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
Since he enrolled at Saint Joseph's in November of 2013, Brendan Casper has yet to start one game. His career high in points is 7, he's never averaged over more than 3 points or rebounds per game, and he's played just 257 minutes, barely enough to finish six college basketball games.
Despite all of that, Brendan Casper has been a vital part of the Saint Joseph's program for the past four seasons. Even though he might not be a superstar scorer, since the day he came to Saint Joe's, he has been a pioneer in spreading what he calls “team culture,” in the locker room.
The 6-foot-6, 213-pound forward describes team culture as the mindset of playing for each other and being stronger as a team. In other words, playing for the team name on the front of your jersey, rather than playing for the name on the back. The team culture of the program hasn’t always been there, according to Casper. Before he came here, the basketball team wasn’t always as unified as they needed to be.
“Some guys weren’t all in, some guys were, and that was the biggest difference in the locker room,” he said. ”Sophomore year was our one bad year. We kind of leaned on DeAndre [Bembry] all the time, and we all expected him to do great things and we wanted to follow it and we ended up not having as good of a season as we wanted. We understood that if we want to win, just like my freshman year in 2014 and last year in 2015, we [will win] because of everybody, we were a team, we didn’t rely on one guy. And sometimes, you can rely on a guy and it does work, but most of the time, that's just so very hard to do.”
Reflecting on his sophomore year and seeing what the 2016-17 team has to offer, Casper believes that “with this year's team, we don’t have a guy coming back who can carry the torch.”
Although Bembry was one of the best players in Saint Joe's history, his departure might not be as bad as people might think. Casper argues that it forces the players “to all step up, [so we] all have to contribute in our own ways, and I think over the last four years I’ve been here that that has been the culture, and it has to be the culture. I think it's very hard relying to win on one guy, so that is kind of our motto. You have to be a good team, everyone has to contribute their part, everyone has to do their part, everyone has to be all in.”
The team culture Casper describes is apparent after looking at arguably the top three players on this year’s team. Shavar Newkirk, James Demery, and LaMarr Kimble had a combined 21 schools offering scholarships coming into their freshman years, including Iowa State, Providence and Tennessee. These schools have gone further and had more berths into the NCAA tournament than Saint Joseph’s in the last six years. All of these players had options about where they wanted to go, but they decided to pick Saint Joseph's and now make up a large part of the team culture. Part of the reason that you see such a commitment to the program is a philosophy that “basketball doesn’t last forever but an education does.” Casper is a walking example of that.
The former two-and-a-half year walk on is especially dedicated to his academics. Casper is a multiple time honors student who was named to the NABC Honors Court recognizing academic excellence, SJU Athletic Director's Honor Roll for both semesters of 2016, and the A-10 Commissioner's Honor Roll in the spring of the same year.
His schedule is meticulously created. He always schedules his classes early in the morning so he can get his classes done before practice. In between classes he gets his homework done so he can go to practice in the afternoon. The team captain’s dedication to his team is not only seen in the classroom, but also on the court.
“All the guys look up to me now, being one of the two seniors, so this year I’m more of a leader on the team and guys look up to me,” Casper said. “When you see guys working hard, they want to work hard as well. So that's my goal, to go in every day and work hard and hope guys follow. I’m trying to be one of the leaders on the team this year because we are a younger group. I’ve been a part of two championship teams, so I understand what it's about, especially when I lead those guys and show them by example that you have to work hard if you want success. So, that's kind of my goal, I want to leave my legacy saying like, you have to work hard to get where you want to be and hopefully the younger guys will follow in doing that.”
Brendan Casper isn’t your typical player. He's neither a flashy and-one scorer nor a sharp shooter or a defensive wall, but he means so much to a rebuilding Saint Joseph's team. He provides leadership, experience, and a contagious amount of motivation to be the hardest working player on the court and in the classroom.
Photo: Sideline Photos, LLC
The Empire will be running a series called “Statistically Speaking,” where we touch on different topics with a specific spin towards statistics.
