(Photo Credit: GoBonnies.com)
By Chuckie Maggio @chuckiemaggio
When St. Joseph’s star DeAndre’ Bembry chose to forego his senior year and enter the 2016 NBA Draft, the Atlantic 10 Conference had a first round pick for the first time since St. Bonaventure alum Andrew Nicholson in 2012.
The departure also left a void that the A-10 now has to fill. Bembry was arguably the league’s best player in each of the last two seasons, with averages of 17.6 points, 7.7 rebounds and 4.1 assists over that time. The 6-foot-6 forward scored 30 points on VCU’s vaunted defense in March’s A-10 title game, securing SJU’s second NCAA Tournament appearance in three years.
When a talent like Bembry heads to the pros, a burning question formulates: Who fills his shoes as the A-10’s best player now?
A-10 Talk, a fan blog, released its rankings of the conference’s 25 best players periodically over a month span from September to early October. The site narrowed its list down to two: SBU junior guard Jaylen Adams was picked second, while Davidson senior guard Jack Gibbs was selected as the top player.
Let the Adams-Gibbs rivalry begin.
The two point guards, who stand around 6-foot (Adams is listed at 6-foot-1, Gibbs at six feet even) are only guaranteed to play once this year, a Feb. 28 matchup in Gibbs’s house. If last year’s regular season contest was any indication, it’ll be a must-watch showdown.
On Jan. 2, the first A-10 game of the year, Adams and Gibbs had an impressive duel from the opening tip. Adams scored 17 first-half points, going 5-of-9 from the field with four three-pointers and three free throws. Gibbs had 15 in the first 20 minutes, shooting 6-of-19, including one three. SBU and Davidson went into halftime tied at 43.
Gibbs cooled off in the second, making just one of eight shot attempts and ending up with 18 points. Adams scored eight of his 13 second-half points from the foul line and finished with 30. The duel came to an end in that period, but the first half contained some of the most exciting action of the season.
The Davidson captain got a measure of revenge in the A-10 Tournament meeting, scoring 29 on 11-of-30 shooting while Adams turned in an unusual three-point, five-foul, 1-for-10 night. The Wildcats pulled off the overtime thriller.
Both players made the A-10 All-Conference First Team in March. Adams tied for eighth in the league in scoring with 17.9 points a game, while Gibbs averaged a league-leading 23.5.
The wait until the next face-off, the penultimate game of the regular season, will be a lengthy one. Until then, the league’s fans will be monitoring the box scores and stat lines of these two talented players.
“We kind of play on the same days, I don’t get to watch him a bunch,” Adams acknowledged. “But he’s a fearless competitor… he’s a great player and I just kind of go out there and compete every night. I don’t pay attention to the noise.”
Another star Adams keeps an eye on is his cousin, Cincinnati senior guard Troy Caupain. Caupain, who started all 33 games last year and averaged 13 points, was named the American Athletic Conference (AAC) Preseason Player of the Year last month. The two have always had a close relationship.
“My whole life he’s been like big cuz,” Adams said. “As a little kid, we went hard, we just went at it with each other. So now that we’re both getting a little bit of recognition, it’s fun for both of us. But at the same time, we just go hard.”
One area Bona coach Mark Schmidt listed for Adams to improve on was being a more vocal leader. Adams, like Gibbs, doesn’t carry the persona of a boisterous player who is always the loudest on the court. He’s no Draymond Green, but he knows there are times to take control.
“I don’t think that’s really the definition of a leader, ‘you’ve gotta be shouting at people.'” Adams said. “It’s part of it; you’ve gotta be… commanding out there. Just be a leader, assert myself. But I can lead by example too, and I just try to do that everyday, doing everything I can.”
The attention Adams has received has been well-deserved, but he knows the only way to earn more awards and recognition in the future is to look forward.
“At the same time, it’s good but it’s just more noise,” he said. “All the accolades come from stuff I’ve done in the past, and quite frankly that doesn’t matter going into this year, so I just go hard and try to get better everyday so I can improve.
“We’ve got a good staff. I’ve gotta stay in the training room and try to stay healthy. I just play the minutes that coach needs me. If he needs me on the floor I just try to do whatever it takes to win.”