The offseason will definitely be an active one for Chris Mullin and his staff. Changes have started to come for the St. John’s basketball team.
Things we know: St. John’s is a team with an obvious flaw (in need of a strong big man).
Things we know: St. John’s has two more scholarships to use after the transfers of Malik Ellison and Darien Williams, bringing the total to three.
Things we know: St. John’s will likely not play more than 11 players per game, so players who sit out are an option.
We know that the staff’s recruiting efforts will happily patrol the transfer “market,” as players look to move in search of more playing time, a bigger challenge - sometimes with immediate eligibility.
It is entirely possible that a big man transfer target that St. John’s will really want has not yet declared that he is leaving. But we will still dig through some names and make the case, after today’s piece on sit-out transfers (which mentioned UConn’s Stephen Enoch, Marcus Evans of Rice, Peter Kiss of Quinnipiac and Michael Weathers of Miami of Ohio. We covered those in this post.
Here we also include 2017 freshman Mamoudou Diarra, who decommitted from Washington, and a few possibly immediately eligible big men. There is also now LIU’s Nura Zanna and some other intriguing big men who are looking for new places to play.
No word on if St. John’s is looking at any of these players... but with a need for an immediately-eligible big man and possibly a freshman to back up, here are some intriguing names.
Nura Zanna [#13 on LIU Blackbirds] | 6’7” 240 lb. | Kaduna, Nigeria
Zanna fought off some injuries early in his career to play a major role for the LIU Blackbirds in the Northeast Conference, winning 20 games - including one against St. John’s. Zanna grabbed eight rebounds against the St. John’s front and shot 6/9 from the field while adding four steals (and committing four turnovers). That was the team’s first game after Yankuba Sima transferred out of the program.
A big body, Zanna is consistently one of the nation’s better rebounders. His brother Talib Zanna played at Pitt and he played on the U-16 Nigerian national team with Chris Obekpa.
The LIU highlights vs St. John’s. Look for #13.
Ahmed Hamdy [#23 on VCU Rams] | 6’9” 230 lb. | Alexandria, Egypt
Hamdy already plays for a high-level defensive squad in VCU. His coach Will Wade has moved on to a new job at LSU. Which, one may think, would lead Hamdy to choose to follow his coach to Louisiana.
But if not, Hamdy is a strong defensive rebounder, grabbing 22% of opponent misses and has decent size and shot blocking capability. He only played eight minutes against the Red Storm in the win in November at the Battle for Atlantis; the Rams went with big men Mo Alie-Cox and Justin Tillman to wear down the Johnnies.
But he played against Baylor and did some solid scoring.
Sean Obi [#34 on Duke Blue Devils] | 6’9” 205 lb. | Kaduna, Nigeria
Bedeviled by injury, Obi starred at Rice for a year before transferring to Duke, and then has barely seen the court. With the kinds of talent on the bench at Duke, Obi could move on and, if healthy, star somewhere else.
The “if healthy” is the biggest part here. While it might be nice to have a player with experience at Duke for the next Duke/ St. John’s game in 2018, St. John’s really does need a presence inside. Obi, at Rice, was an elite defensive rebound - with the second-highest percentage of opponent misses rebounded.
Note that SMU’s Semi Ojeleye rarely played at Duke, but became a star at Southern Methodist.
Short highlights at Rice
Kerem Kanter [#1 on Wisconsin Green Bay] | 6’10” 240 lb. | Istanbul, Turkey
Kanter is an interior threat who can step out and hit the three-pointer (37% from outside the arc). He’s a very good rebounder on both ends and is the brother of Enes Kanter.
He’s declared for the NBA Draft, but at age 21, he’s just a year older than Marcus LoVett. he won’t likely be drafted, but after receiving his feedback, will want to play on a higher level to up his game.
Why not play for a pair of NBA Hall of Famers?
Kanter would be a bit more of a high-usage center than some of the other players in this post, but he does seem like he can play against anyone, scoring 18 against Wisconsin this season and an average of 11 points and six rebounds in under 20 minutes per game.
Highlights vs. Wisconsin
Kameron Rooks [California Golden Bears] | 7’0” 265 lb. | San Marcos, CA
The son of former LA Clipper Sean Rooks (who died of heart disease in 2016), Kameron Rooks had some injury issues but played solidly as a sophomore for the California Golden Bears. This season, he saw less time... but is still a true 7’0” player.
Rooks is unlikely, with family on the west coast, but worth the thought.
He could be a solid fit for 20+ minutes per game to control the glass and defend; he has NCAA Tournament experience, and he doesn’t need many shots, which is important for a St. John’s team that will regularly have three players who are ready to shoot with any daylight.
Still, St. John’s might try to get him interior touches. He hasn’t been a high-level scoring presence despite his size, but his turnover rate is decent and he blocks shots.
Mamoudou Diarra | 6’9” 205 lb. | Mali/ St. Louis, MO - HS senior
The University of Washington decommit is from Mali. And he’s eligible next year (since he’s an incoming freshman). A little skinny, but solid potential and reportedly a good motor, according to his AAU coach, Scott Schroepfer:
“His strengths are his motor and his versatility. He can play the wing. He played the three and the four for us. He's got great lateral quickness, a 7'2" wingspan, and he's athletic. His areas for improvement are his perimeter shooting, which is getting better. His passing is getting better. His defensive motor has gone from a two to a twelve. The lights come on and he's just ready to play both ends of the floor."
“The difference with Mamoudou is it doesn't matter if it's with [top recruit] Michael Porter or in an empty gym, he's competitive. He's tooth and nail. He'll fight you for every rebound. He's that competitive....”
Diarra had an injury-plagued junior season and needs some reps and development to emerge - which could be perfect for a St. John’s team that will likely not need a freshman to contribute next season, unless that freshman is ready.
He is ranked #203 in the 247 Sports composite.
Some highlights (from a difficult angle)