The Saint Joseph's Hawks, after winning their first two games of the season, traveled to the Virgin Islands to take part in the Paradise Jam. After winning the opener, they lost to Ole Miss in the semifinals and proceeded to drop the third place game to NC State. Their record now sits at 3-2.
Last year, the Hawks participated in the Hall of Fame Tip-off preseason tournament. After falling in the semifinals of the tournament to Florida, the Hawks squeaked by Old Dominion for their fourth win of the season. If it weren’t for Shavar Newkirk's last second jump shot, the Hawks and the Monarchs would have gone to overtime. Had the Hawks lost that game, they would have opened their season 3-2, much like this year's team.
But they didn't. They won. So the Hawks began 4-1 before falling to the then eighth-ranked Villanova.
If St. Joe's can defeat Temple this Wednesday, they will have opened both this season and last season with a 4-2 record. According to KenPom.com, the Hawks are scoring about as efficiently so far as they did at the beginning of last season. Their defense has been about as equally efficient as well.
One major difference this year is that St. Joe's is playing at a slower pace. Although they’re averaging just two less possessions per 40 minutes, that’s enough for more than 100 NCAA teams to pass them in the rankings.
Another big difference is Luck Factor. Last year’s 4-2 start statistically outperformed their expected start than this year's 3-2 start by small margin. KenPom’s Pythagorean Rating is the expected winning percentage of a team against a perfectly average Division I team on a neutral court. This number is based off of Bill James’s Pythagorean Win Expectation formula, but adjusted for college basketball. The Luck Factor is simply the deviation of a team’s actual win percentage from the Pythagorean Rating.
Last season, the Hawks won 67% of their first six games, but their statistics apparently claimed that they were playing like a team with a .544 winning percentage at the time. This season, the Hawks have won 60% of their first five games, but based on their statistics, this team is instead playing like a team with a .566 winning percentage.
What can we take from this? Not too much, honestly. But what we can take from this is the idea that last year’s team didn’t look any better through their first six games than this year’s team looks through their first five. In fact, KenPom’s Pythagorean Rating claims that this year's team has actually played slightly better. Statistically speaking, the 2016-17 squad is so far playing like a team that would claim two more wins per 100 games played than last year's team would at this point in the season.
Their strength of schedules to this point rank similarly as well. Although this year’s Hawks have faced lesser defenses than last year’s Hawks, they’ve also faced stronger offenses.
Roster-wise there are some major differences as well. St. Joe's lost DeAndre’ Bembry, 2016 Atlantic 10 Player of the Year, to the NBA draft following last season. They also lost Isaiah Miles, the Atlantic 10’s Most Improved Player last year.
“We knew going into last year that we had a superstar [in DeAndre’ Bembry],” head coach Phil Martelli said before the season. “We watched [Isaiah Miles] develop in front of our eyes. We had older guys. Papa Ndao was a sixth year player. Aaron Brown was a fifth year player.”
The team did return Lamarr Kimble, who made last year's All-Rookie Team. Although he’s not quite yet on the level of stardom that Bembry was, he's a star for sure. We’re also watching a player develop in front of our eyes similarly to the way that Miles did. Shavar Newkirk is averaging 21.8 points, 3.8 assists, and 4.2 rebounds per game thus far. He’s shooting 53.6% from the floor and 41.2% from long range. His contributions have far exceeded expectations and have played a major factor in St. Joe’s success.
This past preseason, the Hawks were picked to finish ninth in the Atlantic 10. Being underestimated and proving naysayers wrong is not something Martelli’s team is unfamiliar with though.
Prior to last season, St. Joe’s was picked to finish seventh in the conference preseason poll. They wound up taking fourth place in the regular season, but made a favorable case that they were the best team in the league by the end, highlighted by an Atlantic 10 championship.
While it's easy to say this year’s Hawks just simply aren’t what they were last year, first take time to recognize that last year didn't start to differently. Even more trivial events like barely escaping a team St. Joe’s should’ve blown out in the season opener seem to be recurring. However, despite this, there's no doubt that Phil Martelli’s Hawks are heading in the right direction.
