St. Joe's benefits from Kimble and Newkirk combo

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Shavar Newkirk makes a steal against St. Louis. The New Yorker and Philly's Lamarr Kimble are combining to average nearly 14 points per game, plus five assists. MICHAEL BRYANT /Staff Photographer

The conversation lasts but a few moments. One St. Joseph's player leaving the court, the other getting out there. Point guards passing in the night. Or maybe it will be in the huddle during a timeout. The passing on of a thought about how defenders are defending, how screens are being handled.

What's really going on: Two players are merging their brains.

How did this happen? A point guard from New York and another from Philly sharing a position at St. Joe's? That's cats and dogs living in harmony, isn't it?

"Yeah, they say that," said Lamarr "Fresh" Kimble, the local portion of the Hawk Hill point guard combo.

Last week, Kimble, a former Neumann-Goretti star, sat in a conference room inside Hagan Arena with his New York counterpart, Shavar Newkirk. Splitting minutes, the pair adds up to one formidable college point guard. Newkirk, a sophomore, always starts. But Kimble, a freshman, gets almost half the time, their minutes adding up to 41 a game. (That one extra minute, they particularly enjoy.)

Their partnership, Newkirk said, is "a recipe for greatness. Nobody can deal with that. . . . Normally a team has one point, and he plays all the minutes and gets exhausted. That's just good for us."

On average, St. Joe's gets 13.8 points and 5 assists from the point guard spot. In a crucial win over Dayton, the pair combined for 21 and 7. In another big W at George Washington they had 18 and 7.

If one person had those numbers, Newkirk/Kimble would be 25th in the league in scoring, third in assists.

"The production at the position is amazing," said Hawks coach Phil Martelli. "They are different, but at the same time, for what we're trying to do, they're not confused about what we're doing. You have to guard them."

Talk to Newkirk and Kimble together, and you sense the ease they have with each other. Each has a fan in the other. That's no small thing since they competed hard for the starting position. Martelli stayed with his mind-set that, coming off last season's offensive woes, the Hawks would start the more productive scorer. Newkirk made more preseason baskets, he said.

"The thing I admire the most, there was no pouting," Martelli said.

Best for the team

Is there anything to the idea that there is even such a thing as a New York point guard and a Philly point guard?

"I don't think of that at all. I don't think Shavar does either," Kimble said. "It's just two point guards."

"I feel that if you're a basketball player, you're going to get along with another basketball player," Newkirk said. "Sometimes you've got to do what's best for the team."

"Right," Kimble said.

Right there, Newkirk defies a stereotype of a New York point guard. One word associated with that tag is ego. Newkirk was twice the Bronx player of the year at Cardinal Hayes High, first-team all-city as a junior and senior. He just doesn't wear all that on his chest. (He's from Harlem, by the way.)

He knows Kimble, coming in a year later, had similar credentials out of Neumann-Goretti. First-team all-state, a three-year starter and four-year contributor to a powerhouse program. (He's actually from the Lawncrest neighborhood.)

"I always liked his game. I was a fan of his game," Newkirk said of Kimble. "He had a nice handle, a nice pull-up jump shot. When I heard about him coming, it wasn't about competition, it was, 'Oh, snap. Another point guard. We can play together.' Not comparing us to Jameer Nelson and Delonte West, but that's how it was going . . ."

What's the best part of Newkirk's game?

"Definitely the motor he brings to the team," Kimble said. "He's always talking. He gets everyone else involved."

Was Newkirk an energy guy growing up?

"Nah, not really,'' Newkirk said. "I was always a laid-back person. But my father told me [that] to take my game to the next level I had to be an energetic person, so I just worked on it."

Was his father a ballplayer?

"Nah, he's not a ballplayer," Newkirk said. "But I asked him to guide me in the sport, and he took the time out to do research about it, to be the best he could be to guide me in the sport. He'd read books. He read a lot of books. He watched a lot of film. He listened to analysts about the game. He asked a lot of questions. We have videotapes of Michael Jordan and the interviews of what he was saying and how he would approach the game. My father would tell me to listen and absorb it and try to carry that over to my mind-set."

Kimble saw a parallel there, with his own father taking a lot of time to work on his game, to play the right way.

As a freshman, Newkirk averaged 20 minutes a game, essentially having the role Kimble now has off the bench, but Newkirk averaged just 3.3 points a game. This season, his shooting percentages from the field, three-point line, and free-throw line all have gone up.

"I put in a lot of hard work with the coaching staff," Newkirk said. "The big difference was learning. As a New York person, sometimes we are arrogant."

He said that without arrogance.

"I just thought I was going to be an impact player right away," Newkirk said. "That wasn't the case. I got a rude awakening."

Asked about Kimble's game, Newkirk said, "He's deceiving on the court. He has a lot of moves. He'll catch you with a few of them. 'Oh, I didn't know he was going to do that.' . . . He's got an all-around game, but the thing that stands out is his playmaking ability, to get other people involved and still get his own. That's just a great thing as a point guard. He knows how to balance it out."

It definitely took time, Kimble said, getting used to his role, getting in a natural flow off the bench. He used to be cold in the beginning - "hands cold. It took me a while to warm up" - but now he knows he "can't wait" to warm up. His comfort level grew in the early season. Kimble had 17 turnovers in his first 10 games, just nine turnovers in his next 15.

"Fresh, we wanted to feel him out during the summer, the preseason," said Martelli, mentioning how Kimble has worked hard on his fitness. "There are quirks in his shot that are going to take the spring to work out, but there's no quirk in his confidence. He believes the ball is going in, and when guys do that, the ball goes in."

As for his overall game, "he's older than a freshman," Martelli said. "That's the only way I can describe it."

Play together

Playing together is kind of a goal. That's why New kirk brought up Nelson and West. It usually happens right now only because of foul trouble to wing players.

"It's fun," Kimble said. "We like it a lot."

"I feel like we could play more together," said Newkirk, who averages 23.8 minutes, to 17.3 for Kimble. "It's just Coach kind of don't like it, because of the size. He feels it would be a disadvantage on defense; we wouldn't get enough rebounds."

That's an important part of the St. Joe's puzzle. Because the Hawks basically go with two forwards and two wings, those wings are depended on to help with defensive rebounding. Newkirk and Kimble are both 6-footers; the three wings in the rotation - DeAndre' Bembry, Aaron Brown, and James Demery - average more than 6-5.

"But we showed when we did play together, we could do pretty good things." Newkirk said.

"Oh yeah, they're on me. They're on me," Martelli said of their wanting to play together, "and so are the coaches. And we've used them."

The Hawks coach left it at that, walking into practice. The status quo, Martelli knows, has worked better than anyone on Hawk Hill had a right to expect, which is kind of the story of the St. Joe's season.

mjensen@phillynews.com

@jensenoffcampus

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