Throughout this Big East Summer Q&A series, we've asked writers from all across the conference to place tags on the programs they cover.
Who is Team X? What identity is Team X trying to achieve?
Ever since Steve Lavin became the head coach at St. John's, the Red Storm has been identified in one universal way: athletic.
The young Johnnies have always had youthful, raw athleticism. Yet in the two years since Lavin turned over the roster completely, the "freaky" atleticism of Sir`Dominic Pointer, Chris Obekpa, JaKarr Sampson and company hasn't directly translated into a rise up the national rankings.
In short, the Johnnies of the past two seasons have proven that age and experience will always conquer raw athleticism at the collegiate level. But the tide is shifting in Queens, as Lavin's squad gets older and more refined. If everything carries out as expected with the 2013-14 Red Storm, the time could very well be now.
Here on the Rumble, we do our best to cover St. John's wall-to-wall all year. But today we have chosen to step aside and give our good friend Kieran Lynch (@Kieran_Lynch), editor-in-chief of the St. John's student newspaper The Torch, the floor to provide us with an objective look at the Johnnies. That, and why the Queens Campus is the perfect spot for a beautiful par-3.
Rumble In The Garden: Explain where the Red Storm fit in the national hierarchy - imagine you're talking to a hoops newbie who knows Duke, Kentucky, and North Carolina exist, but the person doesn't watch the tournament or really know conferences' reputation. Who is St. John's? Think: "What is our team known for?" or "Why might someone have heard of the team?"
Kieran Lynch: St. John’s is the team that’s always been there, but never been there. Putting it simply, the Johnnies are New York City’s team. They’re Louie Carnesecca, Madison Square Garden and the 1985 Final Four. You’ll notice two of those things are directly related. That’s what St. John’s fans have been hanging their hats on for the last quarter century.
When people think of basketball, generally they’ll think of New York City. They’ll think of the players who made their names growing up in the five boroughs and more often than not that’s intertwined with St. John’s. We’re talking Chris Mullin, Mark Jackson, Malik Sealy, Metta World Peace and many more.
The Red Storm are known for their two Final Four appearances, six NIT titles and a history that runs deep with their city. Now, they’re the team poised to burst onto the national scene thanks to the arrival of head coach Steve Lavin who seems to understand the potential of the school’s location. All they’re waiting on now is for it to all come together at the right time.
RITG: Add a fun fact about the school or the program - something that would impress a person who is loosely familiar with the school.
KL: With 1,754 wins, the Red Storm are ranked No. 7 all-time for all of Division I men’s basketball.
RITG: How do you feel about the new Big East - being in the conference, worries about the future? What are you most excited about/ to see? What worries you?
KL: The new Big East is an attempt to return to what made the conference successful in the first place – basketball. After waiting for what seemed like the last possible moment, the Catholic schools made the right decision in forming this new group of 10 basketball-minded schools.
The worry has to be exposure. Sure, this basketball-only style worked decades ago, but that was before football really had a strangle hold on everything. ESPN isn’t going to be doing the Big East any favors with the schools teaming up with the new Fox Sports 1. These schools are going to have to do everything the old fashioned way. That’s by winning, by placing more than half of the league in the NCAA tournament consistently and by not giving the general public a chance to tune out/lose interest in the conference. If you win, there’s no reason to worry. Lose and you may be looking at sleeker version of the Atlantic 10.
The most exciting thing is the chance to truly see rivalries develop. The old setup with three home-and-homes a year just wasn’t enough. Now with less teams and a chance to play home-and-homes with everyone the animosity will grow. The idealized image in most fans’ heads has always been Georgetown/St. John’s from the 1980’s. This new format has the chance to rekindle matchups like that all over again.
RITG: Which other Big East team are you excited to see in action next year?
KL: I’m excited to see any of the three teams that weren’t already a part of the old Big East. Old rivalries are great and everything, but I’m looking forward to the first time St. John’s visits Butler, Xavier and Creighton to get a real sense of what being in this new conference means to those schools and the excitement I’m sure their fans will bring to the table.
RITG: What does next season look like? Who leaves the program? Who is new? Who returns? Who is expected to be the on-court leader(s)?
KL: Next season is do or die for St. John’s. The team returns every player from last year’s roster except Amir Garrett who chose to transfer. On top of that, the Johnnies gain Orlando Sanchez (won NCAA eligibility battle), God`sgift Achiuwa (redshirt last season), Max Hooper (eligibile after transfer) and Rysheed Jordan (freshman).
It’s the third season for the core of Lavin’s first recruiting class in D`Angelo Harrison, Phil Greene IV and Sir`Dominic Pointer. Harrison is expected to play this season after being suspended for conduct detrimental to the team toward the end of last year’s campaign.
With all of these pieces placed together along with the experience that the juniors have after two full seasons including a year playing with a severely depleted roster, there’s no reason that this team shouldn’t be dancing in March. Honestly, anything less than an NCAA tournament appearance and maybe even a couple wins and some serious questions would start to need to be answered.
RITG: In 100 words or less, explain your last season (or last three).
KL: The first three years of the Lavin era have can be defined by expectations. After making the tournament in year one with a senior-filled team, the Johnnies have dealt with the weight of highly ranked recruiting classes and shoes that just couldn’t be filled.
This year it seems everyone is coming of age and the expectations are rightly placed on a group with a combination of experience, talent and athleticism.
Fans have been waiting for that breakout year after which the Red Storm never look back, and this year has that description written all over it.
RITG: What's the big concern about next season?
KL: The biggest concern is probably D’Angelo Harrison. After serving his suspension at the end of last season he had to work his way back onto the roster over the summer, according to Lavin. From all accounts it appears that he’s doing that.
Will he be looked on to be as much of a leader as he was deemed at the start of last season? Probably not, but that’s not a bad thing. This team has three players with tons of experience in him, Pointer and Greene and there’s no reason why this team should have to rely on only one of them since all have been big contributors over their first two seasons in Queens.
My bigger concern with Harrison is seeing how he fits back into more of a shooting guard role. With Jordan coming in there’s less pressure for Harrison to try to do double duty, which to me is a good thing. We’ll have to see how the whole process unfolds.
RITG: Bonus question: give a reason to visit the area around the school's campus/ arena.
KL: Come on now. It’s New York City. You can go to a midday Saturday game at the Garden and then spend the rest of your day taking in all that Manhattan has to offer.
The Queens campus is a 45-minute subway/bus ride away from the arena in Manhattan, but can also offer a pretty interesting landscape. The campus was built on an old golf course in the middle of Queens and the land stands out as just that (including the hills). There’s some nice green space in the form of the Great Lawn and it’s a nice reprieve from the concrete that surrounds you wherever else you go in this fine city.
Thank you to Kieran for helping us out with this installment of the Big East Summer Q&A series. But why admit that the St. John's campus is a 45-minute trip from the Garden? That's supposed to be a secret!