Data retrieved from KenPom.com on Nov. 25
Graphics by Nick Mandarano
Photo: Sideline Photos, LLC
Saint Joseph's announced today that forward James Demery has suffered a stress fracture in the fourth metatarsal of his left foot and will be out for a few weeks. Demery’s status will be re-evaluated in a few weeks, according to a Saint Joseph’s press release.
The North Carolina native played an integral role in the Hawks’ 77-76 season opening win against Toledo. He tallied 11 points and grabbed a career-high 8 rebounds.
The Hawks take on Columbia tonight at Hagan Arena before traveling to the Paradise Jam in the U.S. Virgin Islands for a 3-day tournament.
Photo: Sideline Photos
Saint Joseph’s was down 37-32 with 2:45 left to go in the first half. The offense was sputtering and having trouble to crack Toledo’s lead. That was until junior James Demery made a game changing play that caused the crowd to reach one of its highest decibel levels of the night.
After freshman Charlie Brown nailed a long three, Demery stole the ball on the following defensive possession and ran past everyone on both teams for a huge dunk. He fell into the first row of the crowd, screaming with pride after such a game changing slam. It was a large momentum builder in the Hawks 77-76 victory over Toledo, as they had finally cut into the Rockets’ lead, bringing the game closer heading into halftime.
It was also a clear turning point for Demery, who began the game struggling offensively. After failing to convert two tough takes to the basket, missing a three pointer, and three turnovers, it was clear Demery was out of sync. It took until the 3:40 mark in the first half for Demery to score his first points, after a good cut and assist from sophomore guard Lamarr Kimble.
“It was the first game,” Demery said after the contest. “Everyone is nervous out there. Then in the second half, I said, ‘it’s time to pick it up.’”
Demery played a big offensive role in the second half, putting away the jitters. He came out attacking, scoring 6 points in the first 3 minutes of the second half, including a drive and dunk, energizing the team and crowd.
“I said ‘drive the ball to the basket,’ ” head coach Phil Martelli exclaimed. “‘You don’t have to show anyone that you’re a jump shooter. Drive the ball to the basket’...if you look at his plays in the second half, he was going to the basket. In the first half, his brain was racing. We just had to slow him down.”
Although he played a large role in their second half offensive performance, it was on the defensive end that Demery made his mark. While Shavar Newkirk kept scoring and Markell Lodge had monster blocks, Demery quietly won them the game. The 6-foot-6, 198-pound forward was asked to stick Toledo’s 6-foot-9, 240-pound big man Steve Taylor, Jr. Taylor, a transfer from Marquette, showed his versatility from the get-go, grabbing a rebound in the first half and dribbling the length of the floor for a transition dunk. It was clear early on that it would not be an easy test for Demery.
“[It was about] playing strong,” Demery noted. “He had me physically, but mentally and heart wise, you just have to go out there and do the best you can do.”
Demery contained Taylor, only allowing the mature big man to score only 5 points in the first half on 2 of 5 shooting from the floor. Although Taylor finished with 14 points (not all of them with Demery on him), Demery noticeably held his own. Although the Toledo big man should have torn apart the smaller forward, he did not.
“I tried not to let Taylor get comfortable with the ball because he’s a big guy,” Demery said. “He knows how to use his feet as well. So I just tried to get him out of his comfort zone, which we did. In the first half of the game, he was kind of struggling. In the second half, he started to pick it up a little.”
Demery not only worked to disturb Taylor’s positioning in the post, but also fought for positioning in the rebounding department. Despite the mismatch, Demery outrebounded Taylor 8 to 7.
But Demery’s defense on the opposing team’s ‘4’ will not be an anomaly for the 2016-17 season.
“That’s what the coaches have been talking about for me, covering the four,” Demery added. “Then on the offensive end, that will make the lanes easier for me to get by a ‘4’ because most ‘4’s’ don’t have [good footwork].”
