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2016-17 Season Preview: Saint Joseph's Primer

10/31/2016, 9:00am EDT
By Josh Verlin and Jeff Griffith

Saint Joseph's will need to replace DeAndre' Bembry (above) and more from last year's 28-win squad. (Photo: Mark Jordan/CoBL)

Josh Verlin (@jmverlin) &
Jeff Griffith (@Jeff_Griffith21)


(Ed. Note: This article is part of our 2016-17 season coverage, which will run for the six weeks preceding the first official games of the year on Nov. 11. To access all of our high school and college preview content for this season, click here.)


2016-17 St. Joseph’s Hawks Primer
Coach: Phil Martelli, 22nd season (403-273, .596)
Last Year: 28-8 overall, 13-5 Atlantic 10; won Atlantic 10 tournament championship (VCU, 87-74); lost in NCAA Tournament Round of 32 (No. 1 Oregon, 69-64)

It was one of those years where everything seemed to click. The Hawks’ talented roster picked up several quality wins over the likes of Dayton, Virginia Tech, and Temple, and by the time March rolled around, it was basically consensus that SJU would be in the big dance. After earning the No. 4 seed in the Atlantic 10 tournament and therefore a double-bye, the Hawks ripped off three wins in a row over George Washington, top-seeded Dayton and VCU en route to their second league title in three years.

The focus then shifted to Spokane, where a would-be game-tying dunk from Cincinnati’s Octavius Ellis was a split second too late, giving ninth-seeded St. Joe’s its first NCAA tournament victory since a 2004 run to the Elite Eight. The Hawks ended up falling to top-seed Oregon in exciting fashion two days later, but their 2015-16 campaign was certainly memorable to say the least.

Key Losses: G/F DeAndre’ Bembry (17.4 ppg, 7.8 rpg, 4.8 apg), PF Isaiah Miles (18.1 ppg, 8.1 rpg), G/F Aaron Brown (10.4 ppg, 3.2 rpg), PF Papa Ndao (4.9 ppg, 3.2 rpg)

Having contributed to such a special year, this won’t be an easy trio to replace, by any means. Bembry was certainly the main focus of attention on St. Joe’s roster last season, and that didn’t change when he left after his junior year and joined the Atlanta Hawks via the 29th pick in the NBA Draft. With that said, the 6-foot-6 wing isn’t the only tough loss for SJU.

Isaiah Miles, especially by way of the jump shot, was critical for the Hawks throughout the regular season and in the postseason especially. The team leader in scoring, Miles dropped 19 points in the NCAA Tournament win, including the go-ahead shot that sealed the victory over Cincinnati in the waning seconds. The 6-foot-8 forward took part in the NBA Summer League, and is now playing overseas in France.

Brown, while slightly less impactful in the scoring category than his two fellow departures, still averaged double-digits and shot 34.3 percent from three-point range in his senior season. The local product out of Penn Wood was a consistent presence all year at the guard position, capping his career with two solid seasons in the Hawk crimson after beginning his college time at West Virginia.

Nick Robinson (above) is one of four St. Joe's freshmen who all stand 6-6 or taller. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)

New Faces: F Gerald Blount (Pomfret School, Conn.), SF Charlie Brown (St. Thomas More, Conn.), F Lorenzo Edwards (Lake Forest, Ill.), G/F Nick Robinson (Kenwood Ac., Ill.)

To help offset the loss of a tremendous senior class, Martelli has restocked the lineup with this athletic four-man group, which should make a moderate impact right away with a chance to be a very impressive group as the years go on. It’s a group with a lot of length, between Robinson (6-6), Brown (6-7), Blount (6-6) and Edwards (6-7), giving the Hawks some depth on the wings and in the frontcourt which was desperately needed with the departures of Bembry, Miles and Aaron Brown.

