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Day to day, the Johnnies manage preseason expectations

Amidst all of the hype in Queens, Mike Anderson, Julian Champagnie, and Stef Smith are taking it a day at a time.

Wendell Cruz

Tonight, as the Red Storm continue the preseason with the Red Storm Tip Off, the team will continue to manage the high expectations that have followed the Johnnies all offseason.

The return of Julian Champagnie and Posh Alexander has fans in Queens thinking about plans for the Big Dance in March.

Their top four ranking in the Big East’s preseason coaches poll re-affirms the tall expectations set for this team.

We caught up with Mike Anderson and new guard Stef Smith at Big East Media Day to ask about the hype.

Instead of getting caught up in the newfound optimism that surrounds this team, Mike Anderson and the players only focused on gelling as a team, improving every day, and winning.

Versatility and depth can be a boon for St. John’s

St. John’s experienced a mass exodus in the transfer portal early in the offseason. Not including the mid-season departure of David Caraher, seven players entered their names in the transfer portal, accounting for 60.7% of last year’s minutes lost and 55.8% of last year’s scoring.

A case can be made that the team improved through the additions they made in the transfer portal to fill in those gaps and that Mike Anderson has his most versatile team since he arrived at Union and Utopia two years ago.

Anderson will now have six players listed at 6’8” or taller and add two sharp-shooting guards in Stef Smith and Tareq Coburn to a team that lacked consistent shooting and length last season. At media day, Anderson enjoyed the prospects of having a full arsenal of players to work around at his disposal.

“I get to experiment, I can go small or I can go with some size. In our league, you better have the ability to adapt. Not only do we have the adaptability, we have the depth to succeed.”

If Anderson can get the team clicking, he’ll reap the full potential of a team that features a multitude of different skill-sets.

Like last season, Julian Champagnie and Posh Alexander are expected to handle the ball the most on this 2021-22 team. That does not necessarily mean they will always be relied upon to make plays. Anderson stated that he won’t let his new transfer additions go to waste.

“Our team will not be a one-or-two man team,” remarked Anderson. “We’re gonna need guys to step up at times,” Anderson continued. “[Sometimes] it’s gotta be Stef [Smith] or Montez [Mathis], it’s gotta be Aaron [Wheeler], it’s gotta be Joel [Soriano].”

Those are a lot of players with potential. But it is up to Anderson and the team to click.

Stef Smith spoke about high-octane practices

Grad student guard Stef Smith was one of two players representing St. John’s at media day, and he spoke plenty about his off-season experience of adapting to Big East play.

Getting acclimated to the intensity of Anderson’s practices is crucial for the newcomers if they want to succeed in Anderson’s system, and these rigors have paid dividends for players like Smith so far.

“Guys are playing at 100% every second in practice, and if you’re not, [Mike Anderson] will make you play at your best,” says Smith. “The first few days of practice were very challenging, we went through conditioning at 6am for a month. All of that stuff pays off in the end and I feel like I’m in the best shape of my life.”

The versatility of the guard play is also a help for the future.

“The guards are great players, they all bring different tools,” Smith added. “When I’m against Posh [Alexander], he’s strong, quick, and fast, so I have to be very precise with my angles when I’m guarding him. Then I match-up with someone like [Rafael] Pinzón who is a lot taller than me, or someone like Montez [Mathis] who is crazy athletic. It allows me to see different looks and prepare for games in the Big East because you’ll be playing all these great guards.”

Looking ahead...

“I always say that if you’re here, and you’re not thinking about winning a National Championship, you’re in the wrong business,” says Mike Anderson. “However, we also have to control everything day-to-day. We play a 20-game schedule in the Big East, so we have to take it a game at a time and control what we can control and not get too high or too low.”

The perception of St. John’s basketball has changed for the better over the past year of Anderson’s tenure, and the players have bought into that perception.

The strong supporting cast was one of the factors that Julian Champagnie mentioned as a factor in his decision to return for his junior season. He made it clear that he wanted to be a part of a winning team.

Mike Anderson and company understand what they have to do this season — reach the NCAA Tournament and give St. John’s its first tournament victory since 2000. Any success from that point on is playing with house-money.