However, as the game progressed and Toledo went to a smaller lineup, Demery was then asked to play on the perimeter and cover Toledo's star guard Jonathan Williams, who averaged 19 points per game last season.
“Once we’re looking at four perimeter guys,” Martelli said, “we’ll pick the matchup for [Demery].”
It was a game that showed the true colors of Demery. His versatility and fearlessness was a large part of why Saint Joseph’s walked away with their first win of the season.
And although Demery may not look like the star of the night with only 11 points, the forward form North Carolina had a major impact on the outcome of the game. But after years of playing behind DeAndre Bembry and Isaiah Miles, he’s accustomed to the role of the unsung hero, just like he was last night against Toledo.
Photo: Benjamin Simon/The Empire
Saint Joseph’s is on the heels of a magical season. Predicted to finish seventh in the Atlantic 10 in the preseason poll, the Hawks far outperformed their expectations this past year. After finishing the season fourth in the conference standings, the Hawks went on to win the Atlantic 10 championship and advance into the second round of the NCAA tournament.
This year, the Hawks are looking for the same kind of underdog story since it’s been announced that they’ve been voted to finish ninth in the preseason poll. Although without DeAndre’ Bembry, Isaiah Miles, Aaron Brown and Papa Ndao, it’s been a concern as to how the Hawks plan to replace so much production. However they plan to do it, so they’ll have to do it without Pierfrancesco Oliva. It was announced a few weeks ago that Oliva would be sidelined for the entire season with a knee injury. The freshman started 30 games last season and was expected to be a starter again this year, but now the lineup will be shaken up a bit.
St. Joe’s also named tri-captains for this season: Javon Baumann, Brendan Casper and Lamarr Kimble. Like every year, the captains were decided by a player vote and are a strong representation of the team.
Aaron Brown (G, Sr.), Isaiah Miles (F, Sr.), Skylar Scrivano (F, Sr.) DeAndre’ Bembry (F, Jr.), Papa Ndao (F, Gr.)
St. Joe’s lost Miles, Brown, Scrivano and Ndao, who are all out of eligibility, and Bembry, who was drafted by the Atlanta Hawks last summer. 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 also combined for 117.9 minutes per game last year. It’s a hefty load that St. Joe’s is losing this offseason. Bembry, who averaged 17.4 points per game, 7.8 rebounds, and 4.5 assists per game, was the MVP of the A-10, while Miles, who led the Hawks in scoring, won the A-10’s Most Improved Player and made second team All-Conference. Now playing in Iceland, Brown thrived in the Hawks’ starting lineup, averaging 10 points per game and shooting 45% from the field.
Charlie Brown (F, Fr.), Nick Robinson (G, Fr.), Gerald Blount (F, Fr.), Toliver Freeman (G, Fr.), Lorenzo Edwards (F, Fr.)
St. Joe’s will welcome five new freshmen to the team this season, including a walk-on, Toliver Freeman. Brown, the Hawks’ top recruit, is rated three stars on ESPN.com. Originally from Philadelphia, he played a fifth high school season at St. Thomas More in Connecticut in order to better prepare for the college level. The forward is a deadeye shooter with a silky jump shot. Robinson, Blount, and Edwards, all versatile players with athleticism, will round out the squad of newcomers that will inevitably play a significant role on this year’s squad due to a lack of upperclassman depth.
Projected Starting Lineup
G: Lamarr Kimble (Proj. Stats: 12 PPG, 6.5 APG)
Returning as the reigning Atlantic 10 Rookie of the Year, Kimble will be playing the role as a captain in his sophomore campaign. After averaging less than twenty minutes a game last year, he can be confident in the fact he’ll see a drastic increase in playing time. The Philadelphia native should be on the early watch list for the All-Conference team and will almost certainly earn his first career start in the season opener.
G: Shavar Newkirk (Proj. Stats: 9.5 PPG, 5.5 APG)
Newkirk’s improvement from his freshman year to his sophomore year was impressive. He learned to play more under control and more intelligently. In the process, Newkirk evolved into one of the conference’s top point guards. After starting all 36 games for the Hawks last season, it would come as a shock if he wasn’t named a starter for the upcoming season. It’ll be interesting, though, to see how Coach Martelli decides to handle the playing times of Newkirk and Kimble.
