Saint Joseph’s has had a fair share of exceptional guards in years past. Even just recently, names like Darrin Govens, Carl Jones, Garrett Williamson, Delonte West, Langston Galloway and Jameer Nelson have graced the Hawks’ backcourt. It’s a transitional time in Saint Joseph’s basketball, but Coach Martelli may have discovered his next great guard tandem in sophomores Shavar Newkirk and James Demery.
Newkirk showed his full potential in the game against Villanova this season, in which he reached a career high in minutes (31) and a career high in points (13). Newkirk worked a lot on his shot over the offseason, but his scoring ability is not where he finds his pride. Newkirk said before this season, “I expect to really hit open shots, but I’m still going to play my game. My thing is to get in the lane and pass to the big man and get people open shots. This year, I’m really going to play my role like I’m supposed to play my role.”
The young man from New York City additionally collected 9 assists against Villanova without committing a single turnover. While his field goal percentage, three-point percentage, and free throw percentage have all jumped drastically, it’s Newkirk’s ability to run an offense and create shots for his teammates that’s most impressive.
Additionally, Newkirk’s capacity to play under control now is perhaps his most noticeable improvement from last season. Last year, he would often try to run at a thousand miles per hour at all times. This year, he’s been much better at controlling the pace of his game and the speed at which he moves.
Demery is also only getting better by the game. Perhaps the most memorable moment of Demery’s short career so far was against LIU-Brooklyn in his freshman campaign. With three seconds on the clock, Demery hit a game tying three-pointer from the corner and sent the game to overtime, one in which Saint Joseph’s would eventually win.
This season, although just seven games deep, Demery has already shown improvement. He’s averaging double-digit points, but his greatest strengths don’t appear in the box score. His tendency to fire up a crowd and his teammates with and-one scores, hustle plays, and fast breaks is likely his most impressive contribution. Over the offseason, Demery spoke about his goals of being more vocal and taking on more of a leader role. As the sophomore continues to gain experience, it’s easy to see how he’s simultaneously maturing and improving.
Demery’s most central issue had always seemed to be confidence, but it’s easy to see the improvements already made in that department. His shot selection has subsequently been much better this year as he’s been more aggressive in getting to the basket.
With both Newkirk and Demery though, the jump shots need to continue to improve. Newkirk’s shot looks much better than it did in his freshman season, but clearly still needs work. Demery, on the other hand, has not shown any improvement in his shooting. His free throw percentage still floats around 50% and he’s started the season 1-12 from three. Shooting has always been an issue with Demery, but if the problem can be resolved, he’ll become a much more complete player. The Hawks shot below 30% from long range last year and are struggling with the same problem so far this year, so developing two more strong shooters would be beyond beneficial to the team. More so, to continue to just manicure two great guards would be incredibly valuable. It’s a guard’s league today, so the growth and production from Newkirk and Demery is imperative to the future success of Saint Joseph’s basketball.
As the season progresses, it’ll be interesting to watch the growth of Newkirk and Demery. Let’s not also forget freshman Lamarr Kimble, who is also making a strong case to be included in this discussion, and senior guard Aaron Brown, who has gotten off to a solid start this year. However, it seems as though the future of the Hawks’ backcourt will eventually belong to Newkirk and Demery.
-Saint Joesph's loses to #25 Rhode Island in the Semifinal of the A-10 tournament