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Saint Joseph's Bembry taking his old-school game to NBA

For versatile forward who draws comparisons to Draymond Green and Jimmy Butler, it's all about which team drafts him

POSTED: Apr 8, 2016 4:00 PM ET

By Chris Dortch

BY Chris Dortch

NBA.com

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DeAndre' Bembry was one of only three players in the nation to average at least 17.5 points, 7.5 rebounds and four assists.

Seconds remained in Saint Joseph's' NCAA Tournament game against Cincinnati in March, and there was no doubt how the Hawks, trailing 76-75, would try to win. DeAndre' Bembry was going to be in the thick of the action.

Taking a handoff from guard Lamarr Kimble, Bembry, at 6-foot-6 one of the college game's most versatile players, dribbled to the top of the key toward a screen set by forward Isaiah Miles. The decision on what to do next rested solely with Bembry, and when Miles slipped the screen and darted left, outside the 3-point line, Bembry's choice was easy. He whipped a pass to Miles, who jumped up and buried a 3, giving Saint Joseph's a 78-76 lead with 7.3 seconds to play.

"He's got an old game. There's a little bit of everything in there."

– Saint Joseph's coach Phil Martelli on DeAndre' Bembry

The Bearcats managed to race down the floor and get the ball to Octavius Ellis for what at first appeared to be a game-tying dunk, but the ball was ruled to be in his hands when the buzzer sounded, allowing the Hawks to escape to a second-round matchup with top-seeded Oregon.

"DeAndre' was staring at two [defenders]," Saint Joe's coach Phil Martelli said. "And he found Isaiah because it was the right play. Had shooting the ball been the right play, he would have shot it. But the right play was to make the pass to his teammate."

For the unselfish Bembry, there was no other play to make.

"Maybe if it wasn't Isaiah [that was open]," Bembry said. "But I had so much confidence in him. He was our best shooter. I made the right play at the right time."

That pass exemplified Bembry's exceptional three-year career at Saint Joseph's, where long-time observers of the program opined that he was the best player since point guard Jameer Nelson led the Hawks to an undefeated regular season and a trip to the NCAA Tournament's Elite Eight in 2003-04.

Bembry's toolbox is filled to overflowing. He gets dinged in NBA scouting reports for his 3-point (.266) and free-throw percentages (.657), but he was one of only three players in the nation to average at least 17.5 points, 7.5 rebounds and four assists -- the others were LSU's Ben Simmons and Denzel Valentine of Michigan State -- all while playing the third-most minutes in the country (1,341).

Bembry also led the Hawks in steals and finished second in blocks.

"He's got an old game," Martelli said. "There's a little bit of everything in there."

That's old as in old school, reminiscent of a day when players weren't tagged with numerical labels. They just played, and did whatever needed to be done.

Bembry even looks the part. He wears his hair in an ABA-era Julius Erving Afro, fitting for the man who, along with Simmons and Valentine, was among the five finalists for the Julius Erving Small Forward of the Year Award. Bembry has worn his hair that way since high school, and the one time he got it trimmed, he began to play poorly.

"I had to grow it back," Bembry said, laughing. "I started thinking of my hair as my super power."

Bembry's game has come a long way since his early high school days in Charlotte, N.C. There, he wasn't known for his versatility. In North Carolina, Bembry had the reputation of a shooter.

"They called me Reggie Miller," Bembry said. "Once upon a time, I used to be a legit shooter."

Things changed after Bembry transferred to The Patrick School in New Jersey and began mixing it up in playground games. Older players were going to take all the shots in that setting, forcing Bembry to adapt.

But a guy like Jimmy Butler, Draymond Green ... that's DeAndre' Bembry.

– Joe Lunardi on Bembry

"That really helped me, playing with older guys," Bembry said. "Being the youngest guy out there all the time, I had to learn to do other things than just shoot. I learned to read and react. And playing against guys that were bigger and stronger than me, I gained some toughness. I got used to the physicality of the game a little earlier than other guys might have."

When it came time to pick a college, Bembry's narrowed his list to Temple and Saint Joseph's. The Hawks got into the picture almost by accident, the day Martelli went to see one of Bembry's teammates play.

"There was a kid on his team that was touted," Martelli said. "But I came back and said to my assistant coaches, 'I want that other kid. I want Bembry. Because he's versatile, he's athletic as heck, and he guards like it's personal to him.

"They looked at me like I was nuts. They said, 'he's a forward, an undersized forward.' I said, 'Nah. He's the one.' "

Martelli was able to convince Bembry, who chose the Hawks in part because he saw the opportunity for early playing time on a good team. As a freshman in 2013-14, Bembry averaged 12.3 points, 4.5 rebounds and 2.7 assists and started all 34 games for a team that won the A-10 championship and played in the NCAAs. He made his mark, but Bembry didn't have to the main man in that senior-laden group.

A year later, Bembry was the main man, but that turned out to be tough on him, and the Hawks. Bembry averaged 38.1 minutes a game, tops in the nation, 17.7 points and 7.7 rebounds, but Saint Joseph's finished 13-18.

"As a sophomore, DeAndre' was asked to do too much scoring," Martelli said. "There was too much of an emphasis put on his offensive game. That didn't make sense."

Saint Joe's rebounded this season. Bembry didn't have to be the Hawks' leading scorer -- Miles was -- and he was able to showcase his all-around skills, earning the A-10's Player of the Year Award and leading the Hawks to the league tournament title and the NCAA tournament, where they narrowly lost to the No. 1-seeded team in the West Region, Oregon, in the second round.

NBA scouts had flocked to Saint Joseph's games and practices all season, and the feedback Martelli received from them was duly passed on to Bembry, who decided to give up his final year of eligibility and enter the NBA Draft.

Joe Lunardi has earned fame by making himself an expert on the NCAA Tournament selection process and coining the word "bracketology," but he's also a vice president at Saint Joseph's and has called more than 1,000 Hawks games as a radio color analyst. He sees an apt comparison for Bembry and his particular skill set.

"I'm not saying he's a lottery pick," Lunardi said. "But a guy like Jimmy Butler, Draymond Green ... that's DeAndre' Bembry."

Lunardi would get no argument from VCU coach Will Wade, who watched Bembry pile up 30 points, on 13-for-16 shooting, five rebounds and four assists in the A-10 championship game.

"He was a matchup nightmare in college," Wade said. "If you put a guard on him, he posted you. You put a forward on him, he drove it on you. He's aggressive offensively, and I think he can make 3-pointers when it counts. He's very good in the midrange, passes it, can rebound. He's got a lot of skills.

"He's so good in isolation situations. I'm sure that's something the pro guys will love."

Bembry's NBA future depends on what team drafts him.

"He's going to have a very long NBA career," Martelli said, "and I say this respectfully, as long as a good team takes him. His game's not built to go, quote-unquote, save a franchise. His game is built to go win. I've talked to all these [NBA] people. I know the teams that like him, and the teams that are still scratching their heads.

"I'm just praying that DeAndre' will get with the right team."

Bembry isn't sitting around waiting for his name to be called. His legendary work ethic will serve him well in the weeks leading up to the Draft as he works on his perceived weaknesses.

"No. 1 is shooting," Bembry said. "That what everybody says from the feedback I get. So I'll be spending a lot of time in the gym. I can get better in every aspect, but if I get the shooting down pat, I feel like I've got a lot to offer. There are only a handful of guys in the draft, people like Ben Simmons and Denzel Valentine, that have that all-around game.

"That's what I pride myself on."

Chris Dortch is the editor of the Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook.

You can email him here, follow him on Twitter and listen to the Blue Ribbon College Basketball Hour.