F: James Demery (Proj Stats: 15 PPG, 6 RPG)
The number one flaw in Demery’s game has been his shooting ability, but after some work with the assistant coaches last year, fans saw some minor but noticeable improvements. His game progressed in various other areas as well and if the progressions continued as expected through this past offseason, then Demery may be ready to take over as one of the premier players in the conference. His ability to finish at the rim has already shown glimpses of his potential elite status. However, it is not a secret that his defense is what really stands out. When walk-on Toliver Freeman was asked who is the best defender on the team, he didn’t hesitate, calling Demery the team’s toughest defender to get by. His ability on the defensive end will be an unbelievably valuable asset for the Hawks this season. The loss of DeAndre’ Bembry leaves fans wondering who will assume the role of shut-down on-ball defender and Demery is ready to do just that.
F: Charlie Brown (Proj. Stats: 13 PPG, 5 RPG)
Charlie Brown could become just the fourth freshman to start the season opener for Martelli (Galloway, Bembry, Oliva). Standing at 6-foot-6 and weighing in at just 185 pounds, he is a bit of an undersized power forward, so the Hawks will have to make adjustments to their game style. Much of the talent for St. Joe’s is among the guards this year, so it’s not unlikely Martelli decides to run smaller lineups more often than not. Expect the Hawks to run and play an up-tempo style offense, which would fit Brown’s skillset perfectly.
F: Javon Baumann (Proj. Stats: 4.5 PPG, 9 RPG)
There’s not much size on this St. Joe’s squad, but Baumann will provide a presence on the interior and on the boards. The biggest question mark surrounding Baumann is his physical status and whether or not he’ll be in shape enough to keep up with the guard-dominated roster. There won’t be much pressure placed on him to score, but he’ll be assigned to play strong interior defense and rebound at a high rate in order to compensate for the otherwise undersized lineup.
Gerald Blount (F, Fr.), Brandon Casper (F, Sr.), Chris Clover (G, Soph.), Lorenzo Edwards (F, Fr.), Toliver Freeman (G, Fr.), Markell Lodge (F, So.), Nick Robinson (G, Fr.), Jai Williams (F, Jr.),
With a lack of size on the roster, Williams will play a crucial role off the bench, often replacing and perhaps sometimes teaming up with Baumann in the post. His 6-foot-9, 240 pound frame will take up space on the defensive interior and will help him bang down low on the offensive end of the court. He’ll also play a key role in keeping Baumann out of foul trouble.
Outside of those two, there is a real lack of size on the team. If the Hawks do play up-tempo, an athletic freak like Lodge could be useful and fit smoothly into the game plan. He hasn’t played much thus far in his collegiate career. However, on a team without any pre-declared superstars, this year could be an opportunity for Lodge to showcase his abilities.
Both Newkirk and Kimble stand at 6-foot-0, so Robinson could be useful as a 6-foot-6 point guard against bigger opponents. Since the Hawks will be lacking big men in the post, perhaps they could counterbalance that in the backcourt. A taller point guard would, at the very least, help with the rebound battles against opponents.
at Villanova (December 3, 2016)
After Philadelphia has been painted with giant blue and white V’s, there has never been a larger target on the Wildcats’ back for the Hawks. It doesn’t sit well when your city is parading around in your rivals’ colors and championship gear. This year’s Holy War will be intense.
vs. St. Bonaventure (February 22, 2017)
The Bonnies were the only team to beat the Hawks twice last season. St. Joe’s hasn’t beaten St. Bonaventure since they faced off in the 2014 Atlantic 10 semifinals. After losing five consecutive games to this team, St. Joe’s will host St. Bonaventure in late February in the first match of their two-game season series.
at Dayton (February 7, 2017)
St. Joe’s has just one game against Dayton, who is ranked number one in the Atlantic 10 preseason poll, this year. After a thrilling 82-79 win over the Flyers in the semifinals of last season’s A-10 tournament, the Hawks will travel to Dayton to play the conference favorites.
