Nick Robinson's transfer leaves St. Joe's in need of some depth on the wing. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Josh Verlin (@jmverlin)
The way Saint Joseph’s finished the 2017-18 season strong down the stretch, and with several key players slated to return from season-long injuries this fall, the immediate future looked bright for the Hawks.
But that optimism took a significant blow on Friday afternoon, as it was announced that rising junior guard Nick Robinson had received his release and will be transferring out of Hawk Hill.
A quote from SJU head coach Phil Martelli in the press release mentioned that “family circumstances have caused Nick to make this move,” so expect the Chicago, Ill. native to wind up closer to home for his final two seasons of college basketball.
His former team will have to move forward without the 6-foot-6 combo guard, who averaged 6.4 ppg, 4.4 rpg and 2.2 apg in 62 career games, with 30 starts. A strong perimeter defender who was more comfortable playing on the ball than off it, he’d been a valuable part of the rotation for two years, though it looked like he was about to potentially break out as a junior.
Robinson really hit his stride during the closing run of his second collegiate season, averaging 14.1 ppg and 7.1 rpg while hitting 10-of-15 (.667) from 3-point range over the final seven games of the year. His play was a major reason the Hawks (16-16, 10-8 A-10) closed out the year winning seven of its final nine games despite playing with a seven-man rotation that featured two freshmen and was missing two projected starters -- junior point guard Lamarr “Fresh” Kimble and sophomore wing Charlie Brown Jr. -- to injuries that had kept them out all year.
With Robinson gone, the slider on Hawks’ roster situation takes a big shift from “stable” towards ”precarious.” The departure leaves Martelli with just nine scholarship players available for the 2018-19 season, and not a lot of depth in the backcourt.
Kimble, who’s only played in 25 games the last two seasons due to a broken bone in his foot suffered in February 2017 and re-injured in November, should be back for his redshirt junior season at point guard, where he’ll be backed up by freshman Jared Bynum, a talented guard in his own right.
On the wing are only the 6-6 Brown, who averaged 12.8 ppg during a promising freshman year in 2016-17 before a wrist injury cost him last season, and 6-4 Chris Clover, a St. Joe’s Prep product and former Catholic League Player of the Year who averaged 8.2 ppg and 3.3 rpg last season but only shot 38.8 percent from the floor and 28.6 percent from deep.
After that, the rest of the lineup are bigs: senior Markell Lodge (6-7), juniors Lorenzo Edwards (6-7) and Pierfrancesco Oliva (6-8), and sophomores Anthony Longpré (6-10) and Taylor Funk (6-9). Of that group, Funk is the most offensively skilled and perhaps most likely to be able to slide over to play a few minutes at the ‘3’, but he’s much better suited as a stretch-’4’ in the Hawks’ system.
There is one other guard on the roster -- Delaware transfer Ryan Daly -- but while the 6-5 son of former St. Joe’s wing Brian Daly will be a useful body in practice, he must sit out this season per NCAA regulations.
There’s no doubt that Martelli and his staff are going to have to play with some interesting lineups this season.
Robinson was almost certain to start this season in the backcourt with Kimble and Brown, with Bynum and Clover coming off the bench. Now it’s likely Clover who stays in the starting lineup, with Funk/Longpré/Oliva splitting the majority of minutes at the ‘4’ and ‘5’ positions. The Hawks could play all four guards in a small-ball lineup, but with only walk-ons as reserves in that situation, it’s not a lineup that could get 30 minutes every game.
Defensively, this could cause some issues. Both Bynum (5-10) and Kimble (5-11) are under six-feet-tall, and so pairing them together could be a problem against some of the bigger backcourts around. Brown has the best length of the group, but he wasn’t considered as good of an on-ball defender as Robinson, who could guard the ‘1’ through ‘4’s in most lineups.
There’s still time for the Hawks’ coaches to add to the roster, whether by picking up an available 2018 senior or a transfer -- either junior college or graduate transfers who could play right away -- but they’re certainly behind in the process.
If they don’t, there are still enough pieces for St. Joe’s to be competitive in the Atlantic 10 this season, but the loss of one more player could be the tipping point. The Hawks need to hope the injury bug that’s bitten the last couple years has moved on from City Ave., or it could be another trying year ahead.