The rules insist there always has to be a next season.

A year ago, Saint Joseph's was picked to finish seventh in the Atlantic 10. The Hawks won the conference tournament (for the second time in three years), ended up with 28 victories and nearly took out top-seeded Oregon in the second round of the NCAA West Regional.

So what now?

They have to replace A-10 Player of the Year DeAndre' Bemby, who's playing in the NBA, leading scorer Isaiah Miles, who's playing in France, and Aaron Brown, who's playing in Iceland. They don't return anyone who scored in double figures. And Pierfrancesco Oliva, who would have helped, is out for the season with a knee injury. So this time around they're picked to finish ninth in the preseason poll. It happens. Rumor is the Hawks will show up and play anyway. And probably play really hard.

"We're a little young," said junior forward James Demery, who started as a freshman and is the top returning scorer, after averaging 8.1 points off the bench. "We expect a lot from our players. We have to develop a maturity, and look for our identity.

"We miss those guys (who aren't here anymore). They really had a great impact for us. Now it's time for us to carry the torch, take on the responsibility. We need to have new roles, learn from our experiences."

The new journey begins Saturday night at Hagan Arena against Toledo, which went 17-15 and was picked fourth in the Middle Atlantic Conference West Division.

"This team is going to get bumped and bruised," Hawks coach Phil Martelli said. "How we pick ourselves up and go forward, that's what I'm interested in. I don't have an answer to that yet. But these are the guys we have. I just take it for the entity that it is. Who's going to be next?"

Shavar Newkirk and Lamarr "Fresh" Kimble, who was voted the third sophomore team captain in program history, are the ballhandlers. And the 6-footers might play together, which means the Hawks will be smaller. They also won't be as dependent on perimeter shooting and will instead try to attack the basket more. Martelli says he still doesn't have a starting lineup firmed up, but whatever shakes out, he'll likely be using a nine-man rotation. Freshman forward Charlie Brown, who's from George Washington High but went to prep school for a year in Connecticut, might turn out to be an immediate scoring threat. He might have to.

"Almost everything will definitely be different," Kimble said. "It's a challenge. But the goal's still the same. That's to win. Those (departed) guys taught us how to win. Everybody has to have the mindset to push forward. We're not looking to defend the title. We're just looking to get another.

"It's our turn now, for sure. It started in the offseason. A lot of us were here all summer. If you put in the right amount of work . . . We hear it. We're not going to be the same, or we're going to finish last or whatever. That's all motivation. We just worry about the guys in the locker room. Last year, we were all brothers. On the court spoke for itself. We looked like a family out there. More than that, we were like that off the court. That hasn't changed."

A year ago, how many knew that Miles would go from a 10-point scorer into one of the A-10's best players? That's why they play the games. Because predictions are nothing more than maybe educated opinions. March is a long way off. A lot can factor into this evolving equation, promising or otherwise, especially with so many relatively unknown pieces to fit together. Bembry was one of those once, too.

"I've been here 22 years, and my goal has always been the same," Martelli said. "When I go home at the end of the day, are we better? That's how I evaluate it. I'm not into this number of wins means we're successful, or we've got to win this game or that one. The strength of the unit is bigger than the strength of an individual.

"We're not the defending A-10 champions. We're the A-10 champs from 2016. Now we're going to see how we can do this season. We don't have a star guy to lean on when all heck breaks loose. That's not what this team is made of. We have to figure out what makes sense for this group with the players we're going to have."

And at some point, hopefully some of them begin to emerge and make their own statement. That's why they call it a program.


Last season: 28-8 (Won the Atlantic 10 Tournament as the fourth seed; lost to top-seeded Oregon in the second round of the NCAA Tournament, 69-64, as a No. 8 seed in the West).
Coach: Phil Martelli (403-273 entering his 22nd season at St. Joe's).
Fresh cast of characters: You might not always be able to tell the players without a program. At least at first. That's how it will be when you lose so much from such a good team. Roles must change. And quickly. It still can't make up for everything that DeAndre' Bemby and Isaiah Miles in particular supplied. It's not only about replacing numbers, but also intangibles. Lamarr Kimble is a sophomore captain. That says about everything you need to know about his presence, even as a relative youngster. But not even Bembry could do it alone.
Newcomer most likely to succeed: At first glance, that would seem to be Charlie Brown. The 6-7 freshman is the guy that appears to have Martelli most excited. Mostly because he can score. But as Martelli noted, he still has to grow up and learn that defense counts, too. He's hardly the only freshman who comes in facing that process. You just hope the good he gives you outweighs any early minuses.
Scoring woes: The Hawks will find a way to defend, even using a different kind of lineup. Yet putting the ball in the basket is the glaring concern going in. They must replace the 46 points a game they lost. And as Martelli pointed out, it's much easier to get your point across when shots are falling. Projected story line: How much better can this group be some three months from now? Reality suggests that's all that matters.Martelli feels good his two most vocal guys are also the ones who figure largely to have the ball in their hands. You always want the whole to be better than the sum of the parts, even when you have some studs. It's not only about this season. It's about getting a lot of these guys equipped to handle what might be possible in the future, too.