Charlie Brown (above) is one of the city's best pro prospects, at 6-7 with sharpshooting abilities. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Josh Verlin (@jmverlin)
(Ed. Note: This article is part of our 2017-18 season coverage, which will run for the six weeks preceding the first official games of the year on Nov. 10. To access all of our high school and college preview content for this season, click here.)
Charlie Brown hasn’t yet heard the specific three-letter acronym come out of his head coach’s mouth, at least in regards to his personal potential. But he knows the hints have been there from Phil Martelli, who’s sent a few players onto the NBA in his nearly two dozen years at St. Joe’s.
“He’ll say stuff like ‘just listen to me, you’ll go on the right path,’ stuff like that,” Brown said.
A 6-foot-7, 192-pound wing guard, Brown is certainly one of the brightest young collegiate stars in a city full of them.
As a freshman last year, the Northeast Philly native and George Washington HS product averaged 12.8 ppg, good for fourth on the team, while grabbing 5.0 rpg and making 38.4 percent of his 185 3-point attempts. He quickly became a fan favorite for his above-the-rim athleticism, his signature hairdo, and of course the name he shares with the all-too-familiar animated character.
Now, sans most of the hair, he’s starting to take the game he loves as seriously as he can.
“I just wanted to think like a pro,” Brown said at practice last Friday. “Think like a pro, get better at everything I do. Eating, sleeping, basketball, being a good person, all-around."
Brown certainly isn’t ready for the Association just yet, but that he’s already putting himself in that discussion shows the incredible progress he’s made in a relatively short period of time. In 2014, going into his senior year at Washington, he was being offered by several local Division II programs; making the decision to go prep, he blew up in the summer of 2015 and committed to St. Joe’s before a year spent at St. Thomas More (Conn.).
Brown is trying to become the next in line from the mid-major program that’s got a pretty good NBA history, from 2016 first-round selection DeAndre Bembry, now in his second year with the Atlanta Hawks, to Pistons’ fourth-year pro Langston Galloway and of course two of the program’s all-time greats in Jameer Nelson and Delonte West, both of whom got drafted in 2004 and went on to long pro careers; Nelson is entering his 15th year in the NBA
Martelli isn’t ready to proclaim Brown the next one in that line, though he understands the sophomore has the requisite length, athleticism and shooting ability to at least enter the discussion. He’s fielded a few inquiries from professional scouts, but isn’t ready to expose Brown to that just yet.
Unlike two years ago, when scouts from all 30 NBA teams descended on Hawk Hill to evaluate Bembry, Brown’s buzz is still mostly behind-the-scenes.
“There will come a point in time when I will tell him [he’s good enough] and that’s the goal,” Martelli said. “The next step for him is going to be, can we get him to the Nike Skills Academy? There has to be a progression.
“The biggest thing he hears me say is, ‘The noise is eliminated,” the Hawks’ 23rd-year coach continued. “Whether it be fans, whether it be whispers oh he’s the next [NBA pro]… Really? We went 17 years without a pro, from (Maurice) Martin to Jameer Nelson and Delonte West. ... There’s guys in every program that somebody says, ‘Well he’s a pro.’ There’s only so many jobs in that league. Why would we think five of them are coming to Philadelphia?”
Like its budding sophomore wing guard, St. Joe’s 2017-18 squad has some rapidly-growing expectations of its own.
Last season, the Hawks went 11-20, with a 4-14 mark in Atlantic 10 play. But the record doesn’t indicate that one starter (Pierfrancesco Oliva) was lost for the season due to offseason knee surgery, that its leading scorer (Shavar Newkirk) tore his ACL on the first game of conference play, that two other starters and one reserve also missed time with various ailments.
This year, they get back a healthy Oliva -- Newkirk’s ACL recovery might last into the early parts of the season -- and added a couple of talented freshmen bigs to a rotation that, injuries aside, returns its top six scorers and eight of its 10 rotation members.
Brown is one of several players the St. Joe’s staff is hoping will take a big step forward to help them make a sizeable leap up in the A-10 standings.
Oliva, who averaged 5.0 ppg two years ago as a freshman, is a 6-9 redshirt sophomore with the ability to stretch the floor. Nick Robinson, a 6-6 sophomore guard, averaged 5.2 ppg, 3.6 rpg and 1.9 apg as a freshman. Junior wing Chris Clover (7.8 ppg) and junior forward Markell Lodge (30 starts, 4.6 ppg) both played significant roles a year ago.
“I just feel like everybody knows we need to be better everyday, so that’s the goal,” Robinson said. “We’re not thinking about the outside noise. We just know that every day is a day to get better, so that’s how we take it.”
Throw in veterans like senior James Demery -- who averaged 14.5 ppg in 20 games (18 starts) last season -- and Jai Williams, a fifth-year big man out of Phila. Electric, and they’ve got plenty of experience throughout the roster. That’s made for some business-like practices, with little in terms of fooling around or wasting time.
But with seven players on the roster who have already served as full-time starters, at least two Hawks are going to have to be okay with coming back off the bench. And with two talented freshmen bigs in Anthony Longpré and Taylor Funk sure to be in the rotation, key reserves from a season ago could be fighting just to see the floor.
Almost everybody on the roster will see reduced minutes -- fine for junior Lamarr Kimble, who averaged 37.4 mpg last year, but likely not as welcome for several others.
“This is exactly what I said to them when we finished preseason: I said to them I really like the pieces,” Martelli said. “And I’m excited about the pieces, both character and game, I like the pieces.”
“[But] we’re going to have to get to a point where there’s role acceptance,” he continued. “There could be guys who played a lot of minutes and maybe scored points last year and all of a sudden you’re going to be asked to do more for your team, a better team, in less time. And who can do that?”