St. Joe's to meet St. John's in 2017 Hall of Fame Holiday Showcase

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St. Joe's to meet St. John's in 2017 Hall of Fame Holiday Showcase

With the matchups for Saint Joseph's men's basketball's conference slate already set, the Hawks have now added an old northeast corridor rival to the nonconference portion of their schedule.

The Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame announced Monday afternoon that St. Joe's and St. John's will meet on Dec. 20 during of the seventh annual Hall of Fame Holiday Showcase at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut. Providence and Houston will play in the other contest of the two-game event.

“We are honored to be associated with the Basketball Hall of Fame, an organization that promotes all levels of the game," Saint Joseph’s head coach Phil Martelli said in a statement released Monday. "We're delighted for our players to have the opportunity to compete against the legendary St. John's program and are looking forward to an old-fashioned Philly vs. New York matchup.” 

The two schools have played just once in the past 37 years—when the sides met at Hagan Arena in 2013, the Red Storm pulled out a narrow victory to advance to the second round of the NIT. But December's matchup will be the 58th all-time meeting between the programs.

Saint Joseph's last played at the Mohegan Sun Arena back in the 2015 Hall of Fame Showcase, losing to Florida before knocking off Old Dominion in the consolation game. The Hawks return nearly their entire roster for the 2017-18 season, including all five starters, led by the backcourt duo of Shavar Newkirk and Lamarr Kimble.

After disastrous season, St. Joe's picked to finish 3rd in Atlantic 10

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After disastrous season, St. Joe's picked to finish 3rd in Atlantic 10

Despite coming off an 11-20 season, Saint Joseph's was picked to finish third in the Atlantic 10 preseason poll released this week.

It's the highest the Hawks have been picked to finish since 2012-13 when they were the preseason favorite.

St. Joe's went just 4-14 in the conference last season after winning the A-10 with a 13-5 conference record the previous year. The Hawks have won the A-10 twice in the last four seasons.

Phil Martelli enters his 23rd season as head coach, and he has all five starters coming back. The Hawks lost some key players last season. Shavar Newkirk was averaging 20.3 points per game until he tore his ACL in the conference opener. Lamarr Kimble was averaging 15.5 points and leading the team in assists when he fractured his foot in February.

Newkirk was named to the preseason All-Conference Second Team; Kimble and Charlie Brown Jr. were third-teamers.

St. Joe's begins its season on Nov. 11 at Toledo, with the Hawks' home opener coming the following Saturday, Nov. 18 against Princeton (see schedule).

St. Joe's eyes collective step forward after injury-plagued 2016-17

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St. Joe's eyes collective step forward after injury-plagued 2016-17

Just 18 months ago, Saint Joseph’s was only a possession away from pulling even with No. 1 seed Oregon in the second round of the 2016 NCAA Tournament.

The following season, the Hawks won only 11 games, 17 less than the season prior that resulted in an Atlantic 10 championship and an NCAA Tournament berth.

The difference in success has a lot to do with the fact that St. Joe’s simply didn’t have the bodies to compete on a nightly basis.

Five Hawks missed at least seven games because of injury in 2016-17. That includes key cogs such as senior guard Shavar Newkirk (19 games, torn left ACL), senior forward James Demery (10 games, stress fracture in left foot) and junior guard Lamarr “Fresh” Kimble (seven games, left foot fracture).

In addition, forward Lorenzo Edwards missed all but one game because of shoulder surgery, while forward Pierfrancesco “Checco” Oliva missed the entire season after having knee surgery.

The Hawks have healed and now return their top-six scorers from a season ago, plus four guys that played at least 14 minutes in that tournament loss to Oregon. However, while a full roster is certainly a benefit, head coach Phil Martelli assured that merely having healthy players won’t turn around the team’s fortunes.

“We are returning starters from an 11-win season, so it isn’t that important,” Martelli said. “The way I have described this — when you have the year we had, you can get stripes. You can have a guy that gets a 20-point game, but it’s just a stripe. You only get a tattoo when your team wins. We have guys that understand that.

“I like the pieces that we have, but the pieces have to fit to where there is role acceptance. Who plays well with whom and when you are told what you get, will you maximize your 12 or 16 minutes on the floor?”

The roles for the backcourt tandem of Kimble and Newkirk are pretty clear.

While Newkirk continues to work his way back from ACL surgery by doing agility and stamina drills with the training staff, Kimble has returned in what he hopes is an even better version of himself.

“I definitely learned that I needed to improve my game,” said Kimble, who finished second on the team behind Newkirk with 15.5 points per game. “This summer, I got in the gym and slimmed down about 10 pounds and I feel like I am a step quicker and a step stronger.

“Last season was very humbling for us. Hopefully, we will be able to change things around and everyone will come in with a new mindset this year. You always need that balance between veterans and the young guys to keep everyone on a straight path.”

Martelli has been impressed with Kimble’s improvement as a basketball player and a leader.

“Lamarr has matured in the way he is going about his practice but making sure his team is organized and set,” Martelli said. “He is attentive to detail and I am a big fan of him as a leader, human being and as a player.”

Much like Kimble and Newkirk, Demery saw a big jump in scoring in 2016-17 before being sidelined. He posted 14.5 points per game and was the Hawks’ leading rebounder with 6.5 a night.

Despite the personal numbers, Demery is ready to move on from what he called a “down year.”

“We are not trying to repeat 2016-17 this season,” Demery said. “We have strong team chemistry and the young guys look up to myself and 'Fresh' because we have been in the ring and know what it takes to win an A-10 title.”

When prompted about what it will take for St. Joe’s to return to form, Martelli was direct that everything must be about the group and not individuals.

"We need to rebound and grasp the idea of role acceptance,” Martelli said. “We need to grow in the idea that we have to respect the 'we' and forget about the 'me.'"