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Looking forward: St. John’s 2018-19 roster construction, depth issues, rebounding

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Chris Mullin has put together an interesting 2018-19 roster that is short on interior bulk, but may have talent to move the program forward.

Ponds & Mullin
Wendell Cruz

So, let’s address that pesky “roster construction” question, after the Red Storm has landed wing players LJ Figueroa, Eli Wright and David Caraher in recent weeks — but no big man after Tariq Owens’ departure.

Here is what the roster looks like for next season.

The roster as it stands today for the Johnnies. Click to make bigger
Norman Rose

St. John’s roster: by year

Senior/ 2019 Grad: Marvin Clark II

Junior/ 2020 Grad: Shamorie Ponds, Justin Simon

Sophomore/ 2021 Grad: Sedee Keita, Mikey Dixon, Bryan Trimble Jr., LJ Figueroa

Freshman/ 2022 Grad: Boubacar Diakite, Greg Williams Jr., Josh Roberts, Marcellus Earlington

Sitting out: David Caraher (sophomore in 2019-20, 2022 grad), Eli Wright (junior in 2019-20, 2021 grad)

Open scholarships: 0

St. John’s roster: by position

Point Guards: Shamorie Ponds, Justin Simon, Mikey Dixon

Shooting guards: LJ Figueroa, Greg Williams Jr., Bryan Trimble Jr.

Wing forwards: Boubacar Diakite, Marvin Clark II | [David Caraher, Eli Wright sitting out]

Big forwards: Sedee Keita, Josh Roberts, Marcellus Earlington

We expect more of the same from Justin Simon and Marvin Clark II. Simon was able to attack and impact the game in many ways, though he needs some polish on his finishing and passing. Clark will be a shooter and a defender who forces some steals. Bryan Trimble will hit some threes and could improve as a defender.

The rest of the roster is new. We will look more in depth at the offense and the defense this weekend, but a look at the depth, rebounding and the future recruiting, below.

Depth

Justin Cole defends Kyron Cartwright. The walk-on was pressed into action with Shamorie Ponds’ injury.
Wendell Cruz

The depth on this team should not be worse than last year’s squad, though that would be hard to do. Not only are there 11 players available heading into the summer (versus ten last year), none of the returnees are players Chris Mullin avoided using in the previous season. That’s not saying some of the newcomers won’t land in the doghouse, and a lot is put on Sedee Keita.

There are six players who can credibly play guard, instead of three — Ponds, Simon, Dixon, Williams, Trimble and Figueroa. Given the size of Simon and Figueroa, the players can be combined to complement each other differently for stretches.

Will Greg Williams provide shooting and passing? Will Mikey Dixon be effective on both ends of the floor? Will Shamorie Ponds improve his outside shot? Those questions will help determine who can play alongside whom.

There is a little less height up front. Diakite is an inch taller than Yakwe; Keita is two inches shorter than Owens; Josh Roberts, though an inch shorter, should play minutes, unlike Alibegovic. But there is a little more bulk; Keita and Earlington are 240 pounds, the same weight as Amar Alibegovic, 35 pounds heavier than Owens’ listed weight and 30 pounds heavier than Yakwe’s listed weight.

A lot depends, of course, on which players do not hurt the team on one end or the other. The plus-minus numbers for Kassoum Yakwe and Amar Alibegovic, for example, show why both saw a lot of bench time; Bashir Ahmed had moments where he hurt the offense as well.

With so many new players, some will struggle to make positive plays on one end or the other — and if the staff does not trust them to play, that will hurt the depth.

And an injury to Sedee Keita would be a real issue for the team inside.

Rebounding

Sedee Keita works with Abdelmassih
Sedee Keita works with assistant Matt Abdelmassih
Wendell Cruz

The rebounding will be a bigger question. But last year’s team was one of the worst rebounding teams on both ends of the floor in the country.

Last season, Justin Simon was the team’s leading rebounder, and the defensive rebounding rates for Tariq Owens, Marvin Clark, Kassoum Yakwe and Amar Alibegovic were far below what a Division I team needs to compete on the glass.

Given Sedee Keita’s size and his numbers in limited minutes at South Carolina, he would be hard-pressed not to improve the rebounding numbers inside. His ability to defend without fouling, however, will be an issue as it is for any incoming big man. And his ability to move and cut off penetration will be a question as well.

Incoming freshman Josh Roberts has energy, at least on the offensive end, and Marcellus Earlington looks capable of using his body to box out and hold position.

That said, Josh Roberts and Marcellus Earlington both have to be competent enough to stay on the floor overall (offensively and in position defense) and then talented enough to impact on the glass to give Keita a backup.

They are freshmen, and until they get on the floor, that’s an open question.

There isn’t much behind those three inside. Boubacar Diakite is more of a wing, and he is slim.

The future

Chris Mullin answering question
Chris Mullin answers a question at St. John's Media Day in the preseason
Wendell Cruz

Though the 2018 recruiting class missed out on Luther Muhammad, who would have been a great building block for the next core of the team, St. John’s has brought in some players who could be foundational members of the future. These players can, hopefully, set a culture alongside the possibly short-term transfer talent, and improve the team’s standing in the Big East.

Hope springs eternal after recruiting wins, but that hope isn’t unjustified. None of the freshman newcomers are looked to be everyday starters, and the returning “Big Three” of (likely) Ponds/ Simon/ Clark have been good players.

Still, the Red Storm need to build buzz and start landing high school freshmen this fall, before this new-look team sets foot on the court. But with losing records for three years, convincing top-75 players to attend is a tough mountain to climb.

The staff has worked hard on transfers, landing a number of talented players. Fans have lamented what seems like a lack of stability, as players who made marginal impacts depart, as players who should have been major pieces depart, and as the team continues to play the transfer market.

But that transfer market has brought talent at a level that the staff did not bring in through the high school ranks.

And to be fair, though Owens chose to take his grad school year somewhere else, Marvin Clark is staying for his fifth season of NCAA eligibility.

Justin Simon may as well, setting the tone for the 2019 and 2020 classes.

Chris Mullin, Matt Abdelmassih and the staff should have one scholarship to use this fall, and talented guard Shamorie Ponds could decide to take his game to the pros after this year (likely a wise choice).

The Red Storm can chase after a game-changing big like Aidan Igiehon (Lawrence Woodmere) or Kofi Cockburn (Christ the King), both locals, for the 2019 class. They would see major minutes as freshmen.

Jalen Gaffney, Under Armour session, 2016 in Indiana
Ned Dishman/Under Armour

New Jersey guard Jalen Gaffney of Westtown School seems to be their top guard target. Given the roster (and assuming no Ponds), he may slot in as a point guard or play behind Justin Simon or even Mikey Dixon.

If the team can generate wins, make the NIT or NCAA Tournament, the recruiting should pick up — given the publicity and excitement the team gets simply for beating a few highly-ranked teams.

We have a summer to debate the merits and build hope for a rise for the Johnnies in a weakened Big East next season. Can they execute? Will they be a sharper team, with a stronger identity?