Player preview: God'sgift Achiuwa is back, looking ready to contribute for Johnnies

John Alber

Achiuwa sat out the entire season during his second year with the Red Storm.

Out of sight, out of mind.

It's one of the fears of the one-year sabbatical, in any walk of life. St. John's redshirt senior God`sgift Achiuwa was hardly spoken of despite his memorable name, as he redshirted - in warm ups all year while the rest of the class he came in with enjoyed on-court action in last year's 17-16 NIT season.

Achiuwa has returned to the Johnnies from his year on the sidelines, a year in which he played double duty as a full-time player mentor and full-time student.  He's back with a vengeance as the leader we expected, and possibly as the contributor we may have forgotten about.

Achiuwa, a member of the University's prestigious President's Society, is a rare student-athlete specimen.  A noticeably reflective young man filled with insight, "Gift," as Lavin and his teammates call him for short, spends as much time in St. Augustine Hall, the school's on-campus library, as he does in the gym. Achiuwa was able to finish his undergraduate degree and begin graduate studies, which he plans to conclude with an MBA in May.

Even with the time under the library lights, he still has the frame, hustle and quickness to play high-major basketball

Gift chose St. John's over a few other top basketball programs including then-Big East rival Cincinnati in the spring of 2011.  He was a typical JUCO product of intrigue, with an physical 6-foot-8 frame encompassing an 87-inch wingspan and the potential to give an all-newcomer squad like Lavin's Red Storm immediate experience. He looked ready for college basketball - unlike the true freshmen he entered St. John's with.

Gift is controlling everything right now. -D'Angelo Harrison

In his first games with St. John's, Achiuwa seemed like Lavin's greatest recruiting steal.  The Nigerian scored in double figures in eight of the Johnnies' first 13 games that season, including a "perfect game" in which he went 6-6 from the field and 9-9 from the free throw line.

As Big East play began to grind the freshmen-laden Red Storm, Achiuwa withered on the eventual 13-19 team.  His minutes dwindled, even on a team comprising of just five other players - all freshmen.

Twenty months later, God`sgift Achiuwa's name is announced as a substitute for Orlando Sanchez in the first half of St. John's second exhibition game against Humboldt State, a forgotten man in the rotation, a forgettable sub.

Twelve seconds later, Gift slams in a two-handed dunk - just the first highlight of a 24-point night that reminded St. John's fans that maybe he's not just a guy to spell Sanchez, but a difference-maker in his own right.

The opponent was the inferior Division II Humboldt St., who offered no defender powerful enough to stall a player of Achiuwa's stature.  But his opportunities weren't created out of pure domination, but from hustle and desire.  That's typical of the not-so-typical Gift, who is in better physical shape than he's ever been.

"I'm so happy and excited to be back," Achiuwa said on Monday.  "I watched my team from the sideline last year.  I'm just trying to help this team in any way I can, starting with the little things Coach [Lavin] asks me to do."

Again: it is early in the season.

Gift's positive performances in each of the two exhibitions should convince no one that he will be a difference-maker for St. John's this season.  Division II opponents aren't Wisconsin, Syracuse or Georgetown.  Prolific shot swatter Chris Obekpa did not play as he served a two-game suspension.

With his hustle and girth inside, Achiuwa should still be a contributor off the bench for Steve Lavin this season.  We know the intangibles he brings off the court as a quiet leader, and his exhibition thrashing could just be a small indication of what he can do on it when he's focused.

"Gift is controlling everything right now," D`Angelo Harrison said.   "When he and Chris Obekpa are on the floor at the same time, it's going to be scary."

Though Achiuwa's minutes will be down from the team's two exhibitions with Obekpa's return from suspension in Friday's season opener against Wisconsin, it will be the first chance to see that power duo in action.

Whether its on the score sheet or by leadership or example, God'sgift Achiuwa is going to give something to St. John's cause each and every night.  That's the most reliable you can expect a graduate student to be.

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