A-10 preview: DeAndre' Bembry gives St. Joe's hope

usa-deandre-bembry-stjoes.jpg

A-10 preview: DeAndre' Bembry gives St. Joe's hope

At this time of year, every team in the country will come up with reasons why it can conjure a little bit of March magic and go on a run in its conference tournament.

For a team that finished four games below .500 overall and in the Atlantic 10, Saint Joseph’s probably has as good of a reason to be optimistic as any of them.

That’s because of DeAndre’ Bembry, the Hawks’ electrifying swingman who will be the best player at the Barclays Center every time St. Joe’s plays in the Atlantic 10 tournament, starting with Thursday’s tilt against St. Bonaventure (6:30 p.m., NBCSN).

“We’re going in saying, ‘How do we win on Thursday?’” St. Joe’s head coach Phil Martelli said. “We can win Thursday because we have the best player on the court. But everyone around him has to pick him up and support him.”

It’s the second part of that equation that has led to some struggles for the Hawks (13-17, 7-11), who limp into the A-10 tourney as the No. 10 seed after dropping four of their last five regular-season games. But Bembry has shown the ability to carry his team on his back, as he did when he poured in 33 points to lead the Hawks to a crucial road victory over UMass on Feb. 25 or when he finished with 21 points and 17 rebounds in a win over A-10 regular season champ Davidson on Jan. 31.

And the sophomore feels good about how the freshmen are evolving, as well as the leadership he and fellow captain Chris Wilson bring after both were starters on last year’s team that stormed to an A-10 tourney title. If the Hawks can beat seventh-seeded St. Bonaventure (17-12, 10-8) on Thursday, they’ll advance to Friday’s quarterfinal round where second-seeded Dayton awaits. The semifinals and title game will then be held on Saturday and Sunday, respectively.

“We’re definitely ready, especially after what happened last year since we won the championship,” Bembry said. “There’s a lot of excitement. ... We’re feeling confident. We feel like if we can beat St. Bonnies, the last game we had against Dayton was a battle to the last seconds.”

A confident Bembry should be a scary thought for the rest of the A-10. Averaging 17.9 points per game, Bembry is the first-ever St. Joe’s player to lead the Atlantic 10 in scoring, a remarkable feat when you consider the players that have come through the program over the years. And his numbers are impressive across the board. He ranks in the top 15 in the A-10 in 10 of 13 categories, including rebounding (7.8), assists (3.6) and steals (1.9). On Tuesday, he was named to the All-Atlantic 10 first team as well as the U.S. Basketball Writers Association All-District 2 team.

“When you rank, in my 20 years, individual great seasons, his is right up there with probably Jameer [Nelson’s] junior year and Pat Carroll’s senior year,” Martelli said. “It’s extraordinary.”

Bembry also ranks second in the nation in minutes played (38.6 per game), which has led to Martelli's holding him out of Monday practices to keep him fresh. But the St. Joe’s coach isn’t overly concerned about the possibility of his star player playing 40 minutes a game for four straight days.

“I don’t have any second thoughts about playing him so many minutes,” Martelli said. “He’s played so many minutes because he’s the most important player in the league and he’s the most important player to our team.”

Besides, Bembry wouldn’t have it any other way. He admits playing so much can be tiring at times, but he says it’s something he’s used to from high school. And getting the opportunity to constantly stay on the floor has only raised the sophomore’s confidence throughout the season — which, in turn, has led to his eye-popping statistics.

“I wasn’t expecting to have this good of a year,” he said. “It just happened. I just got into a certain mode. I felt comfortable with my game, and my teammates too.

“I do feel like I can’t be guarded. At certain times, it’s pretty hard to score that much when certain teams are zoned in about me. But I feel very confident in myself.”

The question, of course, for the Hawks is whether one confident star can lead them to their second straight Atlantic 10 tournament championship. Martelli, though, prefers to not even think about last year’s magical run in Brooklyn because many of the players from that year’s team are no longer at St. Joe’s. Now, it’s Bembry’s turn to try to lead the Hawks back to the Big Dance.

“We’re not defending anything,” Martelli said. “The trophy’s in the case. The rings are on people’s fingers. Hopefully the players will have the feel like, ‘This is the hotel, this is how we’re going to get over there, this is what it feels like to play there.’ So that’s the only thing. But we’re not walking in there with a swagger because we won a championship there last year.”

Drexel's Chris Crawford soaks up tradition at U.S. Open

usa-chris-crawford-drexel-golf.jpg
USA Today Images

Drexel's Chris Crawford soaks up tradition at U.S. Open

ERIN, Wis. — The U.S. Open is all about tradition. This week is the 117th playing of golf's national championship and this event more than most celebrates those golfers who play the game as amateurs. 

