Marcus LoVett, a top-100 point guard known for his ballhandling, was ruled a partial academic qualifier last season, just under a year to this date.
It was a huge blow to the Johnnies, who expected to have the six-foot point guard on the floor directing the all-new team of seldom-used reserves, raw freshmen and graduate transfers.
The NCAA’s ruling limited him to practice; a knee injury kept him from even that. That didn’t slow down the mental side of adjusting to college for LoVett. He kept himself busy, coiled and waiting for his time to shine under the bright lights of college. LoVett spent his lost redshirt season putting on muscle, constantly watching video and constantly listening to Coach Chris Mullin and Coach Mitch Richmond on the sidelines.
“Some of the stuff that they were telling me was pretty much what I do already,” said LoVett. “Like, if we had a game, and maybe there was something we didn't do in that game, they were like, 'this is where you come in and this is how you...' Or, ‘we need someone to get into the paint and this is what you do best.' Just little stuff they would say to me. Those little things help me. It shows what I do best and what I need to keep doing.”
One of the most glaring issues for the Red Storm last season was the point guard position.
Freshman Federico Mussini was forced to take the reigns at the point guard position, playing 30 or more minutes in 19 of his first 20 games. Mussini, playing somewhat out of position, struggled late in the season. And for the season as a whole, Mussini had an assist to turnover ratio of 1:1; slowed down appreciably in the last month and a half of the season, and saw his shooting percentages plummet.
“That was a little tough for him,” said LoVett. “But it was a great experience for him because that can only make you better as a player. So him going through what he had to go through was great. But it takes [pressure] off of him; now he can shoot the ball. Now it's on me. But it's cool with me; it's what I do. I handle the ball. I'm pretty sure for others it's a relief because they know the ball is going to come to them.”
Now, the Red Storm feature a true point guard and a pair of players who can handle the action if need be in Mussini and Shamorie Ponds, a top-50 guard recruit who starred at Brooklyn’s Thomas Jefferson High, averaging 29 points, eight rebounds and six assists as a senior and leading the school to PSAL and State titles.
As a bonus, LoVett can penetrate and score. Ponds was well-regarded as a crafty scorer, and is expected by many to be one of the leading scorers for Mullin’s team. And Mussini has a quick shot, showing his explosive scoring bursts early last season.
All three will vie for time on the floor this season for St. John’s.
“I think it’s really good,” said Mussini of the competition for the backcourt. “Every one of us has to push ourselves to another level. If everyone’s trying to be better, the team is going to be better and we’re going to have more wins.”
Mussini led the way last season with 56 made threes for the Red Storm. Despite his stroke, he shot just 30% from deep last season. The team hopes that more catch-and-shoot looks and less pressure to break opponent pressure coming up the court will equal higher efficiency on his shots.
In an exhibition versus Baruch, he thrived coming off the bench and providing dynamite scoring for St. John’s, shooting 8-for-12 from the floor for 21 points against the Division III opponent.
While he was on the floor with either LoVett or Ponds, Mussini worked off the ball and got easier looks than he saw all of last season; the difference was penetration. LoVett is a very shifty guard capable of making his way to the paint and Mussini understands the value behind that.
“They attack [and] the defense collapses on them,” said Mussini. “It’s going to be very good for me to have open shots.”
Marcus LoVett believes the offense will be more relaxed this year and the team will get into their sets more smoothly - which means the team will be able to execute their offensive scheme far better.
Despite having not yet played a game for St. John’s, it’s all about getting his feet wet for LoVett. Finally, after all that waiting, he gets to suit up as #15 in the red and white for Chris Mullin’s second St. John’s team.