St. Joe's seniors Shavar Newkirk, James Demery urge teammates to push on through A-10 tournament

James Demery of Saint Joseph’s shooting over Penn defenders on Jan. 27.

Style changes quickly – even between the first year or two in college and the final year.

So when St. Joseph’s was struggling in basketball and in danger of letting its season fall completely away, seniors Shavar Newkirk and James Demery were not afraid to appeal to the fashion sense of their younger teammates to help keep them focused and pushing forward.

“Even though we’re men, we’re still kids at heart,” said Newkirk, an accounting major from New York. “We talked to them in terms that they understand.

“They like the latest kicks, gear, sleeves, whatever. We tell them that if you go to the [NCAA] tournament, you get lots of that stuff the following year.

“You want to look like the top schools, then keep winning and go to the tournament, because that’s more money for the conference and that gets you newer gear.”

Camera icon CHARLES FOX / Staff Photographer
Shavar Newkirk reacts after missing a layup but getting fouled during a game against La Salle. CHARLES FOX / Staff Photographer

Newkirk and Demery speak from experience. As sophomores, they helped the Hawks win the 2016 Atlantic Ten tournament. The Hawks beat Cincinnati in the first round of the NCAAs before losing to Oregon, one of the four top seeds.

Coming into 2017-18, the two, who each eclipsed the 1,000-point career mark this season, were viewing their senior year as one in which they would return to March Madness. The Hawks were picked third in the preseason conference poll, meaning they were considered a challenger for the A-10 title and one of the two or three bids the conference typically gets into the NCAA field.

Season-ending injuries to projected starters Charlie Brown Jr. and Lamarr Kimble left St. Joe’s in trouble from the start.

The Hawks struggled well into January, never winning more than two consecutive games. A five-game losing streak from late January into February left them with a 9-14 overall record, 4-7 in the A-10.

Coach Phil Martelli and his staff had done what they could to pull the squad together, but ultimately, a turnaround was going to have to come from the players.

“It’s all about confidence, and that starts off in practice,” Demery said. “We had to rely on each other, which meant going over film, working harder in practice, and then applying those things onto the court.”

The Hawks got a spark with a victory over Massachusetts and, after beating Duquesne on Saturday, have a three-game winning streak for the first time this season.

Meanwhile, the Hawks (12-14) have made a significant climb up the A-10 standings – going from possibly being a 13th or 14th seed in the conference tournament to potentially finishing fourth. That matters because the two bottom seeds have to play an opening-round game, while a top-four seed gets a double bye into the quarterfinals.

By leveling its league record at 7-7, St. Joe’s is tied for fifth with Richmond and Virginia Commonwealth.

The regular-season champion has not won the A-10 tournament since St. Louis did it in 2013. Teams seeded fourth or lower have won the last four titles – including the Hawks twice.

“This league is always contested,” Demery said. “As long as we stay confident and do what we need to do as a team, I like our chances.

“The [tournament] is there for the taking. Shavar and I have told [the younger players] about how great it was to win the A-10 and go to the NCAA Tournament. We have a chance if everybody works together as a unit and we stick with our plan.”