DeAndre Bembry (above), a high-flying 6-6 wing, was the 2015-16 CoBL Preseason Player of the Year (Photo: Tug Haines/CoBL)
Josh Verlin (@jmverlin)
(Ed. Note: This article is part of CoBL's 2015-16 College Season Preview, which will run from October 2-November 13, the first day of games. For the complete rundown, click here)
2015-16 Saint Joseph’s Hawks Season Primer
Coach: Phil Martelli, 21st season (375-265, .586)
Last Year: 13-18 overall, 7-11 Atlantic 10; lost in A-10 first round (St. Bonaventure, 60-49)
It was known going into last season that the Hawks had a lot to replace following the graduations of forwards Halil Kanacevic and Ronald Roberts, Jr. and guard Langston Galloway. With a combined 10 years of starting experience (Galloway was a four-year starter) and few thousand points and rebounds--not to mention a few hundred blocks, assists and steals--the trio left Hawk Hill as one of the more productive senior classes in recent memory, and they capped off their careers with an Atlantic 10 Tournament title and NCAA Tournament appearance.
Compounding the problem of their graduation was the fact that Martelli only played a six-man rotation in 2013-14, so that class (including reserve wing Daryus Quarles) represented the vast majority of the minutes on the Hawks’ roster. The inexperience and lack of cohesion showed last year, as the Hawks won consecutive games just three times all season, locking solid in some games but lost for long stretches in others. With four starters returning this time around, including one of the best pro prospects around, things are looking up for St. Joe’s.
Key Losses: G Chris Wilson (8.0 ppg, 4.3 rpg)
Wilson, a three-year starter in his own right, had a solid-but-not-spectacular career for St. Joe’s. His best season came as a junior, when he averaged 9.1 ppg, 3.6 rpg and 2.7 apg, but he wasn’t quite so successful with more attention paid to him by opposing defenses as a senior. The 37.1 percent he shot overall and 30.1 percent from 3-point range were both the second-worst numbers of his career, and he also put up fewer assists (84) than he had in any other season on Hawk Hill. With a couple of capable young point guards in the fold, the Hawks should be fine at the position moving forward.
New Faces: SG Chris Clover (Fr./St. Joseph’s Prep, Pa.), PG Lamarr Kimble (Fr./Neumann-Goretti, Pa.), F Pierfrancesco Oliva (Fr./Bergen Catholic, N.J.), PF Markell Lodge (RS-Fr./Pace Academy, N.C.)
Martelli and his staff stayed local for their incoming 2015 class, landing a pair of Philadelphia products in a three-day span in August and then tacking on a European import who played his prep ball in New Jersey in November. Combined with last year’s group of four recruits (now three sophomores and Lodge), they should form the core of the program for the next few seasons--and the coaches have plenty of reason to feel good about this trio, at least two of whom should see big minutes right away. Lodge, a 6-7 athletic beast of a forward who missed last season due to academic ineligibility, has a solid mid-range game but will earn minutes as a high-level rebounder and shot-blocker who plays physical on both ends of the floor.
After going up against each other as opponents in the Catholic League and on the AAU scene dozens of times over the last few years, Clover and Kimble certainly bring plenty of familiarity with each other that will undoubtedly help as they learn how to play with each other for the next four. Kimble, a 6-0 point guard, was part of three Catholic League championship teams and three PIAA Class AAA title winners in his four years as a Saint, and is used to playing alongside several Division I guard at a winning program, bringing an attitude that Martelli and his staff are hoping will pay dividends down the road. Clover, a 6-4 wing guard, is one of the more physically mature freshmen you’ll see, fresh off scoring just shy of 1000 points during his last two years of high school alone, averaging 21.3 ppg during that span.
The final member of the group is certainly an intriguing piece. Oliva, a 6-8 stretch forward from Italy, spent the last two years at Bergen Catholic in North Jersey but still very much has that Euro-style feel to his game. A pick-and-pop big man with good athleticism and size, Oliva has a pure shooting stroke and sees the court very well on the offensive end of the court. But with five different forwards who all are going to be fighting for playing time on a roster that Martelli says will play smaller this year, it’s unclear how much of an impact he’ll be able to have right away.
