City 6 Preview 2014-15: St. Joe's turns to Wilson, Bembry


City 6 Preview 2014-15: St. Joe's turns to Wilson, Bembry

Our City 6 men's basketball previews continue with a look at St. Joe's. Sunday, we looked at La Salle. Monday, we looked at Temple and Tuesday, Villanova. Tomorrow, Drexel. Above, our Big Man on Campus Series continues with Hawks guard DeAndre Bembry. 

In the offseason, Phil Martelli’s grandson was a superhero.

Batman. Captain America. Whatever costume the precocious 5-year-old could get his hands on.

But a few weeks ago, young Philip Stephen Martelli idled up to his grandfather — the head coach of the Saint Joseph’s University men’s basketball team — and asked if it was true that college hoops season was almost here. When the elder Martelli said that it was, the boy changed into a different kind of costume: a sweatsuit. Then, he went into an office and watched game tape.

“I think the superheroes will go the side,” Phil Martelli said, “and coaching the team will come back.”

While it may have gone into hibernation for a few months, the 5-year-old’s obsession with coaching college hoops — he was adorably caught on camera mimicking his grandfather during the 2014 Atlantic 10 tournament — was one of a few magical moments for St. Joe’s last March. So was the Hawks’ surprising run to the A-10 championship that caused their head coach to cry on the Barclays Center court, the program’s first NCAA tournament berth since 2008, and an overtime loss to eventual national champion UConn in the Big Dance (though that last one still stings).

Now that a new season is here — St. Joe’s opens at home against Farleigh Dickinson on Friday — the excitement among the entire Martelli family is once again palpable.

But if the Hawks hope to return to the national spotlight in March, they’ll have to do it with a mostly new team as the three star players from last year’s championship squad — guard Langston Galloway and forwards Ronald Roberts Jr. and Halil Kanacevic — have all graduated.

“This has been different but it really has been kind of exhilarating in a way,” Martelli said. “I really do miss Halil telling me what I should be doing and what I should be saying. I do miss that part. But they’re such nice kids and they’re really good teammates that it’s been easy to deal with them.”

Galloway, Roberts and Kanacevic all had tremendous all-conference careers, so losing them will be a big blow. But the Hawks do have at least two reasons to be excited: a veteran point guard in senior Chris Wilson and a rising star in sophomore DeAndre Bembry.

Both started all 34 games for the Hawks last season, combining for more than 20 points per game. And both were named captains for the 2014-15 season, with Bembry becoming the program’s first sophomore captain since 1936-37.

The only reason for concern is whether too much is being asked of Bembry, a fantastic swingman with an equally fantastic 'fro.

“He’s an old spirit,” Martelli said. “He’s a basketball player and that’s how he wants to be seen. And he’s not afraid to take on the responsibility of being the first sophomore captain here since 1936 and being a defending Atlantic 10 champ. None of that seems to matter to him. But I am concerned. I do have it in the back of my head about holding him to a standard. Am I asking too much?”

One player that should ease some of his burden is freshman James Demery, who arrived on campus with as much hype and expectations as Bembry did last year. The two swingmen have a lot of similarities, too. They’re both 6-foot-6, from North Carolina and are terrific lockdown defenders.

Martelli even said that Demery will defend the opposing team’s top perimeter player, a role in which Bembry thrived last season and won’t necessarily relinquish easily.

“He said Demery might guard the best player, but I’m going to make sure I’m going to get on him most of the time too,” Bembry said. “I love guarding the best players on other teams. We can share it a little bit.”

Bembry and Demery are similar in another way — both need to work on their jump shots. Martelli said he’s been encouraging Demery to take more shots but is already preparing for his team to get much less scoring from behind the arc than last season when Galloway went a blistering 108 for 244 (44 percent) from three-point range.

When asked how the Hawks can replace Galloway’s shooting, Martelli was blunt.

“It’s impossible,” he said. “If you asked me our Achilles heel, it’s perimeter shooting. So we’ve had to change the way we play. We’re going to drive the ball more, make more layups, play a little more aggressively defensively.”

The Hawks certainly have the personnel to be a more aggressive team in the backcourt with Wilson, Bembry and Demery leading the charge. But the team still has a lot of question marks in the frontcourt.

Martelli didn’t reveal who will start, but with Papa Ndao missing the entire season because of an illness, 6-7 junior Isaiah Miles (3.0 ppg) and 6-8 sophomore Javon Baumman (1.5 ppg) figure to get a lot of minutes. West Virginia transfer Aaron Brown could also get some time at the “4,” and freshmen Obi Romeo and redshirt freshman Jai Williams are poised to see some action as well.

For what it’s worth, Wilson has liked what he’s seen from the young big men and predicted a big season for Miles in particular. And he’s counting on them to help him enjoy one more special season before graduating.

“I think the goal is still to win the Atlantic 10 championship and to make it to the NCAA tournament,” Wilson said. “Ever since I’ve been here, I don’t think that goal has ever changed. And I wouldn’t expect it to change now just because we have different pieces.”

Many things will have to go right for the Hawks to recreate the magic of last March, of course. But Martelli and his superhero-turned-coaching-assistant grandson are optimistic.

“Look, everybody loves their team right now,” the St. Joe’s coach said. “But we’re a little further ahead than I would have anticipated. And it’s because of what those guys — Halil and Lang and Ron — left behind in the approach to how you’re supposed to be a St. Joe’s Hawk.”

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

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.