St. Joe's coach Phil Martelli (above) is entering his 23rd season as St. Joe's head coach. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
2017-18 Saint Joseph’s Hawks Primer
Coach: Phil Martelli, 22nd season (414-293, .586)
Last Year: 11-20 overall, 4-14 Atlantic-10; lost in Atlantic 10 Tournament first round (UMass, 70-63)
There was little Martelli could do last season, as the injury bug did much more than bite then Hawks -- it settled in at 54th and City Ave. and caused issues for St. Joe’s all season long. All-in-all, four different players suffered season-ending injuries at various points in the year, including three starters. Forced to play a makeshift rotation consisting of several freshmen, a former walk-on and several deep reserves, the Hawks wore down as the season went on and the ailments piled up. But with everybody back -- and healthy -- plus a few impressive new faces, things are quickly looking up on Hawk Hill as St. Joe’s has plans to make a large jump back up the A-10 standings.
Key Losses: C Javon Baumann (2.8 ppg, 3.6 rpg), F Brendan Casper (5.0 ppg, 3.0 rpg)
All-in-all, the Hawks didn’t graduate anybody that will be terribly difficult to replace; not to downplay the contributions of Baumann and Casper over their respective college careers, but they weren’t exactly first team all-conference performers. Casper, a 6-6 forward from Methacton, had about as good a college career as can be expected for a walk-on, playing in 73 career games (3 starts), scoring a total of 200 points while playing meaningful minutes during his sophomore, junior and especially senior season, when he averaged 18.3 ppg in 31 games. Baumann, a 6-10 center from Germany, played in 99 games in his St. Joe’s career, starting 30 during a sophomore season where he averaged 3.6 ppg and 3.7 rpg before becoming a rebounding specialist off the bench as an upperclassman.
New Faces: PF Taylor Funk (Fr./Manheim Central., Pa.), F/C Anthony Longpré (Fr./Glenelg Country, Md.)
The Hawks’ coaching staff used their two available scholarships for the 2017 class on a pair of forwards who bring a good helping of skill and shooting ability to the frontcourt. Funk was one of St. Joe’s top targets in the class for a good while, as the 6-9 power forward is a smooth outside shooter who could excel in the trailing big/pick-and-pop role that Isaiah Miles played to perfection in his senior year two seasons ago. Longpré is an inch taller than Funk and, at around 240 pounds, a good deal larger but he’s certainly more than just a big body. A member of the Canadian national team that just took home the FIBA 19U championships in July, Longpré has a strong face-up game of his own, and he’s displayed the ability to be a passing point-forward similar to Halil Kanacevic from a few years back. Both Funk and Longpré look too good to sit as freshmen, and should be a key pairing moving forward for the program.
Starting Frontcourt: PF Pierfrancesco Oliva (N/A), F/C Anthony Longpré (N/A)
Martelli has made it clear this preseason he’s got too many big men to play just one true forward, and so we’re fully expecting him to start some combination of players 6-8 and taller certainly at the beginning of the season, and probably the whole way through. Oliva started 30 games as a freshman two years ago, averaging 4.0 ppg and 3.7 rpg in 16.5 mpg, but then underwent knee cartilage surgery in the summer and subsequently missed the entire 2016-17 season. The 6-8, 210-pound stretch forward from Taranto, Italy has been back practicing with the team since the summer, and should be ready to go in November.
At the ‘5’, Martelli and his staff could go with fifth-year senior Jai Williams, as the 6-10 Phila. Electric grad looks to be in the best shape of his career, but ultimately the future of the program is with Longpré in the middle. The 6-10, 240-pound Montreal native was on the Canadian team that won the FIBA 19U championship in Egypt this July, and the bearded redhead brings quite a skillset in his big body, displaying a terrific passing ability in practices while also opening his with his shooting ability. Don’t expect Longpré to play more than 20-25 minutes at this point while he gets his conditioning under control, but they’ve got plenty of other options to roll in there.