Starting Frontcourt: F Isaiah Miles (10.7 ppg, 5.1 rpg), F/C Javon Baumann (3.6 ppg, 3.7 rpg)
One of the surprise players in the Atlantic 10 this year could be Miles, who’s in the best shape of his life after dropping 20 pounds in the offseason. The 6-8 combo forward had an under-the-radar solid season as a junior, his first year playing major minutes for the Hawks, and actually lead the team in 3-point shooting (35.3 percent) on 150 attempts. As a senior, he shouldn’t need to do too much more than he did a year ago, and if he can put up similar numbers (while maybe improving on his 38.9 percent overall shooting) he’ll be helping out the Hawks.
Though Baumann started 30 games a year ago, his 19.7 minutes per game were actually seventh on the team, so his role might not be as big as his position here indicates. Still, the powerful 6-9 German forward is the most physical body the Hawks have, and he contributed 3.6 ppg on 64.9 percent shooting while grabbing 3.7 rpg. His 37.5 percent mark from the foul line is a big problem, though, and it’s tough for Martelli to keep Baumann on the floor in close games if he can’t convert at the line--which was a problem in general for St. Joe’s, who made just over 61 percent as a team to begin with, one of the worst marks in Division I hoops.
Starting Backcourt: PG Shavar Newkirk (3.3 ppg, 2.3 apg), SG DeAndre Bembry (17.7 ppg, 7.7 rpg), SF James Demery (6.7 ppg, 3.5 rpg)
We’ve managed to somehow make it this long without mentioning perhaps the best player in CoBL’s coverage area this season, as Bembry has put himself square in the discussion for next spring’s NBA Draft. After earning A-10 co-Rookie of the Year honors in 2013-14, he broke out last year to lead the entire league in scoring, pacing his team in points (17.7 ppg), rebounding (7.7 rpg), assists (3.6 apg) and steals (1.9 spg). One of 20 college players invited to the Nike Basketball Academy in June, the high-flying 6-6 wing with the best ‘fro in basketball now has to figure out ways to get his team up to the same level of success in his second year of captaincy. There’s no player in the area with more on his individual shoulders this season, but nothing in Bembry’s career thus far has suggested he’s not capable of handling it.
For now, two sophomores are slotted in alongside him on the perimeter, though both Newkirk and Demery will face plenty of challenges for their starting roles all season long. Newkirk, a 5-11 point guard, was the backup last year to now-graduated Chris Wilson, playing 20 minutes per game, and though his 1.6-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio was solid, his shooting .281 overall leaves much to be desired. If he can’t increase his scoring efficiency and raw shooting numbers, he’ll be overtaken by Kimble before long. Demery, an athletic 6-5 wing, had similar issues, shooting 36.6 percent overall and 17.5 percent from 3-point range, though he’s an effective defender who really helps his team in the full-court press.
Papa Ndao (left) and Markell Lodge will battle it out for minutes in the frontcourt. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Bench: SF Aaron Brown (9.3 ppg, 3.9 rpg), F Brandon Casper (1.3 ppg, 1.4 rpg), F Papa Ndao (DNP), PF Markell Lodge, PG Lamarr Kimble, SG Chris Clover, F Pierfrancesco Oliva
In addition to being more experienced this time around, the Hawks are also much deeper thanks to the addition of three true freshmen, one redshirt freshman and the return of one senior from the injured list. Ultimately, Martelli’s rotation likely won’t have room for every one of the above, but for now all seven are very much candidates to earn minutes this season.
Brown, a redshirt senior who’s in his second year at SJU after transferring in from West Virginia, served as the team’s sixth man last season, and it’s a role he’s likely to play again this year. The 6-5 wing guard’s energy off the bench makes him an ideal candidate for the role, and he can play the ‘2’ through the ‘4’ which will come in handy as the Hawks move towards focusing on smaller lineups. Ndao, who missed all of last season with an undisclosed illness, played well in 2013-14 when Ronald Roberts went down with an injury, and even made 40 percent of his 3-pointers during that span; if he’s effective again, he’ll take minutes away from Oliva as a stretch forward, as it’s not clear if Martelli has room for two in his rotation.
