DeAndre' Bembry is cornerstone of rebuilding St. Joe's team

Saint Joseph's forward DeAndre' Bembry. (David Maialetti/Staff Photographer)

St. Joseph's sophomore DeAndre' Bembry often plays basketball best in transition. This season may prove to be the biggest transition of his time on Hawk Hill.

From sparkling phenom on the eventual 2014 Atlantic Ten champions to cornerstone of a team picked for mid-pack in the A-10, Bembry is a cocaptain barely more than a year after he arrived on campus.

Does Hawks coach Phil Martelli worry that too much of a load is being heaped on Bembry's shoulders?

"Yes, I do," Martelli said Monday at St. Joe's media day. ". . . We don't do scientific stat-ing during practice, but . . . he's our leading scorer in practice, he's our leading rebounder, he leads us in assists. . . . He's now the backup to the backup point guard. There are times that I worry."

Bembry doesn't, the coach quickly added.

"It just kind of rolls off his back," Martelli said. "He's an old spirit."

Bembry and senior point guard Chris Wilson are the returning starters, and Bembry is as talented as any player in the Big Five. Of course, everyone is going to look his way, from within the program and outside.

"I was vocal last year," Bembry said. "That's not really something new for me. I actually like to talk to younger guys, get their head going, stuff like that."

He gives off a vibe that amounts to: Work hard and stay relaxed. Freshman big man Obi Romeo was stretching before practice Monday, when Bembry basically fell on him, and they wrestled for about five seconds before Bembry moved on.

He looks older, someone pointed out.

"The beard, right?" said Bembry, who already possesses the best head of hair in the Big Five. "I've always wanted the beard. I had to keep it growing."

The Hawks' talent will not be the same as last season, Bembry said, but the chemistry is just as good - a high bar to clear after 2013-14.

"The attitude that those guys carried themselves with say from Jan. 1 to the end of the year last year has carried over," Martelli said. "These guys, this time, carry themselves . . . chest out, head up, and I'm really excited about that. I'm delighted.

"Look, everybody loves their team right now. But we're a little further ahead than I would have anticipated because of what those guys, Halil and Ronald and Lang, left behind."

Instantly replacing Halil Kanacevic, Ronald Roberts Jr., and Langston Galloway isn't going to happen, not in a year. Freshman forward James Demery arrives with similar credentials as Bembry last season. After those two and Wilson, Martelli doesn't even want to tell you his other two starters because he hasn't told his players yet. That will come next week, Martelli said.

"Of course it's a bunch of younger dudes," Bembry said. "We've got to stay focused during practice, little things like that. But the younger dudes actually like working hard, so that's a good thing."

Bembry was A-10 co-rookie of the year and Big Five rookie of the year after averaging 12.1 points a game. Now, he is a preseason first-team all-league pick.

"I hold him to a standard - like his three-point shooting isn't what I thought, where I thought it would be, based on his spring workouts, his summer workouts and his fall workouts," Martelli said. "So, am I asking too much? I just had that conversation with my coaches a half-hour ago."

If Bembry's shooting improves, he'll have an NBA future. His burst and ball skills as a 6-foot-6 wing player and his defensive awareness are that good.

Overall, team shooting is the Hawks' Achilles' heel, Martelli said. They'll only be able to score so many points, since they can't count on the three-pointer as a weapon.

Demery already has proved to his coach he is ready defensively. Martelli said he was "delighted" to announce that Demery will be the Hawks' primary perimeter defender, and Bembry won't have to wear that hat as well.

Not so fast, Bembry suggested. The second sophomore cocaptain on Hawk Hill likes being the stopper, too. Even for a team in transition, he doesn't mind carrying an extra load.

"I mean, I love defending the best player on the other team," Bembry said. "We can share it a little bit."