After helping Northside Christian Academy win its third straight NCISAA 2A boys basketball title his senior year, James Demery began his collegiate career with the Saint Joseph’s Hawks and was thrusted into Phil Martelli's starting lineup.
Martelli favored the freshman over West Virginia University transfer Aaron Brown, who sat out the 2013-14 season because of NCAA transfer rules and would ultimately become the Hawks’ sixth man for the 2014-15 campaign.
Despite starting in the majority of the games, the Williamston, NC native did not have the freshman year he would have liked. Although, he averaged 6.7 points, 3.5 rebounds and 1 assist, he shot 37% from the field, 18% from three and turned over the ball 44 times.
This is not to say that Saint Joseph’s did not have problems as a whole last season converting from beyond the arc, where they shot 30% and only had two players average double figures in points, which led to their below .500 record of 13-18.
It was clear at the end of season that Demery would have to improve his shooting efficiency if he wanted to factor into Martelli’s future plans.
On October 29th, Saint Joseph’s announced that head coach Phil Martelli had agreed to a contract extension. This happened to be on the same day as Saint Joseph’s Men's Basketball Media Day.
The four-time Atlantic 10 Coach of the Year was of course asked about the aforementioned contract extension, last year’s disappointing season, and the outlook on the upcoming one but the questions that garnered the most heartfelt responses were about Demery.
“How’s Demery?” asked one reporter.
“Better, he’s better,” Martelli said. “There’s no kid that I’ve ever had that you want to root for more.”
Martelli then went on to shed more light into his relationship with the six-foot-six forward.
“He blesses me more than the Pope blessed the people of Philadelphia when he was here in September. He’s always blessing me and I appreciate that and I need the blessings but I do tell him that I’ll handle my relationship with God, if you would just make a few more baskets, I’d feel a lot better,” Martelli said with a chuckle. “But he’s a beautiful, beautiful kid and he’s clearly better this year.”
The obvious but more pertinent question was asked next. The one that had fans worried from the jump about Demery.
“How’s his shot?” asked another reporter.
“Better, it’s better,” Martelli said. “Your not gonna walk out and say, I think that Ray Allen just walked into the gym or Langston Galloway. But it’s better and the thing that I like is, he’s shooting it thinking it’s going in, last year he shot it and thought it wasn’t going in. So everybody else thought, well that’s not going in and it didn’t go in.”
Before Martelli could move onto a different topic during Media Day, he was asked one final question about Demery.
“He blesses you, like actually blesses you?” asked one surprised reporter.
“He blesses me,” said Martelli. “He’s always telling me God bless you Coach, God bless you. That’s pretty cool.”
Martelli’s statement has proved to hold true for Demery, who has become the Hawks’ sixth man this season, while Brown has moved into the starting five.
Despite not starting this time around, through 21 games in his sophomore campaign, Demery is averaging 9.2 points and 4 rebounds. His field goal and three point percentage have increased to 50% and 29% respectively, while his turnovers per game have decreased to 0.8, an impressive set of improvements.
Since Demery started coming off of the bench, his minutes have gone down but that hasn’t stopped him from making more three pointers this season than he did all of last season on less attempts.
Not even Martelli could have thought that Demery would turn it around this quickly, but the same could be said about the entire team.
The Hawks are currently 18-3 overall, with a 7-1 conference record. They still only shoot 31% from three and have a mere two players that average double figures in points but with the emergence of senior Isaiah Miles, who averages 17.8 points, the Hawks have found a second legitimate scoring threat to pair with star DeAndre’ Bembry.
For Demery, his new role as sixth man has suited him well thus far and the Hawks hope that he can continue to give them a spark off the bench.
His transition from starting shooting guard to sixth man has allowed him to focus on the quality of his shot attempts rather than the quantity, which in turn has boosted his confidence shooting the ball and in his overall game.
Not only has the sophomore been a spark off the bench for the Hawks this season but Martelli has been able to rotate him in for either Brown or Bembry and not have to worry about a huge drop in production with his offensive rating per 100 possessions rising by 28 points this season. His added consistency is a tribute to his unique size and skill set.
On the offensive end, he uses his quickness to blow by bigger defenders and get to the rack. He additionally applies his 6-foot-6 frame to exploit smaller defenders. But his lengthy wingspan is most important on defense. His skillset makes him versatile and unique, with the ability to cover multiple positions. He can cover guards because of his quickness. He can also cover big men because of his length. This defensive punch is important because he can challenge the opposing team’s best offensive players, which allows Bembry to take a quick breather on that end.
With all that being said, Saint Joseph’s still has ten more regular season games left, in addition to the Atlantic 10 conference tournament in early March. In order to come away victorious, they will need for Demery to continue to add that energy off of the bench.
Hopefully this season will serve as a building block for him and propel him into the starting lineup next year but until then, Demery will continue to bless coach Martelli off the court as well as on it now, with baskets.
Photo: Sideline Photos, LLC
-Saint Joesph's loses to #25 Rhode Island in the Semifinal of the A-10 tournament