Then there’s Casper, a walk-on who got forced into playing duty last year and made the most of his opportunities, going for nine points and grabbing nine boards against ‘Nova, playing double-digit minutes three times during the season. Add in the four freshman, and Martelli will have a lot of options to turn to when he goes to the bench.
Three Games to Watch
1. vs. Florida (Nov. 21, Mohegan Sun Arena). This semifinal of the Basketball Hall of Fame Tip-Off gives Saint Joseph’s not only an opportunity to take on a high-major squad just two weeks into the season, but an opportunity for a nice win as well if things are clicking as well as can be expected. The Gators graduated or lost to transfer three of their top five scorers, including Michael Frazier II (12.1 ppg) and Eli Carter (8.8 ppg), though 6-8 wing forward Dorian Finney-Smith (13.1 ppg, 6.2 rpg) returns for his senior year. But with head coach Billy Donovan now off to the NBA’s Oklahoma City Thunder, how Florida responds under new coach Michael White remains to be seen.
2. vs. Villanova (Dec. 1). The Holy War is always one of the games to watch in Philadelphia each year, and after suffering two consecutive beatdowns at the hands of their biggest rival, you can bet that the Hawks are hungry for a measure of revenge this year. It’ll still be tough to achieve--Villanova is expected to be one of the top 15 teams in the country, and if freshman phenom point guard Jalen Brunson lives up to expectations, this could be one of Jay Wright’s best-ever teams in his 15 years on the Main Line. If they’re still adjusting to the losses of Darrun Hilliard, JayVaughn Pinkston and Dylan Ennis, however, they might be beatable at this point in the season.
3. vs. Rhode Island (Jan. 10). The top two NBA prospects in the Atlantic 10 square off in this one, as Rhode Island’s E.C. Matthews and DeAndre Bembry go head-to-head. Matthews, also a junior and a powerful 6-5 guard, averaged 16.7 ppg and 4.5 rpg a year ago, helping the Rams to a 23-10 season under third-year head coach Dan Hurley. The Rams return a lot of talent, including sophomore guard Jared Terrell (9.2 ppg) and junior forward Hassan Martin, (11.4 ppg, 7.7 rpg, 3.1 bpg), and also add former Vermont and Towson sharpshooter Four McGlynn, a York (Pa.) native, to the roster for his final season of eligibility.
Three Keys to Success
1. Find shooters. The Hawks were one of the worst 3-point shooting teams in all of Division I basketball, with a 29.9 percent conversion rate from beyond the arc. While players like Demery (17.5 percent) and Brown (28.6 percent) certainly need to get their numbers better in a hurry, Martelli and staff have to hope that freshmen like Clover, Kimble and Oliva can prove to be reliable perimeter shooters and open up lanes for slashers like Demery and Bembry. Adding Ndao back for his final season should also help in that department, as he made 40 percent (17-of-42) as a junior two years ago.
2. Pressure defense. The Hawks were already one of the top-100 teams in the country in terms of defensive efficiency--98.2 points/100 possessions, 85th nationally per KenPom.com. With athletes like Bembry, Demery, Lodge, Clover and more on the roster, Martelli will be able to dial up a pressure defense that he started utilizing last year with a good deal of success. A change to a 30-second shot clock might not have a huge impact on college hoops but if anything will play in SJU’s favor on the defensive end, if they can get their defensive turnover percentage into the top 100 in the country (it was 168th last year) their offense might be decent enough to win 20 games.
3. Support Bembry. Last year, DeAndre Bembry literally led Saint Joseph’s in every major category: scoring, rebounding, assists, blocks, and more. He might do the same again this year, but in a perfect world he wouldn’t have to. It’s not just scoring that the Hawks need to do more of; team rebounding and ball movement could certainly improve, and if Martelli can take Bembry off the court for 6-8 minutes each game without things falling apart, it’ll work out better both for the team and the superstar over the long term. Bembry played 95 percent of his team’s available minutes last year, the third-highest mark in the country; even 90-92 percent would make a big difference.