Soon-to-be Drexel graduate Chris Crawford has been soaking up all the traditions this week at Erin Hills. Playing in his second U.S. Open after qualifying through both local and sectional competition for the second straight year, an extremely difficult feat, the 23-year-old fifth-year senior enjoyed the amateur dinner put on by the tournament organizers with the USGA. Crawford and his fellow amateurs, a stout list including Texas' Scottie Scheffler, who shot 3-under Thursday to seize the early low amateur lead, were celebrated the entire evening — one of Crawford's early highlights in a long week here in Wisconsin. 

Crawford produced a 3-over par 75 Thursday during the first round to tie for 102nd out of a field of 156 players.

"I played OK (Thursday)," Crawford said. "I'm going to take more positives than negatives out of the round. I played really well for 14 holes and just had a few bad swings on the other four holes."

Indeed, Thursday morning started nervously for the former Drexel golf standout. On the opening par-5 first hole, he snap-hooked his drive into the weeds out of bounds to the left, resulting in a double bogey. Three holes later, he chipped one shot over the back of the fourth green and took another double-bogey, placing him 4-over through four holes. 

Although bogeys might keep many of us alive in our weekend matches, it doesn't cut it in a U.S. Open. Crawford responded well in the ensuing 14 holes, going 1-under in that stretch.

Crawford's coach Mike Dynda, who teaches him at LuLu Country Club in Glenside, Pennsylvania, said he makes a big point to prepare Crawford's mind for his big rounds.

"I texted him last night and said, 'When you got to sleep, imagine that you're on the 18th hole and you have a putt for 9-under,'" Dynda said. "It's important to go to sleep and dream like that."

On the other side, Dynda — who taught the golf team at Drexel from 2003-2015 — also told his pupil to stay away from expectations. When you're 23 and you're playing in your second consecutive U.S. Open, one might think it would be easy to get ahead of yourself. Not so with Crawford, according to Dynda.

"I've taught him to not have any expectations for the five years we've been together," Dynda said. 

Crawford had a superstar practice round on Monday, playing with Jordan Spieth, Jim Furyk and Wisconsin's own Steve Stricker.

"It was a lot of fun playing with those guys and just watching them strategize about learning a brand new U.S. Open course," Crawford said. "I think that's the biggest thing I was impressed with, was the way they talked about strategy on this golf course.

"They were all very nice with me and were very specific to ask about me and they wanted to learn a little bit about my life, so I appreciated that."

For Dynda, talking with Furyk brought back a fond memory. Furyk's father, Mike, actually sold Dynda his first set of golf clubs, Tommy Armor 845s, back in Philadelphia years ago. 

With one round in the books and the forecast calling for rain this weekend, Crawford was looking forward to having the proper mentality as he headed into Friday's second round.

"I want to go out there and just not get ahead of myself," Crawford said. "I'm going to think positively and appreciate that I'm playing in the national open."

Crawford teed off at 2:31 p.m. local time off of the 10th hole.

"This week is so cool because I never do something like this," Crawford said. "Playing in front of such large crowds is a treat and I just love the interaction with the fans before and after the rounds as well."

Last year at Oakmont, dozens of friends and family made the drive down the turnpike to see him play in his first U.S. Open. This year, Crawford estimates that he has around 15 friends and family out in the galleries cheering him on. Though coach Dynda caddied last year, those duties have gone to current Drexel golf coach Ben Feld.

It's a party this week of Drexel golf proportions.

Atlantic 10 reveals 2017-18 schedule pairings

Atlantic 10 reveals 2017-18 schedule pairings

Philadelphia basketball fans will be getting a double dip of one of the Atlantic 10 conference's best rivalries once again next season.

With the league's 18-game regular season format in place for a fourth straight year, it was revealed Wednesday afternoon that Saint Joseph's and La Salle will battle twice — once in North Philly at Tom Gola Arena and a second time at the Hawks' home just off City Line Avenue. Each team in the 14-member conference will play eight teams once and five teams twice.

The full pairings for the Explorers and Saint Joe's are listed here:

La Salle
Home: Dayton, George Mason, St. Bonaventure, VCU, Fordham, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Saint Joseph’s, Saint Louis
Away: Davidson, Duquesne, George Washington, Richmond, Fordham, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Saint Joseph’s, Saint Louis

Saint Joseph’s
Home: Dayton, Duquesne, Saint Louis, VCU, Fordham, George Mason, La Salle, Massachusetts, St. Bonaventure
Away: Davidson, George Washington, Rhode Island, Richmond, Fordham, George Mason, La Salle, Massachusetts, St. Bonaventure

It was also rumored earlier in the day that the Hawks have added a Big Five matchup at Temple for Dec. 9.