Another Big East Media Day has come and gone for the Johnnies, this one a first with coach Mike Anderson.
The Red Storm are still a shade under three weeks out from their first match of the season, but the public got their first look at the team through the words of representatives of Mustapha Heron, L.J. Figueroa in addition to Coach Anderson.
St. John’s, with two Second Team all Big East players (Heron and Figueroa) were picked ninth in the league’s coaches’ poll, just two points from eighth-place Butler.
Basketball is Basketball
Coach Mike Anderson was a hot commodity on Media Day. The new coach, getting acquainted with the NY-area media, answered the many questions passed in his direction. Anderson’s answers had a common theme of building the Red Storm team — starting with the basics.
“Basketball is basketball,” Anderson said, talking up his basketball philosophy. “You believe in something in terms of your system, your style of play, and the type of players you want to incorporate. You get a chance to go and hopefully put your team together the way you want to play.”
He went on the describe the style of play he coaches as fun and aggressive, built off a core of basketball knowledge and instinct. Anderson acknowledged that his players needed to be “full throttle” to finish the season on top of the Big East.
Given the late hire and turnover, how quickly can Mike Anderson get the Red Storm to “full throttle” — and will that be enough to contend in the top half of the league?
Brand new roster
LJ Figueroa used his time at the mic to talk about his new teammates and coaches that surround him, and how the personnel changes affect his play.
“We have a whole brand new roster and brand new coach. I didn’t know what to expect [when we started practice],” LJ Figueroa said.
Figueroa knows that the overhaul means big changes and big questions marks, but he maintains confidence for the season, because of the preseason work the squad is doing to implement Anderson’s chaotic on-court style. “We’re paying the price right now,” he said, “we’re putting in the work we need to put in for the results to show up on the court.”
Figueroa, who starred for the Dominican Republic in this summer’s Pan-Am games (where he said he had a “great summer”, noted that the team bonded while he and Mustapha Heron, also playing in the Pan-Am games, were away.
Commenting on the team’s chemistry, he told us, “it was good coming back and seeing how good the guys have gotten and how close they have gotten.”
While the squad has been training and getting closer, the rest of the Big East has built-in chemistry, with many players returning as upperclassmen. The Johnnies are going to have to be tight to compete against close-knit, veteran conference opponents.
When asked about the team’s motivation after being picked 9th in the poll, Anderson replied, “I was from a family of 8 and I was the 6th kid; I didn’t turn out too bad. I was the 3rd choice on my wife’s side. All that is is someone’s opinion.”
(Anderson did not mention that he was at least the third choice in the St. John’s coaching search. Water under the bridge.)
In citing his underdog status in life and in coaching, Anderson is working to get his team and the fans to buy in on what he plans on selling this season — and not what is being said outside of the program.
For Anderson and his team, expectations for the next 6 months are their own and have tuned out everyone else’s.
Student athlete compensation
We spoke to Big East Commissioner Val Ackerman and St. John’s AD Mike Cragg separately on their views of the pending legislation in New York (similar to that of California) giving student athletes the opportunity to be paid for competing.
The New York proposed bill would allow athletes to profit off of their likeness, like the California bill signed into law to take effect in 2023, but the NY bill also requires programs to share a percentage of the Athletic Department revenue with all student-athletes and creates a fund for injured players.
Commissioner Ackerman was unable to comment because of her position as co-chair of a board looking into the issue at the NCAA level whose report is to be released at the end of this month.
AD Mike Cragg was able to comment a little more loosely on the issue, but was conservative with his comments because of the uncertainty looming around the issue.
Cragg said, “for us, we’re all about student athletes being able to maximize their opportunities in college in whatever form it comes in.”
Cragg shared his optimism for a solution in the future and praise for Ackerman’s committee. Cragg believes that sooner rather than later the issue will be ironed out with a collaboration of legislators and NCAA officials with an agreement that appeases all sides and doesn’t vary state by state or school by school.
The season tips off on October 30th for St. John’s in their home exhibition match against Queens College.