Brendan Casper went from walk-on to a crucial part of the St. Joe's program in his four years. (Photo: Tommy Smith/CoBL)
Daniel Hughes (@dan1el_sun)
If you had told a young Brendan Casper in the fall of 2013 that four years later he would be Saint Joseph’s starting point guard on senior night, he wouldn’t have been too shocked.
If you had told that to Hawks head coach Phil Martelli, he might have laughed in your face.
If you told that to any one of the Crimson and Gray faithful, they might have asked you who Brendan Casper was.
On Wednesday night, however, St. Joe’s held its annual senior night. And thanks to four years of hard work -- and a bad string of Hawks injuries -- the former walk-on-turned team captain was still standing on the main court at Hagan Arena waiting for tip-off against Rhode Island, with his trademark look: calm and unsurprised.
“I believed in myself, but no one else would have known to believe in me,” Casper said. “I always had a lot of confidence in myself.”
In 2013, Casper, after a standout career at Methacton, chose to walk-on at St. Joe’s rather than play at the Division II level.
Although he passed up scholarship offers from D-II schools such as West Chester and Kutztown, that decision eventually paid off for him greatly. In four years at Hawk Hill, he went from a typical walk-on who rarely saw the court to one of the team’s three captains and a valuable contributor and fan favorite.
"We have it all over our locker room, act like a champion, and Brendan can say he acted like a champion on and off the court," Martelli said. "I think when the last game was played, he's a guy who's going to be able to put his head on his pillow and say 'I got everything out of this.' Graduated with a strong GPA, played on two championship teams and had a role that he maximized."
As a freshman, the 6-foot-6 forward was largely unknown, playing in only eight games and scoring seven points for the Hawks during the 2013-14 season. At the end of the year, St. Joe’s won the Atlantic 10 championship. He played in the semifinal round of the A-10 playoffs, scoring a point in a win against St. Bonaventure in garbage time.
During his sophomore campaign, Casper saw action in 23 games, even playing big minutes in some.
In the annual Holy War between St. Joe’s and rival Villanova, he came off the bench for a then career-high nine points and nine rebounds in 20 minutes for a shorthanded team. In a game against nationally-ranked VCU, he added three points and four rebounds in 15 minutes.
Throughout the rest of the year, Casper never played any more than 12 minutes in any contest. However, after his performance in the Nova game, word began to spread among Hawks fans. Whenever he subbed into a game, people would whisper about the walk-on who stepped up against a national powerhouse.
And occasionally, he would make the most of his garbage time to create some memorable moments. In a win over Loyola of Maryland later that same year, he pulled up and drained an unbelievably long 3-pointer from the halfcourt logo with two minutes left. St. Joe’s had already won the game by then, but with that shot, Casper won over many of the people in the stands.
At the end of his best season yet, Casper received the Robert O’Neill Memorial Award, given out every year to the most improved player on St. Joe’s team. That stood as a testament to his strong work ethic and desire to improve every year.
“I pride myself on working hard,” Casper said. “(When) I came in, I wanted to learn, I wanted to get better and I took that approach every year, year after year.”
Halfway through his junior year, he was awarded with something really special: a full scholarship. He had already accomplished his dream of playing at the Division I level, but now it seemed like he really belonged there.
In Casper’s junior year, he was relegated to more of a cheerleader role, as St. Joe’s came back with a deeper and more talented team, thanks to the emergence of senior Isaiah Miles and the arrival of freshman forward Pierfrancesco Oliva. He only played in 11 games for a total of 19 minutes.
Later that year, Casper achieved another milestone when the Hawks captured their second A-10 championship of that year. Of the six Hawks players who were on both the 2014 and 2016 A-10 championship teams, Casper and Javon Baumann are the only two left still playing.
If nothing else, Martelli knows that those two will be remembered as winners.
“They got two Atlantic 10 rings, job well done,” Martelli said. “They’re leaving as champions.”
In the offseason, Casper was chosen by his teammates to be one of three team captains, alongside Baumann and sophomore Lamarr Kimble. That responsibility also coincided with an increase in his playing time. So far in his senior year, he has played in every game, averaging 5.0 points and 3.0 rebounds on 17.4 minutes per game.
However, the Hawks have struggled mightily this year, especially dealing with injuries to Kimble and star junior Shavar Newkirk, who both went down for the season at different points midway through the year. Oliva needed knee surgery before the season and will take a redshirt year.
It was those injuries, as well as a bruised foot suffered by freshman Nick Robinson, that led to Casper taking over as the starting point guard against the Rams on Wednesday night.
On Wednesday night, the Hawks were drubbed by Rhode Island, 68-49. Throughout the game, chants of “Brendan Casper” could be heard from the student section, and when he and Baumann finally exited with just over a minute left, the duo received a standing ovation.
In his final Hagan Arena appearance, Casper finished with seven points, as well as three steals, three assists and a rebound in 31 minutes.
“It’s definitely emotional, my last game in Philadelphia,” he said. “I had over 25 people here, family and friends. [It’s the] last time they’re going to see me play in person.”
With the season soon to be over, there is not much basketball left for Casper to look forward to, as he plans to get a job in the insurance world after graduation. But sitting in the locker room after an emotional last game at Hagan, he got the bittersweet opportunity to reminisce on the many memories he has made during his four years.
“I’m sad I won’t play here again, but I enjoyed all my moments,” he said. “I’ll look back in a couple of months and be proud of what we accomplished.
“It’s been a hell of a ride.”