Shavar Newkirk (above) is recovering from an ACL injury he suffered 12 games into his junior year. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Starting Backcourt: PG Lamarr Kimble (15.5 ppg, 4.5 apg, 4.0 rpg), *PG Shavar Newkirk (20.3 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 3.5 apg), SG Charlie Brown (12.8 ppg, 5.0 rpg)
This is unlikely to be St. Joe’s starting backcourt when the season begins, as Newkirk is still working his way back from his ACL injury; as of the time of this piece’s publication, the 6-0 lead guard was involved in some drills in practices but had not yet been cleared for live action. But the injury isn’t expected to cost Newkirk the whole year -- he does still have a redshirt available just in case -- and as such, we’ll slot him here. As long as Newkirk is out, the ball will largely be in the capable hands of Kimble, a junior guard out of Philly prep powerhouse Neumann-Goretti. The 6-0 point guard dropped 13 points in the offseason and looks to be in the best shape since before high school; even once Newkirk returns, Kimble will rarely dip below 30 minutes.
If and when Newkirk returns, and assuming the Hawks’ two-big rotation sticks, Martelli will have a decision to make at the ‘3’. Though senior James Demery has started 48 games in his three years, averaging 25 minutes in 87 career appearances, he could find himself as the team’s sixth man this season in favor of Brown, a 6-6 sophomore wing and the program’s current best pro prospect. If Newkirk is unable to go, we’d expect them to slide Brown to the ‘2’ and put Demery at the ‘3’, though it’s possible that they’d bring in sophomore combo guard Nick Robinson at the ‘2’ instead, while keeping Brown and Demery in their same roles.
Bench: SG Chris Clover (7.8 ppg, 2.2 rpg), SF James Demery (14.5 ppg, 6.5 rpg), F Lorenzo Edwards (N/A), PF Taylor Funk (N/A), PF Markell Lodge (4.6 ppg, 4.2 rpg), G Nick Robinson (5.2 ppg, 3.6 rpg), C Jai Williams (2.7 ppg, 2.2 rpg)
When Newkirk is back in the starting lineup, the Hawks’ bench becomes a group of reserves that could put together a fairly competitive starting five in its own right. Demery and Robinson are both certainly in the starting lineup conversation already, while Lodge, an athletic 6-7 forward, started 31 games a year ago. Ultimately, as Martelli turns toward the future, expect to see Robinson and Funk play a healthy share of minutes; what remains to be seen is just how much deeper they can go. Clover, a 6-4 junior wing out of St. Joe’s Prep, has flashed his ability at times over the last two years, averaging 9.9 ppg in A-10 play last year, including a pair of 21-point outings. Edwards, a 6-7 combo forward, missed all but one game last year as a freshman due to shoulder surgery, but he’s shown the ability to hit shots in practice. No matter what he needs, whether it’s size, shooting, rebounding, athleticism, or whatever, Martelli can find it in some form amongst this group.
Three Keys to Success
1. Stay Healthy. Only four players played in all 31 games for St. Joe’s last year. Oliva and Edwards missed the whole season, Newkirk missed 19 games, Demery missed 11 and Kimble missed seven while several others missed a game or two as well. This year’s Hawks are certainly deeper, but few teams in the Atlantic 10 (or any other league, for that matter) can survive the loss of at least two starters and expect to be as competitive as they’d hoped to be entering the season. As long as Newkirk doesn’t try to push himself to come back too early and Oliva’s knee holds up, they should be in good shape; none of the other injuries last year were major enough to be a significant concern entering this season.
2. Do the Charlie Brown. It’s amazing to think that just a few years ago, Brown was a mostly-unknown unknown rising senior at George Washington HS, with just a few Division II schools sniffing around. Because now the lanky guard is one of the city’s top NBA prospects, with long arms on his athletic, 6-6 frame -- and the ability to shoot, knocking down 38.4 percent of his 3-point attempts last year en route to averaging 12.8 points while also grabbing five boards per outing. Now he’s got to take the next step forward, becoming a more efficient scorer overall (.375 FG%) while playing better defense and continuing to improve his body for the next level. If he plays up to his potential this season, Brown could lead the Hawks in a few different stat categories.
