in this year’s poll. Shavar Newkirk and Lamarr Kimble, both of whom suffered season-ending injuries last season, return for the Hawks, as does last year’s All-Rookie selection Charlie Brown, Jr. The three are all preseason all-conference selections, leading to the Hawks earning 300 points in the poll.” -Atlantic10.com preseason rankings press release
“So Taylor (Funk) went to work last summer by meeting up with a nearby personal weight trainer that helped Taylor add to his vertical and pack on 20 pounds of muscle to his frame, which improved his above-the-rim game and abilities on the low block. And throughout this 2016-17 campaign, the 205-pound Taylor, slowly but surely, developed a post game, all the while playing through the pain of a sore left wrist of his non-shooting hand that’s nagged at him all season.” -LancasterOnline on Taylor Funk, who is now listed at 225 pounds.
“With so many missing parts, the Hawks offense last season was hard to watch and even harder for Phil Martelli to coach. Every possession was a struggle and St. Joe’s finished 215th in offensive efficiency. With everybody back, kenpom projects SJU to have the 39th most efficient offense, an incredible leap.” -Philly.com’s Dick Jerardi
“Boasting an ordinary name doesn’t mean one has an ordinary game and (Charlie) Brown is tangible proof of that very sentiment. The versatile forward averaged 12.8 points and 5.0 rebounds last season as a freshman and much of his expected supporting cast — Shavar Newkirk, Lamarr Kimble, and Pierfrancesco Oliva — went down with season-ending injuries. Expect Brown to make a ‘DeAndre Bembry’ caliber jump as a sophomore and average between 16 and 18 points each time he takes the floor as the Hawks re-establish themselves as one of the top teams in the Atlantic 10.” -Jon Rothstein’s “10 under-the-radar players who could become stars in 2017-18” for FanRag Sports
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
-Saint Joesph's loses to #25 Rhode Island in the Semifinal of the A-10 tournament