The Hawks have lost a load of production, but seemed to have done a decent job compensating with their incoming freshman class headlined by Charlie Brown. They will play a schedule that is maybe moderately strong, but certainly not too difficult. Their non-conference schedule isn’t much to brag about unless they can pull off an upset victory at Villanova. Otherwise, expect St. Joe’s to get off to a hot start prior to their Atlantic 10 season. Following that, they should be capable of managing to earn a decent enough conference record to finish with twenty wins.
“First of all, [the freshmen] fit. They’re good teammates on a group that that’s a priority with all of these guys - to be a good teammate and develop into a great teammate. We have a lot of opportunities here and so far they’ve measured up. They’ve measured up in the classroom, they’ve measured up socially and they’ve measured up on the court. Now we’ll see. Now, it’s no long about an individual, it’s about us. How do they fit in our plan and our work to make sure that we have a chance to beat Toledo. That’s the whole thing. That’s the only thing that matters here. It’s not about what people thought about them or didn’t think about them. It’s whether or not they can help us beat Toledo. And then at that point, they’re not freshmen. They’re basketball players.”
-Head Coach Phil Martelli
“We knew going into last year that we had a superstar. We watched a guy develop in front of our eyes. We had older guys. Papa Ndao was a sixth year player. Aaron Brown was a fifth year player. We don’t have that, so we have inexperience. We have a lot of competition and we have a lot of opportunity, so my thing to them is seize it. Seize the opportunity. I’m not giving anything to anybody, but they’re going to be able to seize what they all want, which is to play and to win. It’s about winning. Winning beats the alternative.”
-Head Coach Phil Martelli
“The goal is to end up in the same spot and further. It’s like that every year and so far we’re trying to get back and win another A-10 championship. The goal is never to lose or say that it’s a rebuilding year. We’re coming to win.”
"We're obviously disappointed for Checco, but he has the best in terms of medical care and rehab. His teammates and coaches will keep their arms wrapped around him as he goes through the day-to-day grind of not just getting back, but getting better. I anticipate that as we go on we’ll see a much better Checco."
-Phil Martelli via Philly.com
Photo: Sideline Photos, LLC
After a promising freshman season that included 30 starts, it was announced that Pierfrancesco "Checco" Oliva will have knee surgery following further worsening to a chronic knee condition during offseason workouts.
"We're obviously disappointed for Checco, but he has the best in terms of medical care and rehab," head coach Phil Martelli said in a press release. "His teammates and coaches will keep their arms wrapped around him as he goes through the day-to-day grind of not just getting back, but getting better. I anticipate that as we go on we’ll see a much better Checco."
The 6-foot-8 forward averaged 16.4 minutes per game, 4 points, 3.7 rebounds, and shot 38% from the field. Oliva was expected to be a large part of the team throughout the upcoming season, but now the team will have to rely on other big men, inlcuding senior Javon Baumann, junior Jai Williams, sophomore Markell Lodge, and freshman Lorenzo Edwards.
Saint Joseph’s landed its second commitment for the class of 2017 this past Tuesday when Anthony Longpre announced his college decision via twitter.
The 6-foot-9 forward, who is originally from Canada, attends Glenelg Country Day in Maryland. Furthermore, Longpre played in the Adidas circuit this past summer with Brookwood Elite AAU. He joins 6-foot-8 forward Taylor Funk in the Hawks’ 2017 recruiting class.
Princeton, George Washington, Kansas State and Washington State were also apart of his final list.
Photo: Matt Hazlett / Baltimore Sun Media Group
Going into the 2015-16 season, there were questions as to who would be the big man starting next to Isaiah Miles. Many pointed to Javon Baumann, who at 6-foot-8, 258 pounds, was the most physically imposing player on the roster. He had started the majority of the games the year before and it was assumed he would seize the starting role. There were also the intriguing picks. Markell Lodge, who had sat out the season before to focus on academics, had eye boggling athleticism. Jai Williams was gigantic and showed flashes of true potential. The last was sharpshooting senior, Papa Ndao, who was probably Baumann’s biggest threat at the starting role. But an injury set him back and Ndao was unable to start the season healthy. So it would be Baumann, right?
