A St. Joseph's basketball practice was just getting started when Phil Martelli called his team over to a corner of the Hawk Hill practice gym for a little storytelling time. The coach started rattling off numbers, telling his ballplayers their numbers from their intrasquad scrimmages. Most of them, they probably already knew. Basic box score numbers, plus an efficiency rating, plus-minus numbers and win-loss figures, since the squads got mixed around during the scrimmage.
For Charlie Brown, Martelli mentioned 7 of 14 shooting, 0-for-2 on three pointers — "7 rebounds is good." Brown's plus-minus, however, was -10. Opponents scored ten more points than his teams. His team's record for the four quarters, 1-3.
What Martelli liked about the whole thing was Brown's reaction.
Brown had no reaction. Stone-faced, sitting on a bench.
"He's really grown up,'' Martelli said later. "I've been impressed by Charlie's approach and his understanding — last year before he got hurt, it was all too much for him. You're an all-league player, you're the next professional player from St. Joe's. It was too much."
For all his talent, Brown is the opposite of a prima donna. Never was. Martelli said he could just see the higher expectations Brown placed on himself last season, for example, in "his refusal to rest."
The better approach sometimes: "Don't go in the gym."
When you grow up hearing how the key to life is hard work, that's a subtle lesson. There also were some X and O basics that needed to come along.
"Like, you have to guard,'' Martelli said. "You're not going to score enough to say, 'OK, I got 21 and my man got 19.' "
As a freshman, everything Brown gave was an add-on, a new arrival with special offensive talent, 6-foot-7 with a smooth shooting stroke.
"He's just older,'' Martelli said. "He's older in his thinking. His game is older. His handle is better. He's a very dedicated defender."
That will be noticeable?
"It'll be noticeable,'' Martelli said.
With Brown and point guard Fresh Kimble back from seasons lost to injuries, the Hawks are picked second in the Atlantic Ten. Martelli doesn't shy from those expectations. He thinks his team will be good. He brings up a comparison with last year's Villanova team, only — he makes clear, only — in the sense that the team has a lot of players older than their listed years.
He mentioned all the Villanova guys who had sat out a year, how that isn't a bad thing for overall team poise. Again, he wasn't making a talent comparison. Just that Brown is a sophomore in his third year in college, Kimble is a junior in his fourth year, Pierfrancesco Oliva a fourth-year junior. Markell Lodge, a fifth-year senior.
While the Hawks were picked second, somehow no St. Joe's player was picked for the all-league first or second team. Brown and Kimble were third team. It's fine to be considered better than the sum of your collective parts. Except that if St. Joe's finishes second in the league, a healthy Brown will be a first- or second-teamer. Book that.
For his part, Brown said, "I feel like I'm no bigger than anybody on this team. I feel like doing my part on this team. We're all in this together, and as long as we have that mentality, we should win a lot of games."
That's all fine, but when St. Joe's needs a shot, Brown will be an obvious guy to look toward.
"I can step up, embrace the situation, be a leader,'' Brown said. "Take what's given to me."
That's what he's keying on, Brown said. You could see it in practice. An open three from the corner, no problem. Swish. But demanding the ball? Everything was in the flow.
"Making the right play, taking the right shots, not forcing anything, letting the game come to you,'' Brown said.
"That wasn't true last year before he got hurt,'' Martelli said. "Last year, it was, I've got to do this."
Sitting out last season with a broken wrist, Brown feels like he learned things as he watched, despite all the frustration as a season ran away from him. Martelli also noted that one cause of that 1-3 scrimmage record was that Brown was asked to be the point guard in one session since, after Kimble and highly-regarded freshman Jared Bynum, Brown would be the third option there. The 2018-19 Hawks team has more inside than outside depth, even if the outside talent is noteworthy.
Martelli makes the point to both Brown and Kimble — "against Old Dominion on November the 9th, you're not playing last year's 32 games. Those games are gone. So you're not playing 32 games in one night."
As a team, St. Joe's didn't shoot well at all from the outside in that scrimmage. That's fine, Martelli said, "this game normally humbles you. If we can, in our setting, do that, fine."