The news that broke Thursday afternoon came as no surprise to anyone. It’s been well-known for the last month or so in Hawk circles that Pierfrancesco Oliva, who started 30 games as a freshman last season, would be sitting out the upcoming season. St. Joe’s press release Thursday just made it official. In the press release, it was stated that “Oliva had surgery in late June to repair an osteochondral defect in his right knee, a chronic condition that was aggravated in post-season workouts.”
Phil Martelli had the following to say about his 6’8 forward from Bergen Catholic (NJ) by way of Taranto, Italy. “We’re obviously disappointed for Checco, but he has the best in terms of medical care and rehab. His teammates and coaches will keep their arms wrapped around him as he goes through the day-to-day grind of not just getting back, but getting better. I anticipate that as we go on we’ll see a much better Checco.”
With Oliva out the upcoming season, that means that the Hawks are without their three primary frontcourt players from a year ago. Isaiah Miles and Papa Ndao graduated from the frontcourt, in addition to Aaron Brown’s graduation at the wing and DeAndre Bembry’s departure for the NBA on the perimeter. With Oliva, Bembry, Brown, Miles, and Ndao all gone this upcoming season, that is 54.5 points and 26 rebounds per game. Obviously those numbers simply can’t be replaced, so where do the Hawks turn?
St. Joe’s returns senior Javon Baumann, junior Jai Williams, and sophomore Markell Lodge, while also bringing in freshman stretch forward Lorenzo Edwards, freshman post Gerald Blount, and local combo forward Charles Brown. Of the returning players, Javon Baumann is the most known quantity. A starter two years ago, Baumann came off the bench last year, playing in 23 games. On paper, Baumann appears to be the favorite to start in the middle this season for the Hawks. At 6’8 and roughly 250, Baumann has the size and physicality to play in the post, and he has shown flashes over the last three years. However, he is much more of a half-court player, and the Hawks had tremendous success a year ago pushing the tempo and having their bigs stretch the floor.
Miles, Ndao, and Oliva combined to connect on 118 threes last year from the four and five positions. Returning bigs Baumann, Williams, and Lodge combined to attempt a grand total of zero a year ago. This means that Phil Martelli and the coaching staff will have to make significant changes in game-planning and offensive philosophy this year, that freshmen will have to really step up, or something in between.
Charles Brown, the 6’7 freshman out of Philadelphia, could very well be the best shooter on this year’s Hawk team. He’s the best natural shooter on the team, and he has displayed that shooting touch during off-season workouts and through a week of practice. He will play this year, and I think he will play significant minutes in a starting capacity. Exactly where he plays, whether it’s at the three or the four, remains to be seen.
The other freshman expected to see significant playing time in the frontcourt this season is Chicago-area 6’7 stretch forward Lorenzo Edwards. Edwards was one of two spring signings for the Hawks, along with wing Nick Robinson. Edwards has the shooting touch and feel to be a very successful stretch four in the Atlantic 10.
If St. Joe’s is looking for perimeter shooting out of its frontcourt this season, they will have to go young. Charles Brown could play a small-ball four role. Lorenzo Edwards is certainly an Atlantic 10 power forward who can space the floor. Going into the season, having watched several offseason workouts, I am very upbeat about the perimeter. Shavar Newkirk, Lamarr Kimble, James Demery, Chris Clover, and Nick Robinson are a strong core to move forward with. To me, the question marks have always been around the frontcourt, and this official news today about Pierfrancesco Oliva doesn’t make it any easier.
I could see the Hawk coaching staff being very creative with lineups this year. I also foresee a lot of early-season tinkering to see what lineup works. Could you, in any way, play Charles Brown at the four and Lorenzo Edwards at the five? That’s two freshman and nobody taller than 6’7. Could you put a shooter in Edwards at the four and then go extremely small but athletic with Markell Lodge in the post? Or do you put more of a bruiser like Baumann, Williams, or Blount at the five?
While this year will be a challenge for the Hawks, particularly in the frontcourt, help is on the way. Barring any setbacks, Oliva will return for the 2017-2018, and he will be joined by two high-upside freshman forwards. SJU has commitments from 6’8 Manheim Central (PA) shooting forward Taylor Funk and 6’9 Glenelg (MD) forward Anthony Longpre. Funk in particular is a high-level shooter. Longpre is a capable shooter and also has the size to play the five in the A10, truly in the capacity of a sort of “stretch five.” So, while this year is going to test the patience of Hawk fans, sleep soundly knowing that help is on the way.