NYC Metro Preview: #12 St. John's
12. St. John’s (2006-07 Record: 16-15, 7-9 Big East)
Head coach: Norm Roberts
Returning Starters: G Eugene Lawrence (senior): 6-1, 225; F Anthony Mason Jr. (junior): 6-7, 207.
Replacing a first-team All-Big East player such as forward Lamont Hamilton is a tough task for any team. But when the one youngster you were hoping to step into a major role up front decides to transfer, then you have problems. That’s the case with St. John’s, who has to find a way to replace not only Hamilton but the promising Qa’rraan Calhoun as well. Calhoun, although he only averaged 5.9 ppg and 4.0 rpg, was a promising talent who could have helped ease the pain of losing Hamilton. Instead, a seven-member class of newcomers will be needed to add depth to this suddenly young team.
Other than Lawrence, the only other returning backcourt player with credible experience is senior Larry Wright (4.0 ppg, 43 % 3PT), and he only played thirteen minutes per game last season. Wright will have to give the Red Storm some scoring punch from the perimeter this season. Four newcomers will look to grab minutes from the start, and given the amount of time available there shouldn’t be a problem with at least one of them doing just that. Point guard Malik Boothe (Rosedale, NY) may only stand at 5-9, but he is a speedster with the basketball who can make things happen. Also coming into the fold are D.J. Kennedy (Pittsburgh, PA), Mike Cavataio (Forest Hills, NY) and Paris Horne (Middletown, DE). Of the three, Kennedy stands to be the one best able to step into an important role right away, but all three will be needed to provide some perimeter help this season.
Returning in the frontcourt with Mason Jr. is senior Tomas Jasiulionis (2.0 ppg, 1.9 rpg), a big man with size who’s counted on for defense and simply banging in the paint more than anything else. Jasiulionis has never had an issue with the effort he gives on the floor, but don’t look for the scoring average to jump up too much. The frontcourt newcomers have been the focus of excitement during the off-season, with freshmen Justin Burrell (Bronx, NY), Dele Coker (Newburgh, NY) and Sean Evans (Philadelphia, PA) all having the opportunity to move into the starting lineup.
At Bridgton Academy last season, the 6-8 Burrell went for 23, 11 and four blocks per game. Coker isn’t as developed offensively as Burrell or Evans (22 ppg his senior year), but he did average three blocks per game at South Kent Prep. The wildcard up front is redshirt freshman Rob Thomas, a talented 6-6 forward who has to sit out until 2008. If he’s taken care of business off the court and his surgically repaired knee is in good form, Thomas can add another dimension to the Red Storm attack.
In regards to the schedule, the Red Storm will open up with four home games against colleges also in the New York metropolitan area: St. Francis (NY), Sacred Heart, Fairleigh Dickinson and Long Island. Also on the non-conference slate is an appearance in the Rainbow Classic, opening up against Ohio on December 19th (also taking part are Hawaii, Louisiana-Lafayette, East Tennessee State, Georgia, St. Mary’s and Tulane). They will also play in the Aeropostale Holiday Festival, playing defending Holiday Classic champion Hofstra in the opener, then facing either Marist or Virginia Tech the following night. Other non-conference games of note include trips to Miami (December 2nd) and Duke (February 23rd). And we all know how tough that Big East schedule is.
Hate to say it, but a good season for this team may indeed be one that ends in the Postseason NIT. Besides Mason Jr. (and on occasion Lawrence), there just isn’t enough proven (at the college level, at least) scoring punch. This team could end up being a lot like the 2004-05 edition that had Daryll Hill and Lamont Hamilton as sophomores, but little scoring punch behind them. But as that eventual 9-18 outfit found out, it’s better to have an even distribution of the scoring load as opposed to two players firing at will. If the newcomers can step into new roles and thrive, then they could end up being better than many expect. But if not, the Red Storm could have a tough time qualifying for the Big East Championship.