3. Play defense. With the bevy of offensive weapons available, this year’s St. Joe’s squad should be a real problem to defend. Newkirk and Kimble might be the best backcourt in the league outside of Rhode Island, Brown should see a step up in production from last year, and the three-headed stretch-4 combination of Funk, Oliva and Longpré should give them steady production between the trio. So the key for these Hawks is whether or not they can defend their own hoop, and Martelli has a positive history in that department; KenPom had them in the top 100 in the nation in defense in the three seasons before that one.
Click here for a complete breakdown of St. Joe's 2017-18 schedule
Quotes from opposing coaches on this team
“I think it depends on how healthy they are. If Newkirk’s healthy, I think they’ll be one of the best teams in the Atlantic 10 and they’ll contend for an NCAA tournament bid. I think Charlie Brown is going to play basketball in the NBA, if not right on the border of that. I think St. Joe’s will be really good this year.”
“I think the question mark with St. Joe’s is how Shavar Newkirk and (Kimble) come back from injury, but obviously if they’re healthy, they have a really good backcourt with Newkirk, Fresh and Charlie Brown and even guys like James Demery and Chris Clover. These are guys that are older now in their program that out of high school were big-time recruits. St. Joe’s has the opportunity now to really take a step up in the Big 5 and in the Atlantic-10. Schools like St. Joe’s, it’s all about having experience, and I think they’ll have that experience this year. When Phil has that type of experience, his teams are pretty good.”
“They’re always tough. Love their backcourt, I know they had a lot of injuries last year, the injury bug with some of the starters, but you don’t get any better than Fresh and Newkirk. I expect those guys, hopefully they’re fully healthy, and if they are they’re going to be tough to guard. Experienced guys, tough guys that can create their own shot, create for others in pick-and-roll play. The interesting piece will be who’s that next guy, everybody believes it’s going to be Charlie Brown. Who’s going to be that third, fourth option that can create a shot or score the ball for them when they need it? Longpre is talented, really talented. Versatile, can shoot, can pass. He’s kind of like Kanacevic, when I saw him in high school and AAU, just a versatile forward who can do a lot with the ball, can make plays, can pass.”
With everybody on the roster healthy, this is a Hawks team that could do some serious damage in both the Big 5 and Atlantic 10. Having Newkirk back and effective by December, when they play Temple, Villanova and St. John’s in a three-week span, would be a good start, especially if they can pick up a couple wins in the Wooden Legacy Classic. It’s a daunting non-con slate, but if this is going to be a group in NCAA contention, they’ll leave it with at least eight wins. Taking advantage of a relatively easy start to conference play, the Hawks build up momentum into big road matchups like La Salle (Feb. 3) and Davidson (Feb. 6), and roll into the A-10 tourney in March as a top-four seed, where they win a couple games and earn an NCAA invite no matter how the final turns out.
If Newkirk’s smooth re-introduction to the lineup early in the season is the best-case scenario, the worst would be him returning to the court too early, and playing at significantly less than 100 percent (or re-injuring the knee). If he’s not an efficient scorer or effective defender, his presence on the floor could cause some issues, and not just because he might be limited physically. As many interesting pieces as St. Joe’s has on the roster, they still need to come together to make a coherent team. And part of that will be some players accepting roles smaller than they would like, whether that’s a former starter having to come off the bench, or a former key reserve being relegated to fewer minutes. If they can’t, this could be a team with chemistry issues as well. Bad backcourt chemistry, freshmen bigs who aren’t ready for the challenge of the Atlantic 10 and an inability to score from the outside would have this year’s St. Joe’s squad looking much more like last year’s than two years ago.