The gem of the class certainly seems to be Charlie Brown, the Philadelphia native who blew up during his senior season at George Washington and only became more and more impressive over his prep year at St. Thomas More. A terrific shooter who was 6-4 as a high school junior, Brown now possess elite size at the ‘2’/’3’ position and could be the best long-term prospect in the entire city, as he’s just starting to scratch the surface of his potential.

After Brown, the most likely player to have an impact right away is Robinson, a crafty 6-6 wing guard from Illinois. Though he still -- like Brown -- has a lot of work to do in the weight room to get his body up to the physicality of the Atlantic 10, he’s got the ability to put the ball in the bucket, and St. Joe’s needs as many scoring options as it can get. Blount and Edwards are more of the slightly-undersized-but-athletic forwards, and while both will likely see some deep reserve minutes this year, the only way they’ll see more than that is if they can prove to stretch the floor, something Edwards could potentially do but Blount doesn’t really have as part of his game.

Starting Frontcourt: F/C Javon Baumann (0.5 ppg, 1.0 rpg)

With St. Joe’s almost certain to go with a four-out look thanks to the season-ending injury of sophomore Pierfrancesco Oliva, a 6-8 stretch-forward, the only true big man in the starting lineup should be Baumann. The 6-8, 255-pound German native actually started 30 games as a sophomore, averaging 3.6 ppg and 3.7 rpg in just under 20 minutes, but was moved back to a reserve role last season as Martelli shifted to a more skill-oriented attack over power and size. Needs to just be the best version of himself: play ‘D’, crash the glass and finish the dirty work around the bucket.

James Demery (above) looks ready to return to the starting lineup after serving as the team's sixth man last year. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)

Starting Backcourt: PG Shavar Newkirk (8.0 ppg, 2.6 apg), PG Lamarr Kimble (6.0 ppg, 2.5 apg), SF James Demery (8.1 ppg, 3.6 rpg), SF Charlie Brown (DNP)

This is a unit that the St. Joe’s coaching staff is very excited about, and rightly so. Without a senior on the perimeter, this Hawks group has two years to gel together, and it’s a quartet that brings a lot to the table. Look for Martelli to go with a two point guard lineup, with both Kimble and Newkirk sharing the bulk of the minutes after splitting them almost 50/50 last year (Newkirk: 23.6 mpg, Kimble: 18.1 ppg). With Kimble the better 3-point shooter (.372 to .303 last year) by a good margin, expect him to play more off the ball, something he’s used to from his time at Neumann-Goretti sharing a backcourt with Ja’Quan Newton and others.

Perhaps the player in the best position to turn into a real featured player for the Hawks is Demery, a 6-6 wing who is suddenly the most experienced player on the roster. As a freshman, the North Carolina native started 29 games a little before he was ready, averaging 6.7 ppg and 3.5 rpg, before settling into a much more comfortable reserve role last year, averaging 8.1 ppg and 3.6 rpg as he benefitted from coming off the bench. Now he should be ready to be a go-to scorer, but will need to improve upon his 23.8 percent 3-point shooting to really take that leap.

Bench: F Lorenzo Edwards (DNP), G/F Nick Robinson (DNP), F/C Jai Williams (1.0 ppg, 1.0 rpg), SG Chris Clover (0.5 ppg), F Brendan Casper (0.7 ppg, 0.5 rpg), PF Markell Lodge (0.8 ppg, 0.9 rpg).

Just like someone (or someones) in the starting lineup will need to step up for St. Joe’s as a go-to scorer, Martelli and his staff are also looking for at least one or two players to rise up as reliable options off the bench. They're certainly hoping for a big step forward from Clover, the former St. Joe's Prep standout; a 6-4 wing, Clover never seemed to get comfortable during spare minutes as a freshman, but he's got a terrific body to handle the physicality of a much larger role, he just needs to see his shot start to fall after making just two of 21 shots last year.

If Clover can get St. Joe's 8-10 points, the rest of the bench will look a lot better with a few other options who can contribute a bucket or two. Casper, a 6-6 former walk-on from Methacton, has been a staff favorite in his years on campus, appearing in 23 games as a sophomore and 43 so far in his career, and Martelli isn't afraid to give Casper a solid run here and there, especially as the team is short on shot-making forwards.

