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St. John's basketball, Game #17: St. John's vs Pittsburgh Panthers: in the newspapers

Some articles on tonight's Pitt vs St. John's game at Madison Square Garden, mostly focused on former Schenley High teammates DeJuan Blair (Pitt) and DJ Kennedy (St. John's). Click below to read the articles:

Pittsburgh Tribune-Review: Former Schenley teammates to reunite at the Garden

"We've always been good friends, probably since second or third grade, when we first played with each other," Kennedy said. "We've always been around each other. It will look funny with both of us out there. But it will be a great experience."

"It's going to be fun, playing against one of your best friends, your brother," Blair said. "I was just watching his games on TV, and now we are meeting up together at the Garden."

Blair and Kennedy both grew up in the Hill District and played at Schenley for four years. They combined for nearly 3,000 career points and brought home the school's first PIAA Class AAAA title in 29 years. They were summer-time teammates on the Pittsburgh JOTS Junior AAU team. They were both named first-team all-state following their senior seasons.

Then, they went their separate ways -- Blair, of course, to Pitt, and Kennedy to its Big East foe, St. John's.

"We are struggling right now. ... but I feel pretty good," Kennedy said. "It's just big to be a freshman out there on the court playing. I felt I worked hard in the off-season. I felt just play how you play the game and the opportunity will take care of itself."….

Kennedy, who said he still talks to Blair by phone once or twice a day, had no doubt what Pitt was getting.

"I knew definitely that he was going to come in and make an impact," Kennedy said. "A lot of people questioned his size, but his whole life he's been playing against bigger than him. He's just a beast. He kills whoever he plays with. I knew what he was capable of doing, the same thing he's been doing since high school."

"It's all going to be fun, a lot of laughs," Blair said. "But at the same time we're going to try to get this win."

Kennedy, Blair, Pittsburgh Fab 5Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: Friendship runs deep for Blair, Kennedy

Blair described his relationship with Kennedy as "blood." They were inseparable when they were growing up, staying at each other's homes almost as much as their own. Their families are close as a result, and the Blair and Kennedy clans are driving together in the same car from Pittsburgh to New York City tomorrow to watch their boys play.

Even though they are separated for the first time and lead the busy lives of college basketball players, Blair and Kennedy speak to each other on an almost daily basis. Lately, most of the conversations have involved trash talking.

"He's like, 'Don't be under the hoop,'" Blair said. "You know how he is. He thinks he's Mr. High Flyer."

The trash talk will continue for another day. There might even be a stray elbow or two between the two during the game. They'll be competing for bragging rights, but Blair said the bond between them is unbreakable.

"He's my best friend. I've been with him all my life. We'll be forever linked because of the Hill. He's like my brother. We're like family. Nothing will ever get between us."

NY Daily News: Former high school teammates reunite when SJU battles Pitt

There also were issues at home. Kennedy grew up in a tough and impoverished section of the city where Richardson said "it has a crime rate" and "we had concerns about the community." Indeed before Kennedy had even matriculated to St. John's, his older brother suffered a gun shot wound.

"I could have (gone) to Pitt and it would have been no problem," Kennedy said. "Originally my mom had wanted me to go to Pitt. . . . (ultimately) they thought it was best for me to get away.

"I liked the St. John's coaching staff. I liked the direction St. John's was going. (That Pitt wins more) doesn't affect me too much. Down the line St. John's will be good."

Kennedy and Blair grew up two blocks apart. They played together from age 8. Their exploits with Schenley High – which also produced Andy Warhol – generated enough excitement that Kennedy says "more than 100" people will be coming with the exclusive intent of watching Pittsburgh stars go against one another.

"I think it will elevate his play," St. John's coach Norm Roberts said. "I see a guy who is going to get excited about the game and get up for it."


The importance of the game is big in its own right but the recruiting ramifications add greater import. Pitt has been a frequent raider of New York talent.

Guard Ronald Ramon will start at the point in place of Fields, who hopefully can return in time for tournament play. Austin Wallace of The Bronx, Tyrell Biggs of Nanuet and Keith Benjamin of Mount Vernon round out Pitt's met-area connection.

St. John's scored a recruiting coup of its own when it signed forward DJ Kennedy out of Pittsburgh. Kennedy chose St. John's over Wisconsin, Georgia and Pitt. He'll be going against his best friend and former high school teammate, forward DeJuan Blair.

"We're not making any excuses," said Roberts. "We're going to take some lumps. But I believe in these guys and I think, if we can keep this group together, they can be great."

Blair is emerging as one of the great players in the league. He's averaging 11.9 points and 9.4 rebounds. Despite his size and strength, Blair's soft hands have allowed him to average 2.1 steals.

St. John's won the last two meetings in the Garden against Pitt, claiming a 65-62 win in 2005 and a 55-50 win in 2006.

EDIT: Three more articles on Pitt vs St. John’s, tonight:

From the NY Times’ Basketball Blog, the Quad (they know St. John’s has a basketball program?): Basketball: Perceptions of St. John’s

Here’s what three of their leading players, all from the New York area, had to say when asked what the perception is of the St. John’s program among players growing up in the area.

Keith Benjamin, senior guard, from Mount Vernon, N.Y.: "It wasn’t a bad perception with Mike Jarvis as coach when I was coming up. That was the school of choice when I was coming up. They’ve just hit a bad stretch because of the probation. I don’t think anybody views it as a bad program."

Ronald Ramon, senior guard, from the Bronx: "Even though they’re stumbling, they still have a good program and get great kids from the city. But Pittsburgh has done a great job of getting guys from the city too the last several years and has always felt like home for me."

Levance Fields, junior guard, from Brooklyn: "Guys don’t want to go there. They’ve been down for several years. You don’t find a lot of guys that want to rebuild programs; they want to go somewhere that’s great already."

From the Big East Basketball Report: THE FUTURE IS THERE FOR ST. JOHN'S, which also mentions "Sean Evans ad Dele Coker executing nice post moves around the rim, which I haven’t yet seen," but good points nonetheless:

"This is the best-looking group [head coach Norm Roberts] has put on the court since he’s been here," a veteran NBA and college scout said. "But you have to deal with the upside as well as the shortcomings."

Assistant coach Fred Quartlebaum isn’t worried, though.

"Basketball is a game of mistakes," he said. "There’s always going to be mistakes; you just have to try and limit the mistakes and turnovers and hope you don’t have as many as your opponent.

"This is the type of group that wants to get better and better. They’re always in the gym in the morning; they’re a bunch of gym rats."

"Not having experience on your side hurts you," Quartlebaum said. "But the energy they bring every day offsets that. There is a bright future in this group, and there are brighter days ahead for St. John’s basketball."

Kennedy echoed those statements. "I see the future looking good for us," he said. "We’re still learning the system, but we’ll be ready. We have the potential to be one of the top teams in the nation.

"The sky’s the limit for all the freshmen."

And a Game Preview from Big East Basketball report: BIG EAST GAME PREVIEW: PITTSBURGH @ ST. JOHN'S

If St. John's can control the tempo and keep this game on pace to be played in the 50's, with the first team to 60 winning, they can follow the plan that has led to their previous two victories against Pitt. Pitt plays well in transition with Sam Young finishing and DeJuan Blair finding room inside. If the game slows and the Redstorm can pack in a zone defense, it could become a perimeter shooting contest, something neither team particularly excels at and plays more into the favor of St. John's in staying in the game and stealing it late.