Nope. Pierfrancesco Oliva, the little known four man from Italy, would begin the season hearing his name called in pregame. Most fans didn’t even have a good sense of who he was. They would learn soon enough.
The 6-foot-8 freshman turned out to be as versatile as they come. Although he only averaged 4 points per game, 3.7 rebounds, and 1.8 assists during the season, he proved to be a valuable role player for the Hawks. Despite starting more than half of the games, Oliva only averaged 16 minutes per game. However, when Oliva played more than 20 minutes, he was quite productive. In addition to his only double digit games throughout the season, the freshman averaged 6.1 points per game, 5 rebounds, and 2.2 assists per game in 20 minutes or more of play. In those games the team was 7-1.
Along with the unique ability to grab rebounds, put the ball on the floor, and make the right reads in transition, Oliva was a solid standstill three point shooter. In other words, he was the perfect role player to complement the team’s fantastic scoring punch in DeAndre’ Bembry and Miles.
But now Bembry and Miles are gone. While many look at rising juniors Shavar Newkirk and James Demery to be the sparks, it is really Oliva who will hold the keys to a successful Saint Joseph’s season.
The team will be small to begin the year. Although they return Oliva, Baumann, Lodge, Williams, and add 6-foot-7 freshman Lorenzo Edwards, head coach Phil Martelli does not have a guy that tops 6-foot-9. Their lack of height may cause them to struggle to keep up defensively against some of the league’s top frontcourt teams. This means that they will need to counter on the offensive end.
Oliva will provide that offensive answer, as he has guard skills in a big man’s body. Although he isn’t overly athletic, he is fantastic in transition, as he can grab rebounds and run the floor acting as the point guard. Oliva’s vision is unmatched by most opposing big men, evident by his assist rate of 17.4%, which makes him the only big man in Saint Joseph’s history other than Halil Kanacevic to record a percentage that high since the stat was recorded. With that said, Oliva put up that percentage as a freshman. Even Kanacevic wasn’t able do that, who had an assist rate of 8.9% in his freshman season at Hofstra (where he transferred from after his first year). Oliva’s vision and ability to bring the ball up puts a lot of pressure on opposing big men.
Oliva also has the rare opportunity to replicate and give Saint Joseph’s the same presence that Miles gave them as a versatile big man. His ability to stretch the floor, but also play in the post provides a great advantage for the Hawks. It additionally allows them to spread open the floor, allowing a team that lacks strong shooting to have lanes to drive. Oliva did not shoot well last year, but his stroke and the green light that coach Martelli gave to him as a freshman provide hope for improvement.
Furthermore, on a team that shot a combined 32% from three in 2015-16, the Hawks only return one player who shot above 35% (Lamarr Kimble). For the most part, they primarily relied on driving and isolation plays with Bembry, and Miles. The 2016-17 Saint Joseph’s team, however, will not have those go-to scorers. Instead they will have multiple players who can get the basket. Oliva’s threat to shoot and play from the perimeter will create space for athletic wing James Demery, slashing point guard Shavar Newkirk, and heady offensive player, Lamarr Kimble. Although they will add better shooting in the form of incoming freshman Charlie Brown and an improved rising sophomore Chris Clover, Oliva’s ability to shoot because of his position will help more than them.
Unlike the guards, Oliva’s added dimension will force other team’s rim protectors out of the lane, creating space for guards to finish. Moreover, Oliva’s ability to also step into the lane and post up will be a valuable switch up. Even though adding some more bulk and fine tuning would help in that area, Oliva still has solid enough tools in the post to be a threat.
If Oliva can be a supplementary offensive option and decoy for the Hawks, Saint Joseph’s may be looking like a top team in the A-10 once again.
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