Think back to January 3. The weather in Philadelphia was frigid, and that night brought a snowstorm that closed down most of the area the following day.
Saint Joseph’s fans will also remember the Hawks’ dramatic 87-81 overtime win against Atlantic 10 rival VCU, where the score was tied six times and the lead changed seven times.
Something else happened that night, though, something worth celebrating amid the nail biting: senior James Demery scored his 1,000th career point.
“Actually, I didn’t know [how close I was] until that morning because my mom keeps track,” Demery said with a smile. “She called me that morning and was like, ‘Jay, you’re like five points away.’ I said, ‘Okay,’ and she said, ‘Get your points.’”
He did, on a layup less than a minute into the second half.
Some people told Demery he’d never play collegiate basketball. Some people told him he wouldn’t score 1,000 points. But here he is. His secret to success? Demery plays and lives with a fire that pushes him to exceed expectations.
Demery started playing basketball with his cousins when he was seven years old, and his dedication to the sport took him to Charlotte, about 250 miles from where his mother lived in Greenville, North Carolina.
When Demery arrived on Hawk Hill, he was a step ahead of most college freshmen in a key area: living with his extended family meant Demery was used to being far away from his mom, so the increased distance didn’t bother him.
Demery started all but two games his freshman year, averaging 6.7 points and 3.5 rebounds.
“It was a great experience,” Demery said. “It allowed me to see where I was mentally, physically in the game. It really humbled me to be like, ‘This is what I need to work on to become an even greater player.’”
With Aaron Brown earning a spot in the starting rotation for the 2015-16 Hawks, Demery shifted to the bench to serve as the team’s sixth man.
Demery didn’t have any inkling his role would change, but he wasn’t bothered by the shift. All that mattered was helping the team. His 8.1 points and 3.6 rebounds per game did just that.
“I still had the same mentality [as freshman year], but more of a fire, like ‘I’ve got more to prove,’” Demery said. “Any time you step on the court, you’ve just got to be ready to play and give it your all. So, even if I was starting, I’d still have the same mentality as if I was on the bench and getting on the court.”
The team honored Demery and classmate Shavar Newkirk with the Most Improved Player Award that season. Improvement was still on Demery’s mind going into the summer.
With the departure of Brown, Isaiah Miles, and DeAndre' Bembry, Demery was the team’s leading returning scorer for the 2016-17 Hawks. As with everything else, Demery approached the situation with a fire.
“I was going to be the leader and a role model,” Demery said. “I’d been through the lows freshman year and the highs sophomore year. I know what to expect in this game.”
Demery returned to the starting lineup for his junior year and was poised to be a key veteran component in the young team.
Looking only at his numbers from the season opener, Demery had a good game: 11 points, eight rebounds, one block, and one steal in 32 minutes. The bigger picture isn’t good, though. Demery suffered a stress fracture in his left foot, the second in a long line of injuries for the Hawks.
The stress fracture was the first major injury Demery sustained. He knew early in the game something didn’t feel right in his shoe, but wasn’t sure what could be wrong.
“I’m one of those guys that likes to play through stuff,” Demery said. “I’m just playing in the game, my adrenaline’s running because it’s the first game, and I was like, ‘Man, something doesn’t feel right with my foot.’ But I’m not paying attention, like maybe it will go away. So, when halftime comes up, I’m just limping around, like, ‘Dang, a rock must be in my shoe. What’s going on?’”
After Demery finished the game, he went back to the locker room, sat down, and took his shoe off. About 15 minutes later, he tried to stand up, and head athletic trainer Bill Lukasiewicz told Demery he’d need to have his foot x-rayed.
The stress fracture took about six weeks to heal, although Demery felt he could have returned sooner. Of course, he understood why he had to wait the full six weeks, but he was overwhelmed with the desire to return to the court.
Injuries never come at “good” times, but Demery was especially frustrated with the timing of his stress fracture for several reasons.
“Imagine walking around this campus cold, on crutches, hands freezing – it was just a terrible time,” Demery said. “My team went to the Virgin Islands [in late November for Paradise Jam]. I wish I could’ve gone, but I stayed here. There was no need. I’d just be hobbling everywhere.”
Demery felt a little hesitant in his first game back, but found his stride in the following game, scoring 17 points and grabbing eight rebounds. A few weeks later, Demery posted the first double-double of his career and added three more in the final 12 games of the season.
In 20 games, Demery averaged 31.8 minutes, 14.5 points, and 6.5 rebounds, which earned him All-Big 5 Second Team honors.
Demery’s improved scoring comes from consistently working on improving his jump shot, particularly his three-point shot. Through 23 games this season, Demery is shooting .273 from behind the arc, nearly 100 points higher than his freshman year percentage of .175.
“I know a lot of people would be surprised about that. James Demery can knock down threes,” Demery said with a laugh.
Although his time on Hawk Hill is coming to an end, Demery isn’t nervous about life after graduation.
“That’s a new stage of life,” Demery said. “I’m going to be doing something I love to do, playing basketball. I’m ready for it. It’s called growing up.”
Playing in the NBA has been Demery’s dream since he was five years old and watching Space Jam. Life hasn’t always been easy since then.
Hardships fuel the fire that drives Demery. He’s proven people wrong before, and he plans on continuing to do so. With all that in mind, Demery has mapped out his future after his basketball career is over.
“I’m going to have a foundation built for kids,” Demery said. “I’m going to be a mentor. I’m not really a big guy when it comes to public speaking, but more of an individual [basis], talk to a lot of kids and show them the way out. It doesn’t have to be about basketball – it’s what you want to do, doctor, lawyer, but if you want to do that, be passionate about it. A lot of people do things they don’t really love to do because of what other people say.”
Whatever the future holds, Demery will be doing what he loves and chasing his dreams with a fire.