DeAndre’ Bembry lives in the moment. It should be difficult for the versatile forward, balancing postseason aspirations and a possible jump to the NBA after his junior season, but the Atlantic 10 Player of the Year is commendably extracting the most out of what could be his final season at Saint Joseph’s.
Bembry has led the Hawks to a 24-7 record in the 2015-16 season, locking up the No. 4 seed in the Atlantic 10 tournament. Expectations for Phil Martelli’s team have increased incrementally throughout the season, with Bembry contributing to a possible NCAA Tournament bid.
Almost exactly one year ago, Saint Joseph’s was knocked out of the first round of the A-10 Tournament. Finishing with a 13-18 record, the team from Northwest Philly was presumed to surpass their previous win total-as their three core players were upperclassmen to begin the 2015-16 season.
Saint Joseph’s sophomores have also added to the production offensively and have made an impact on Bembry with their improvement.
“It’s been amazing,” Bembry said. “Each player, in their own way, got better. Shavar [Newkirk] and James [Demery] had a rough freshman year, but they’re having a real good sophomore year.”
Bembry also highlighted forward Isaiah Miles, who won the conference’s Most Improved Player Award this season as a senior. Averaging 18.0 PPG and 8.1 RPG, Miles has been paramount for Bembry, taking heat off of the junior on the offensive end. Bembry noted the egregious exhaustion last season from having to handle the load offensively for the Hawks.
Bembry and Miles are a tandem that could cause problems for many teams in the nation, but Bembry believes that one area will be paramount for consistent success.
“Our defense,” Bembry said. “All of the games that we lost came down to playing defense and not getting stops. We’re the No. 1 defensive team in the A-10, so if we stay on top of our defense then scoring won’t be a problem. We’ve got so many contributors to the offense but if we play defense, defense wins championships.”
Bembry leads the team in steals and rebounds, but also serves as one of the focal points in Martelli’s offensive game plan.
Averaging 17.0 PPG, 7.8 RPG and 4.5 APG, the small forward’s shooting volume has decreased from last season-which has boosted his effectiveness on the offensive end. Already amassing 11 more wins than in the 2014-15 season, Saint Joseph’s has benefited from Bembry assuming the all-around threat role rather than solely operating as a scoring outlet.
He thinks his skill-set is rare among players and causes issues for coaches that have to account for him.
“A lot of people can’t do it, but I’m happy that I can,” Bembry said, grinning. “They can’t really scout you; you’re unpredictable. Sometimes you might need to take a shot or crash the glass, so being able to contribute in so many ways makes it harder for the other team.”
Bembry is a rare commodity in the A-10, as a scorer first who can also contribute in many other facets of the game. With Miles and senior guard Aaron Brown producing vitally in their senior campaigns, Saint Joseph’s is geared to make a push late in the season.
Bembry would love a return to the Big Dance and to avenge the UConn defeat in the second round of the 2014 NCAA Tournament.
“It’s great because I’ve been there,” Bembry said. “I remember my freshman year, I looked up at the stands and it was crowded but had to realize to get back on defense. The NCAA [Tournament] is something special and I wish some of these younger guys can get to see it. Not everyone makes it to the tournament; it’s not that easy.”
ESPN’s Joe Lunardi has the Hawks as a No. 9 seed in the East region of the NCAA Tournament as the Atlantic-10 Tournament begins.
Even if Bembry and the Hawks get bounced early from the NCAA Tournament, his future is still brimming with considerable optimism. DraftExpress currently has Bembry at No. 50 on their big board, which can change with players opting to remain in school after this season.
Only LSU’s Ben Simmons puts up a stat line of 17.0 PPG, 7.8 RPG and 4.5 RPG or more. NBA teams flock to talent with versatility, since it could lead to long-term role player potential. While Bembry is only connecting on 26.8 percent of his looks from deep, and 33.6 percent on two-point jump shot attempts, he’ll sell himself on his two-way impact as a wing if he declares.
He’s confident that his ability to benefit a team and help out on both ends of the court will remain intact if he plays professionally next season.
“I believe my game will translate at the next level,” Bembry said. “I can do a variety of things-as far as guarding 1-to-3, shooting shots and passing the ball. If I stay in my character, I definitely feel like I can play in the league.”
A product of Saint Patrick High School Academy, a basketball powerhouse in New Jersey, Bembry surprisingly didn’t list any of the tri-state area teams when asked who he’d like to suit up for in the NBA.
As for a preferred destination, Bembry noted a team possibly tailor-made for his style of play.
“I would like to play for OKC [Thunder],” Bembry said. [Russell] Westbrook is a type of player similar to me. He can do everything. I like the motor that he has and I can compare my motor to his. They also can get out and run, which is something I’m really good at. I can play on any team in the league. Put me out there and I’ll make plays.”
He’s shown that he’s an ideal fit for the pro level, with the all-around ability that meshes with scorers. Bembry also has the college seasoning to help out teams instantly.
With an NCAA Tournament victory literally slipping through Saint Joseph’s fingertips two years ago, Bembry is expected to have more of an imprint on the outcome.
With an A-10 Player of the Year award intact and on the brink of helping Saint Joseph’s double their win total from last season, Bembry has been phenomenal in the college landscape. He told me he’ll focus on draft talk after the season. For now, Bembry’s sticking to his mantra: “Live in the moment.”