Picked to finish seventh in the 2015-16 Atlantic 10 preseason poll, the Saint Joseph’s Hawks were all but written off before their season even began.
Fast forward a year or so later, those same Hawks gathered on the first day of school on Monday in the Ramsay Basketball Center for a special ring ceremony to commemorate their A-10 championship.
To help give out the rings, head coach Phil Martelli was able to gather members of past St. Joe’s A-10 championship teams: Rodney Blake and Bruiser Flint from the 1986 team, Pat Carroll from the 2004 team, and most recently Daryus Quarles from the 2014 team.
Notably missing from the ceremony was A-10 and Big 5 Player of the Year DeAndre' Bembry, a first-round draft pick of the Atlanta Hawks, and Isaiah Miles, who has begun his professional career in France with JDA Dijon.
Aaron Brown, the team’s third graduated senior and another key cog of that championship run, was able to attend before heading off to start his pro career in Iceland.
Martelli, addressing a room full of players, coaches, family and friends, made it clear just what it means to wear that ring and represent St. Joe’s as A-10 champions.
“Championships last with you for a long time, if not forever, and we’re getting the opportunity to share that with these players, their families and some really special people in the room,” Martelli said. “People are going to have some tough times; they’re going to lose loved ones, they’re going to lose possessions, they’re going to lose jobs, but forever this group of players is going to be the 2016 Atlantic 10 champions.”
The 2015-16 Hawks finished the regular season with a 28-8 record, good enough for second-best in school history. They won their fourth A-10 championship, made their second NCAA tournament appearance in the last three years and came a few points shy of a Sweet 16 appearance.
A simply remarkable season for a team that won just 13 games the year before. However, as with any sport, when one season ends the focus is already on next year.
"We knew in the beginning, since I’ve had this job, that each year is a separate entity and each team is a separate group," Martelli said. "Obviously the talent changes, we had a first-round draft pick, we had a great player in Isaiah Miles, so we had all-league players. Now it’s really the question of who's next and what expectations do they have for carrying the ball. Everybody gets a chance, and this group now has that opportunity."
Lamar Kimble, a 2015-16 A-10 All-Rookie selection, is one player who will be counted on following the recent departures of Bembry, Miles and Brown. Despite being just a sophomore, Kimble knows he’s ready for a more expanded role this season.
"I've always been a leader, but I definitely see a bigger role this year in terms of scoring and facilitating," Kimble said. "I'm definitely ready to [have a bigger role], I’m looking to have more goals than last year rather than just All-Rookie, so there’s definitely big dreams for me."
Regardless of the success that St. Joe’s saw last year, both the players and coaches recognize that a new season has begun. Prior to the ceremony and reception, the Hawks went through a routine summer practice. Players realize the work and effort that must be put in if they want to replicate last season’s run.
“It just starts from the older guys, you know, letting the younger guys know that what we did last year doesn’t fold over to the next year, we still have to work as hard as possible to get to where we need to get to,” Kimble said. “I think that’s the mind set we had this whole summer, going into the year now we have that same mind set where we want to get back to where we were at, that’s the position we want to be in.”
Martelli, entering his 22nd year on Hawk hill, looked out and addressed the crowd one last time after sliding his fifth championship ring (four A-10 titles and one from the 2004 undefeated regular season) onto his finger.
“Championships are won and championships are lost,” he said, “but the Hawk will never die.”