Photo courtesy of St. John’s University Athletics.
By David Cordova
New York City is what many others from out of town would call the land of opportunity and what others may call the “Mecca of Basketball.” When you think of the Big Apple, there is one team that is synonymous with the city, and that is the St. John’s Red Storm.
The big thing about St. John’s is that whether win or lose, they’re still New York’s team. There may be other programs in the city, but none has the major following of the Red Storm. Every year, the teams play games at their arena on campus, Carnesecca Arena, named after their Hall of Fame coach Lou Carnesecca, and also at the World’s Most Famous Arena, Madison Square Garden.
But these have been rough times the last couple of years under head coach Chris Mullin. In his first two years, the program has gone a combined 22-43. But what many may not look at is that it takes time for programs to jell. And so far, that is what St. John’s is doing: building.
In last night’s exhibition game against American International College, which they won, 84-52, the Red Storm showed plenty of unselfishness, handing out 17 assists, seven of them from redshirt sophomore Justin Simon. And also outrebounding their opponents, 41-35. They also shot 50.8% from the floor.
Sophomore guard Shamorie Ponds scored 21 points on 8-for-13 shooting, redshirt sophomore Marcus Lovett scored 14 points and redshirt junior Marvin Clark II had a double-double with 12 points and 14 rebounds.
“We shared the ball pretty well. AIC played hard and they had a lot of like-sized players on their team and were very aggressive,” says Mullin about the team’s overall performance. “Overall, on offense we were very unselfish and moved the ball well. Defensively, we had some breakdowns…but it’s stuff that we can clean up. Overall, it was a good first dry run.”
This year, they will have a lot of depth as they will have good guard play and good post play from both Clark, redshirt junior Tariq Owens and junior Amar Alibegovic. With Clark, the transfer from Michigan State, they have another forward that adds much needed toughness in the low post.
“Our coaching staff wants to use me like the Warriors use Draymond Green. He is someone who I look up to and someone I want to emulate and that is the role I have to play on this team,” says Clark, “We have the scorers, everyone is versatile, I just have to bring that enforced attitude and keep rebounding like I am, then everything else will take care of itself.”
On the guard front, they have both Ponds and LoVett, both of whom were recently named to the Big East Preseason All-Second Team. Last season, Ponds averaged 17.4 points and 3.1 assists per game and LoVett averaged 15.9 points per game. There was also senior swingman Bashir Ahmed, who averaged 13.4 points per game.
When asked about his dynamite backcourt duo, Mullin replied, ““I think both Marcus and Shamorie have been very receptive to it, and they are both really good at it, which helps. It’s very unique when you have guys who are so good with the ball and can be as effective without it. I saw that last year but we couldn’t do it as much because we needed [Ponds and LoVett] to handle the ball, but I still want them creating. There are portions of the game now, like when Justin [Simon] rebounds it that can be really dangerous…not only to spot up or catch-and-shoot, but setting good screens and having good cuts. I think the ability to maintain their effectiveness off the ball is going to be a key for us.”
As for the recent transfers in Simon (who transferred from Arizona) and Clark, Mullin added: “Well physically, if you look, these are two guys that we just didn’t have on our roster. With Justin’s ability to play point guard at [6’5”], he can free up Shamorie and Marcus some so they don’t have to do all the heavy lifting when it comes to ball handling. With Marvin, it’s his flexibility, versatility, and his strength. We can switch on defense with him…he is going to be able to play in the post and on the wing. He had some great looks tonight. So, it’s two versatile guys, and I think they play well with the core coming back.”
Last season, the Red Storm finished 14-19 and made a quarterfinal appearance in the Big East Tournament. Now, it’s all about getting better and progressing game by game.
“Last year, I would say everybody was an individual, this year collectively as a group we are a whole, it is like family,” says Ponds. “If [someone] moves we all move, if we make a mistake our brother has our back.”
If the Red Storm plan on getting better, this is the solution, “Communication, I think our defensive communication has to get a little better if we want to see ourselves go from 10 wins to 20 wins,” says Ponds.
Coming up for St. John’s is the exhibition game this Sunday, November 5th in New Brunswick, NJ against Rutgers and their opening game will be at home on November 10th against University of New Orleans.
Mullin’s thoughts on the upcoming game on Sunday, “The number one thing is that all proceeds from this game will go to hurricane relief; which is most important about this game. For us to get a road game under our belt, and for our guys who haven’t played [Justin Simon and Marvin Clark II] in about 18 months it was good to play a game with referees and the game atmosphere. So, to go on the road is good for a young team and guys who haven’t played in that type of environment in a while. All in all, it was great for Rutgers to accommodate us, and vice versa, I think it’s for a good cause and we can both use it as a learning experience.
On the season opener on November 10th, Mullin added: ““I’m happy with their work level, they’ve been really conscientious about that. Not only as a team, but in their individual work as well. The good news is that we’ve been working hard and playing okay, but I see a lot of room for improvement. Where we are today is good.”
The last two years are in the past and the new season is finally here. St. John’s may not be the biggest team in the Big East, but they certainly may be one of the toughest. With the positive attitude that the team is showing, there’s no doubt that this season will be a great way to learn how the Red Storm will put on for the city. And who knows, if all goes well, everything will go further than expected.