St. Joe's Bembry will remain a Hawk

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St. Joe's DeAndre' Bembry dunks in first half against Saint Louis on Sunday.

LAST THURSDAY, DeAndre' Bembry was at his brother's funeral. This Thursday, Bembry was drafted 21st overall in the NBA draft by the Atlanta Hawks.

A huge party had been planned for Bembry's North Jersey home. It was scaled way back as the Saint Joseph's junior just tried to get through the toughest time of his life. DeAndre' and his brother, Adrian Potts, grew up in Charlotte. Potts was back home visiting family and friends on June 11 when, in the early morning, he was in the wrong place at the wrong time, an innocent victim of shots sprayed into a crowd near the UNC Charlotte campus, dead at 20.

Their mother, Essence Bembry, said the plan was for Adrian to go with DeAndre' to his NBA city. Now, DeAndre' will try to make his way in the league without his best friend and only brother.

"It's been rough, but I've been around family so that's helping," Bembry said from his home 20 minutes after his name was called by NBA commissioner Adam Silver.

There were about 30 people in the house watching the draft on ESPN.

"It was a celebration tonight,'' Bembry said. "Had a lot of family here, coach (Phil Martelli) is here, high school coach. It's been a great environment just to sit here and watch it on TV.''

They all posed for pictures after Bembry was drafted. His mother is his biggest fan.

"This is the best I've felt in two weeks,'' Essence said. "This makes it a little better. I didn't even want to come to this party, but I did it in the name of Adrian . . . Today was a rough day for me. I had to turn my phone off and just lay down. I came late to the party. I had to get my attitude checked and remember why I was here. Once I started having fun and they called his name, it was just perfect. I was in a bad, bad mood, but this is awesome.''

Bembry is now guaranteed nearly $3.1 million over the first two years of his NBA contract. Still, this is a new adventure that was going to be difficult under any circumstance. This circumstance is unprecedented.

When Bembry arrived on campus in 2013, the SJU program was in neutral, 38-28 the previous two seasons, 60-70 the previous four. He was the perfect fit with three talented seniors and the Hawks promptly won the 2014 Atlantic 10 championship, their first in 17 years. Last season, they won the league again as Bembry was A-10 and Big 5 Player of the Year.

Bembry had a wonderful 101-game run and punctuated it with a 20-point first half against Cincinnati in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. By all accounts, he was terrific in the Chicago predraft camp and continued to excel in NBA workouts - until 12 days ago when he was called home after his brother was killed.

The player from Charlotte by way of the Patrick School in North Jersey has a game that clearly translates to the next level. He is a terrific passer with an extremely high basketball IQ. He rebounds, runs, defends and finishes. His best attribute is that the teams he plays for win.

Bembry's Hawk numbers are among the best in school history. He finished with 1,590 points, 672 rebounds, 364 assists and 143 steals. He was also among its greatest leaders, picked exactly one spot behind Hawks all-timer Jameer Nelson, who went 20th in 2004 and just finished his 12th NBA season, playing for the Denver Nuggets.

SJU coach Phil Martelli was in Charlotte last Thursday for the funeral and in North Jersey this Thursday at the Bembry home.

"These things just go rolling through my head,'' Martelli said. "Jameer had his chance and has maxed his chance. Delonte (West) had a chance. Langston (Galloway) has a chance. For the program, there's just so many things . . . Being with DeAndre's family last Thursday in the worst of times and now being with them tonight. Getting on a plane Saturday and going to Langston's wedding with Halil (Kanacevic) and Ron (Roberts). It's about the people. Our program has been built on people.''

The Hawks finished 28-8 last season after being picked seventh in the A-10. Bembry, the sixth first-round pick in SJU history, was right in the middle of everything as one of the program's great players and great people.

"The excitement that he brought, the class that he brought, two out of three championships, it's really something,'' Martelli said.


jerardd@phillynews.com

@DickJerardi