Up front, look for Williams -- now in the best shape of his life at 6-9, 240 -- and Lodge, an athletic 6-7 forward, to fill in behind Baumann to bring toughness and rebounding to the frontcourt, but don't expect any of them to share the court too much.

Three Games to Watch
1. @ Villanova (Dec. 3): The toughest team without a doubt on St. Joe’s schedule, the defending champs will be ready and waiting to host the Hawks in the annual Holy War. By this point, both teams should be pretty much into the swing of things, making for a tough test for the Hawks. ‘Nova returns a bulk of its national title-winning team, including seniors Josh Hart and championship game hero Kris Jenkins. The 2016 edition of the Big 5 clash will heavily favor Villanova once again, but an upset is always possible, especially in the early portion of the season.

2. @ Princeton (Dec. 14): Princeton’s talented roster will provide another road test for the Hawks, who take on a Tigers team that reached the NIT last season and will likely contend for an Ivy League title once again this season. The Hawks took last year’s meeting with Princeton at Hagan Arena by a final 62-50, so the Tigers will undoubtedly look for revenge on their own floor, as SJU is without the player who scored nearly half of their points -- Bembry, with 27 -- in that December 2015 meeting. The Tigers are led by senior wing Spencer Weisz, who averaged 10.9 ppg, 5.2 rpg and 3.9 apg as a junior and is only 76 points from 1,000.

3. vs. Rhode Island (March 1): The Rams, a team which many believe belong on the preseason top 25, should be quite the opponent for St. Joe’s. URI has taken just one of its last eight matchups against the Hawks, but there’s reason to believe this year may be different, largely because of the Rams’ wealth of talent, led by seniors Hassan Martin and Kuran Iverson; most important is the return of E.C. Matthews, who averaged 16.9 ppg as a sophomore in 2014-15 but went down just 10 minutes into what would have been his junior year with a season-ending injury.

How Kimble (above) and Shavar Newkirk jive in the St. Joe's backcourt will be crucial to the Hawks' season. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)

Three Keys to Success
1. Kimble/Newkirk chemistry.
It’s going to be an interesting process, watching Kimble and Newkirk figure out how to play alongside one another, as it’s something they didn’t do much of a year ago. And Martelli has said he’s dealing with the issue of having the two of them get a chance to learn to play together while at the same time needing to go head-to-head during practice as the only two true point guards on the roster. Kimble is a better shooter than Newkirk, suggesting he’s more likely to play off the ball with more regularity, but he’s also a team captain and a vocal on-court leader who can get the team into its offense even late in the shot clock. Newkirk, however, was praised by Martelli as one of his veterans with the strongest offseason, and he’s not going to give up his role so easily.

2. Three-headed center. St. Joe’s mostly played without a true center last year, as both Miles and Oliva were pick-and-pop forwards who could crash the glass, rather than true paint patrollers who could give the team an inside presence. That’ll change this year, with the rotation of Baumann, Williams and Lodge likely to eat up all the minutes at the ‘5’ spot -- and none of them have the ability to step out much further than the foul line extended, with all of their strengths coming much closer to the bucket. None of them need to have individually outstanding seasons, but their combined numbers need to add up to something around 10-12 points and as many rebounds per game.

3. Develop new identity. Kimble put it best when he said the Hawks aren’t trying to “repeat” as A-10 champions, but instead just “get another one.” Without Bembry, Miles and Brown, this group of Hawks will have to form its own identity, with its own go-to scorer(s), its own motivations, its own personality. It’s going to be a much younger group, that much is obvious, and how quickly the freshman class (and several sophomores) adjust to big roles will be a big piece of how well this season goes for St. Joe’s. If they try to live up to the previous season, they’ll have a hard time measuring up, but a focus on creating their own legacy moving forward should pay off sooner rather than later.

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