With Charlie Brown and Lamarr Kimble back from injuries, Hawks are a new team | St. Joe’s season preview
The key to the Hawks challenging for an NCAA Tournament bid? Making sure Phil Martelli's top two players stay healthy, which they haven't been able to do.
In a time of transition, St. Joseph's coach Phil Martelli doesn't like to look at how a team performed during the previous season and extrapolate what that means for the upcoming one.
The Hawks return several key players from the team that won seven of its final nine games to finish 16-16. But that squad had senior leadership in Shavar Newkirk and James Demery, the top two scorers.
For the 2018-19 season, St. Joe's returns perhaps its two best players – sophomore forward Charlie Brown and junior point guard Lamarr "Fresh" Kimble – both of whom sat out last season with injuries.
Those are major changes that will alter the complexion of the team.
"I don't see a guy leaving as a loss," Martelli said. "That is not to disrespect Shavar and James, but that was last year's team. For this team, there is no offsetting [the losses] because Shavar was unique and James was unique in their approach, practice and individual work.
"This is a new team that has a healthy Charlie Brown and a healthy Fresh Kimble. We have a clean slate."
The Hawks open the season on Nov. 9 with Old Dominion coming to Hagan Arena.
The only benefit from not having Brown and Kimble last season was that it forced young players like Taylor Funk and Anthony Longpre — both sophomore forwards — to play bigger roles than they typically would have as freshmen.
Funk (11.8 points per game) was the third-leading scorer behind Newkirk and Demery and set a freshman record with 84 three-pointers. Longpre played in all 32 games, including 21 starts. As the season went on, his development was noticeable.
But the return of Kimble and Brown cannot be understated.
Kimble was averaging 15.5 points and had 107 assists when he first broke his foot late in the 2016-17 season. He played in the first game of last season before being shut down again.
Brown was an Atlantic 10 all-rookie team honoree in 2016-17 when he averaged 12.8 points per game and 5.0 rebounds with 21 blocked shots. He missed all of last season with a broken wrist that refused to heal.
"Physically, they look terrific," Martelli said of Kimble and Brown. "[Kimble's] work from the summer has been extraordinary. His fitness level is very high. He's destined to have a big year.
"Brown hasn't missed anything. Still, he's the one I'm more concerned about because he's going to try to play all 32 games that he missed last year against Old Dominion on Nov. 9. It's not going to work.
"He has to show up for the Old Dominion game like it is the first game of his sophomore year and not the 33rd game of the season he missed. I'm chipping away at that."
The assumption that those two will remain healthy was good enough for the Hawks to be picked to finish second to St. Louis in the A-10 preseason poll.
"It doesn't have any impact on me," Martelli said. "I think it is great for the fans. I think it's great for conversation."
On paper, the Hawks look more talented than last season.
Players like senior guard Chris Clover, who started 28 games; junior Pierfrancesco Oliva, who missed the 2016-17 season with an injury; Troy Holston, a graduate transfer from South Florida who missed the 2017-18 season with an injury; and freshman combo guard Jared Bynum provide Martelli with a lot of options for combinations during games.
"If there is a carryover, it kind of combines with the guys who are coming back," Martelli said. "We have a lot of guys who at some point had the ball taken away from them. …
"I try to open my mind to what we can do with the players we have now, not what we had last season."
Previewing the St. Joe’s Hawks
Last year: 16-16, 10-8 Atlantic 10 Conference (lost in semifinals of A-10 tournament to Rhode Island).
Coach: Phil Martelli (24th season, 430-309, all at St. Joe's).
Key returnees: Taylor Funk, 6-9, So. (11.8 ppg); Chris Clover, 6-3, Sr. (8.2 ppg); Anthony Longpre, 6-10, So. (4.3 ppg); Pierfrancesco Oliva, 6-8, Jr. (6.6 ppg, 6.8 rpg).
Who's gone: G Shavar Newkirk (17.4 ppg); G James Demery (16.9 ppg); F Nick Robinson (7.7 ppg).
Who's new: Charlie Brown, 6-7, So. (returning from injury); Lamarr Kimble, 6-0, Jr. (returning from injury); Troy Holston, 6-4, grad transfer from South Florida (missed last season with injury); Jared Bynum, 5-10, Fr.
What to look for in 2018-19: The Hawks get back two preseason all-Atlantic 10 second-team players in Kimble and Brown. Their adjustment to their teammates might take some time early, but St. Joe's is a legitimate threat to make the NCAA Tournament as the A-10 champion or with an at-large bid. St. Joe's was 6-13 away from Hagan Arena last season and must improve on that.