Getting to the Point

The 2003-2004 season on Hawk Hill was a magical one. That magic was largely due to the play of Jameer Nelson, the 'little man from the little school that's beating everyone.' If that season proved one thing, it's that guard play, point guard play in particular, is paramount to success at the college level. Inside, we dive head-on into the past, present, and future of that position at St. Joe's.

There is little, if any debate, that the point guard position is the most important on any basketball team, at any level. Find yourself a high-level point guard as a college coach and you can play with just about anyone. It's how St. Joe's ascended to a number one ranking nationally during the 2003-2004 season. Countless other colleges have had great success, March success, due to point guard play. Before tearing up NBA defenses, current Golden State Warrior Stephen Curry was tormenting opposing defenses at Davidson. He led the Wildcats to a magical 2008 NCAA tournament run.

Since Jameer Nelson's departure from St. Joe's, point guard play on Hawk Hill has been a rollercoaster of sorts. The list of guards is likely longer than a list of their successes. At the end of the day, just two Hawk teams since Jameer Nelson's have made it to the NCAA tournament, and those teams were run by Tasheed Carr in 2008 and then Chris Wilson in 2013.

A list of other guards on Hawk Hill that manned the point during this stretch includes, but is not limited to, Dwayne Lee, Abdulai Jalloh, Jawan Carter, Darrin Govens, Charoy Bentley, Justin Crosgile, and Carl Jones. Reading over that list of names will likely elicit a mixture of responses from Hawk fans, from smiles to scowls to, 'wait, who?'It's a list that includes both players that were not skilled enough to compete regularly at the Atlantic 10 level as well as players who were out of position.

The purpose of this article is not, even in the least, to bash a player. That's never been the way that I operated this site, and it never will be. The purpose is to look at how integral to success a quality point guard is. We will also look at how several St. Joe's targets panned out at other schools.

St. Joe's current roster includes two point guards, in senior Chris Wilson and freshman Shavar Newkirk. Wilson is a three-year starter on Hawk Hill, and is a co-captain to this year's team alongside DeAndre Bembry. Wilson inked with the Hawks as a member of the 2011 recruiting class. Newkirk, from Cardinal Hayes in New York City, inked with the Hawks as a member of the 2014 recruiting class.

With Chris Wilson as a the starting point guard, St. Joe's won the Atlantic 10 last year and earned an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. Wilson averaged 9.1 points, 3.6 rebounds, and 2.7 assists per game on last year's team, playing alongside current New York Knick Langston Galloway, as well as Ronald Roberts Jr. and Halil Kanacevic. This season, with those three graduated, Wilson's numbers have taken a significant hit. His scoring is down from 9.1 points to 7, and his three-point shooting has fallen drastically, from 35% to 25%.

Chris Wilson has shared minutes at the one this year with Newkirk, a true freshman. Newkirk is a pure point guard, not a two in a one's body or playing there out of necessity. He has many of the requisite skills needed to run a team. He is vocal, possesses terrific quickness, has solid instincts, and sees the floor. Only a freshman, with added strength and experience, there is no reason to think that he can not develop into a quality Atlantic 10 point guard. To date, his biggest hindrance is his shooting. On the year, Shavar is averaging 3.6 points and 2.7 assists per contest, but shooting just 26% from the field and 13% from beyond the arc. At this point in his career, defenses do not really have to guard him to shoot. Improving that jumper, and adding mass to his slight frame, are likely his greatest two objectives this offseason.

St. Joe's was actively in the market for a point guard in the 2014 class. A few of the main names in the mix were Shavar Newkirk, Tarin Smith, Tre Campbell, and Antonio Woods. Campbell committed to Georgetown, where he is now averaging 3.2 points in 13 minutes per game. Over his last four games, Tre has scored in double-digits twice, and he seems to becoming a part of John Thompson's rotation.

Campbell was the only player to commit to a school prior to Newkirk committing to the Hawks. Tarin Smith, out of St. Anthony's (NJ) was very much in the mix for St. Joe's prior to Newkirk's commitment. He eventually inked with Nebraska, and is now averaging 17 minutes per game in the Big 10, shooting 43% from the field, and playing 17 minutes a night. Woods, out of Cincinnati, committed to Penn during the fall of his senior season. He is averaging 7.5 points per game for Jerome Allen. He had a career-high 18 points in a loss last month to Villanova.

Again, the purpose of looking there was not to put a player on a pedestal or put another down. Whenever recruiting targets commit elsewhere, it is intriguing to follow their career path. Over the coming three seasons, it will be fascinating to look at how Newkirk, Smith, Woods, and Campbell progress and play.

This year's Hawk team has a bona fide superstar in sophomore DeAndre Bembry. Aaron Brown has proven to be a sparkplug off the bench, and now a key starter, pouring in 40 points in his first two games as a starter. Point guard play, shooting, and a lack of a true post presence are among the issues, however, that have plagued this team. A team that now stands at 9-12 after losing at St. Louis Tuesday night.

Chris Wilson graduates from St. Joe's in May, leaving Shavar Newkirk as the only returning point guard next season. He will be joined, however, by current Neumann-Goretti (PA) senior Lamarr Kimble. Kimble and Newkirk are both pure point guards, and both probably measure in a shade under 6 feet. Their games are quite different though. Newkirk possesses greater footspeed and is arguably the more dynamic playmaker. Kimble is the superior shooter and has a college-ready build already. He already has a significant strength advantage over Newkirk.

It will be interesting to see how the two compete for the starting job next season. Newkirk and Wilson are a combined 24-107 from three this year, which is good for 22% if you're calculating at home. While it's not imperative that your point guard is capable of lighting it up from deep, that ability to knock down perimeter jumpers opens up so many things on the court. Kimble's ability to shoot the ball, an ability he really worked on and improved over the past two years, could give next year's team a different look when he's on the floor.

Over the past 12 years, St. Joe's fans have seen the point guard position played at the absolute highest level with Jameer Nelson. They have also seen teams unable to reach their full potential due to average, or below-average, point guard play. In some cases due to players out of position having to play the point. This year's team has a veteran lead guard playing below his career averages and a freshman still getting his feet under him. The play of Wilson and Newkirk is absolutely pivotal for Phil Martelli's team over the final nine games of the regular season.

It's so difficult in this day and age to have March success without brilliant backcourt play. Just look at last year's UConn team, which rode senior Shabazz Napier to an NCAA title. St. Joe's and Davidson had magical runs thanks to their guard play. If St. Joe's wants to return to the national conversation, it begins with the guards. The Hawks have a legitimate NBA prospect in their backcourt at the moment in DeAndre Bembry. Next season's success will be dependent on other guards giving him significantly more help than he's gotten this year. That's James Demery and Shavar Newkirk making sophomore jumps. It's Lamarr Kimble, as a freshman, coming in and contributing off the bat. It's Chris Clover, the 6'4 shooting guard out of St. Joe's Prep (PA), coming in and contributing off the bat.

Signing point guards in back-to-back classes, with Shavar Newkirk in 2014 and Lamarr Kimble in 2015, Phil Martelli clearly understands what he needs to take him back to the NCAA tournament. There will be a lot of pressure on those two guards next year, but both are tough customers. The daily competition between the two guards, one from NYC, one from Philadelphia, will only make them better, and will only make the Hawks better.

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