DeAndre' Bembry and Charlie Brown never played on the same team.
But every day, the two basketball players trade texts with Bembry asking Brown how he’s doing in his first year at St. Joe’s and Brown asking Bembry what it’s like in his first season in the NBA.
That’s just the kind of person Bembry is, trying to get to know a new St. Joe’s player even though he’s now playing for a different Hawks team after getting drafted by Atlanta with the 21st pick of the 2016 NBA draft. And that’s why, in a way, it still almost feels like the NBA rookie remains a part of the St. Joe’s program heading into the 2016-17 season.
“The first day of practice, I actually had this idea in the back of my head, I was gonna yell out and use [Bembry’s] name,” St. Joe’s head coach Phil Martelli said from the Hawks’ media day on Thursday. “But as I’ve gotten older and these guys have gotten younger, I’ve had to diminish my humorous moments because they don’t get it. They don’t laugh at the same things I laugh at.
“But he’s still here. Believe it or not, you can feel him in the way these guys interact with each other — not from the basketball sense but from what they’ve taken what Aaron Brown left and what Isaiah Miles left and what DeAndre left and understand this is a team. This is not about them individually. I’m really pleased with that part of it.”
Although the returning players may have learned a lot from the departed ones, Martelli recognizes he will have a huge challenge trying to replace Bembry, Miles and Brown — a trio that combined to average 46 points per game last season.
He also knows it isn’t necessarily fair to have his current players try to live up to a 2015-16 season in which St. Joe’s won 28 games, the Atlantic 10 Tournament and its NCAA Tourney opener.
“That team last year was an extraordinary experience for all of us,” Martelli said. “But it’s now on a shelf. It’s now a ring, pieces of the net. That’s when I speak of DeAndre, Isaiah and Aaron Brown still being here. The value of being a good teammate, that’s still prevalent with this group.
“We’re not defending A-10 champs. We’re the A-10 champs for 2016. They can all put that in their bag and carry it with them, and now we can see what we can do this season.”
Bembry, of course, was the biggest reason why the Hawks were so good last season — and the 2016 Atlantic 10 Player of the Year cashed that into a first-round pick. For his St. Joe’s teammates, joining him on that memorable ride last season was a lot of fun. So, too, was then seeing him make it to the NBA.
“I was very excited for him,” said point guard Lamarr “Fresh” Kimble, a sophomore captain. “For anyone to accomplish that, especially someone you know, is great. I’m proud of him and what he’s doing. I know he’s working hard over there.”
Kimble added that Bembry joining other former Hawks like Langston Galloway and Jameer Nelson in the NBA adds “motivation” that maybe he could one day get there too. Brown, a promising freshman from Philly who figures to see a lot of minutes this year, agreed.
“Just knowing we can have the opportunity to further our basketball is awesome,” Brown said, adding that Bembry tells him “to keep my head up, stay focused and stay in the gym,” even as the St. Joe’s alum prepares for his own pro games.
What does Martelli think it means to the current players to see former ones now playing their trade in the NBA?
“I’m sure they’re delighted for their successes,” the St. Joe’s coach said. “Every young kid out there thinks, ‘I might be the next one.’ … The fact that Langston and Jameer and DeAndre are so familiar to these guys because they came through here in the summer bodes well for the future. And I hope when these guys put their head on the pillow at night, they’re thinking, ‘Am I next? Can I be the next one?’ Just like I want to them to think about the two Atlantic 10 trophies from ‘14 and ‘16 and say I want to be a part of the next one.”
Winning the next one this season will certainly be a tall feat for the Hawks. But with only one senior on the roster, the Hawks feel like they have something to build toward, thanks in large part to what Bembry and others left behind.
“I learned a lot from DeAndre Bembry, Isaiah Miles and Aaron Brown,” junior swingman James Demery said. “Now we have to take that year and bring it to this one and continue to carry the torch.”