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Observations from Saint Joe’s v. USciences Scrimmage

As someone who used to spend everyday in Hagan arena, I had become accustomed to the small humble arena. It was a building where I would spend hours getting ready for runs, meeting with coaches, and hanging out with teammates. However, after graduation Hagan was no longer a place I trained but a place where I watched hoops. Yet, the feeling of being in Hagan never changed, all that was different was the reason for my visit. Unfortunately, after the pandemic that all changed as we were separated from Hagan for well over a year.

However, that all changed Thursday when I entered Hagan arena for the Saint Joe’s vs. Uscience scrimmage. Immediately I was hit with a sense of nostalgia after entering Hagan; basketball season was back. The return to Hagan after such a long hiatus brought me to the realization that I can never take being in Hagan and watching hoops in person for granted.

Luckily, Saint Joe’s gifted fans with an 83-54 scrimmage victory of Usciences this Thursday, November 4th. While this scrimmage win is one that probably won’t go down in history, there were some important observations made from seeing Saint Joe’s in person. 

But first, I must state that my analysis is by no means one that should be used to predict how good the team is. No offence to Usciences, but this isn’t the type of competition Saint Joe’s is going to face throughout the year. Because of this, my observations are ones based on not how players set up half court plays, or made shots. These are observations based on what I saw on the court rather than the results in the box score. They are independent of what the competition allowed the Hawks to do. Finally, we can conclude that if there were some plays that wouldn’t work against Usciences, then they probably wouldn’t work against Villanova.

The Size

As mentioned above, fans were kept outside of the arenas for all of last season. Because of that, most never got to see Jordan Hall in person, who played away from fans for his entire first year at Saint Joe’s. On top of that, Saint Joe’s had acquired two centers through the transfer portal who fans had not yet seen. Fans of the team had not seen what the team looked like in person, instead they only saw them on TV. However, that all changed on Thursday when one of the largest Saint Joe’s lineups I have ever seen took to the court. 

To put in perspective, never in my time as a fan of Saint Joe’s have I been impressed with our size. In fact, it has always been one of the bigger issues with the program. Even NBA talent like Jameer Nelson and Deandre’ Bembry were on the smaller side. I had walked by both of those individuals during my time at Hawk Hill, and while they are clearly high caliber athletes, their size never really caught me off guard. They were tall, but not huge when considering just how tall the average NBA player is. 

That is not the case with this team. Just seeing this current Saint Joe’s team on the court it is apparent that this team is tall. Jordan Hall is massive, and seeing him play only on television doesn’t provide much insight into just how big a 6’7 point guard really is. 

Ejike Obinna, Charles Coleman, and Kacper Klaczek’s size was also something I was not prepared for. All three of these individuals are massive and really bring size to the roster. It is amazing to think that over the span of one offseason the team grew from an undersized roster, with Funk at the center position, to a starting lineup with four people at 6’7 and taller. This team is big, and hopefully that becomes an asset for the Hawks this season.

The Starting Lineup

Another important piece of information to come out of this scrimmage was the starting lineup of the team. As I had written in my Saint Joe’s preview piece, I was assuming the lineup would be what Jon Rothstein predicted back in August. His prediction was that Reynolds, Hall, Funk, Coleman, Obinna would all start. I decided to assume this would be the case until proven otherwise. 

Well, we saw otherwise Thursday night when the lineup of Erik Reynolds, Jordan Hall, Kacper Klaczek, Taylor Funk and Ejike Obinna was announced. I was shocked, but pleasantly surprised, as the scrimmage went on. One reason for my pleasant surprise was that within five minutes of the scrimmage it became evident that Obinna and Coleman could not be on the court at the same time. When each individual was on the court they played the same role of setting the pick and roll screen for Hall or Reynolds. 

That seems to be the main roll and strength for both Obinna and Coleman. If both were on the court at the same time one would be watching while the other set picks. Both operate under or near the basket and if on the court at the same time would resemble the Okafor and Embiid experiment that Sixers fans know all too well. Having Kascper on the floor helped create space in the half court and removed the potential redundancy of having two players who operate in the same capacity.

With that said, another reason why this lineup is good is because Kacper could be the real deal. During the scrimmage he showed that he knows how to position himself in the half court. He can shoot from outside and knows when to float out to the line when Hall is looking to dribble-penetrate, or set a pick and roll. However, Kacper also knows when to go for a backdoor cut at the right moment. His speed and ball handling capability also give him the option to dribble drive from the three point line as well. 

Last year I was one of the first to be big on Jordan Hall before the season. I am willing to make that same bet with Kacper, as he may have a breakout rookie year like Hall did in 2020-21. He has the ability, size and attitude to be an extremely effective small forward. While I can almost guarantee he will have his struggle as all freshmen do, Kacper  could be a name that we are all talking about come February. 

Other Observations 

The final observation for this team is that success is going to come down to the role players. Brown, Forrest, Moore, and Bishop are going to determine if Saint Joe’s can win games or not. This is especially true for Brown, who I think can find his way into the starting lineup when the team needs a more traditional guard at the two, instead of having two small forwards in Kacper and Hall on the court. I can guarantee that the time will come when teams with smaller and shifty guards will require a player like Cameron Brown to defend them over Jordan Hall. 

With that said, the other players mentioned will also be critical in scoring for the second unit. Coleman is still a work in progress, he has the size, but will only find success if these other individuals can make smart plays in the half court. Bishop and Moore especially need to make sure their decision making skills are on point. These two can be dynamic game changers when they are making the right moves. However, they can also get into the habit of turning the ball over, or making over zealous plays, which end up hurting the team more than helping. 

As I said at the start, these observations are just that, observations. This was a friendly scrimmage with Usciences, who to their credit did play hard. However, Usciences stood no chance with an average height of 6’2 going up against one of the largest teams in the A10. Saint Joe’s was smart to put this on and I think making it free brought out a lot of local fans for both Saint Joe’s and Usciences. It was a good event and a great peak at what is to come this Tuesday (11/9/2021) when Saint Joe’s kicks off the season against the University of Maryland Eastern Shore.