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2016-17 Preview: St. Joe's going through offensive changes

11/04/2016, 10:30am EDT
By Josh Verlin

The Hawks are without a sharpshooting big like Isaiah Miles (above) this year. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)

Josh Verlin (@jmverlin)

(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.)


There’s no denying this is going to be a new-look Saint Joseph’s.

Gone is De’Andre’ Bembry, the Atlantic 10 Player of the Year, taking with him 17.4 points, 7.8 rebounds and 4.5 assists per game. The Atlanta Hawks snagged the 6-foot-6 wing with the 21st pick in the NBA Draft, after he led St. Joe’s to a 28-8 record and NCAA Tournament appearance as a junior.

Also departing was Isaiah Miles, the 6-8 stretch forward who burst out as a senior to lead the team in scoring (18.1 ppg) and rebounding (8.1 rpg), having the best breakout final collegiate year the city has seen in some time. And they’ll miss Aaron Brown (10.4 ppg), the tough Penn Wood wing who played the ‘2’ through the ‘4’, plus stretch-forward Papa Ndao (4.9 ppg, 3.2 rpg), as well.

All in all, Hawks head coach Phil Martelli has to replace a little more than 57 percent of his team’s minutes and just over 65 percent of its scoring from a year ago.

Instead, expect a more guard and wing-oriented approach that’s going to have to thrive on defense and transition.

“The way I put it together is, August 1 [...] I start to look at what makes sense with the players that we’re going to have,” Martelli said. “The offensive part of it has been the biggest struggle. I don’t worry defensively, we’ll come up with a game plan, we’ll be able to organize them on defense, but it’s just such a hard game when you don’t score.”

The Hawks had the 32nd-most efficient offense in the country last season according to hoops statistician Ken Pomeroy, and though the team’s 3-point shooting wasn’t terrific (.327, 257th nationally), the best outside shooting came from the forwards. Miles (.385) and Ndao (.356) made a combined 102 triples; of the guards, only Kimble (29-of-78, .372) was above 35 percent.

But Miles and Ndao are gone now -- and with sophomore forward Pierfrancesco Oliva (knee) unavailable for the season, the Hawks are without a stretch-forward who can truly fill the role they played to perfection last year.

Instead this year’s starting big man will likely be redshirt senior Javon Baumann, a 6-9, 250-pound German center who’s a big active body but not a skilled offensive player. Markell Lodge, an athletic 6-7 redshirt sophomore, and Jai Williams, a 6-9 post who’s shed 60 pounds off a formerly 300-pound frame since he arrived on campus, will also see minutes.

“We will play with a bigger player -- that doesn’t mean we’ll play bigger, but we’ll play with a bigger player and we’ll play with less reliance on long-range shooting,” Martelli said. “We’re really trying to get this team to drive the ball as much as they can, try to put them on positions where they can drive the ball as much as we can.”

Those remaining on the roster from last year’s squad are confident that this team will be able to adapt and adjust.

“We definitely have the potential to be really scary in terms of we’ve got a lot of guys who can score in different areas, from different places,” sophomore point guard Lamarr Kimble said. “Once we get everybody in their strong spots and we all play together and share the ball, and do all the little things that you’re supposed to do to win, it’ll turn out well in the long run.”

Shavar Newkirk (above) and the Hawks are looking to attack the rim more and more. (Photo: Mark Jordan/CoBL)

Last year, Martelli used Kimble and junior point guard Shavar Newkirk in a platoon situation at point guard, with both seeing around 20 minutes and putting up similar stat lines; Newkirk averaged eight points and 2.4 assists in 23.1 minutes, Kimble six points and 2.5 assists in 18.1 minutes.

But this year, though they’re still the only two pure point guards on the roster, they’re likely to spend a lot of time alongside one another in the backcourt. It’s presented a conundrum for Martelli, who needs them to get used to playing together while also bringing out the best of each other in practice.”

“To be honest with you, it’s a challenge for me,” Martelli said. “Because I love competition in practice, so I love seeing them go head-to-head, but if somebody said to me ‘are they two of your top five or six guys,’ I would say to you yeah.

“Whether that’s starting or (playing) the bulk of the game, I’m not there yet,” he added. “I want somebody, and maybe it’s the walk-on crew, one of them is going to have to step up and run (the other team in practice).”

Aside from the point guard situation, the Hawks will also need to figure out who their go-to bucket-getters are late in the shot clock. There are a number of options, and Martelli pointed to a handful of players who had strong offseasons.

Out on the wings, junior James Demery (8.1 ppg) and sophomore Chris Clover (0.5 ppg) could each see a big uptick in production; Demery as he moves back into the starting lineup after starting his whole freshman season, and Clover as he becomes a regular part of the rotation.

“These other guys, like Chris and James are really working,” Martelli said. “I’ve seen improvement (from several players), whether or not it’s going to be big enough for them to get bigger pieces of the pie...somebody’s got to play.”

Another very intriguing scoring option for the Hawks is freshman wing Charlie Brown. Like Kimble, Clover and Williams a Philadelphia native, Brown -- a 2015 graduate of George Washington HS in the Northeast -- is back in town after a successful prep season at St. Thomas More (Conn.), where not only did the sharpshooter add muscle to his wiry frame but also grew from 6-5 to 6-7.

“He makes a lot of shots, he makes a lot of shots,” Martelli said. “And in September, he took a lot of shots to make a lot of shots; I feel he’s much more judicious in the shots that he’s taking. And he had to be, because going at the pace he was going at in September would not have boded well with coaching (in) October.”

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