New Yorkers seeking a preview of what St. John’s Red Storm men’s basketball might look like next year did not have to travel far this summer - just a short ride on the 4 train from Grand Central Station to the Hostos Community College in the Bronx.
There, fans could watch watch rising senior center Joel Soriano and rising junior guard, David Jones honing their skills at Nike Pro City - a professional league with a doubleheader at 6:00 pm every Monday and Wednesday through the earlier summer months.
The league featured some of the best local professional talent - Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, Lance Stephenson, and Tobias Harris are just a few of the marquee names that have made appearances in the past.
We caught up with Soriano and Jones at Pro City, and both were diligently preparing for the upcoming college season playing tough games against pros.
“I have been working on my weight, working on my face-up game, and shooting the ball to help spread the offense,” Soriano said, looking to improve on his Big East debut and better adapt to Coach Anderson’s uptempo system. The big man from the Bronx has a slimmer appearance and was running the floor well during the action we caught.
Jones, the guard/ wing from the Dominican Republic who transferred from DePaul, is looking forward to calling New York home and representing the large Latino community that resides in New York. “Everyone knows that New York is the city where a lot of the Dominicans and the Latinos live. It is good to be in New York and represent the Latino fans.” Jones is also excited to play with fellow guard, André Curbelo (a transfer from Illinois), who he had a relationship with prior to enrolling at St. John’s.
There are some lofty expectations for Jones, who has a reputation as a deft scorer. Last year at DePaul, Jones averaged 14.5 ppg, good for second on the Blue Demons in scoring. Many St. John’s fans hope he can fill in some of the scoring that will be missed on the wing with the departure of Julian Champagnie to the NBA.
However, the goal for Jones is not to score but to help St. John’s in the win-loss column. “I am trying to help this team win games. I am going to compete on defense. I am not looking just to score the ball. We have a lot of guys on the team who can score. I want to make my teammates better,” said Jones.
Both Soriano and Jones recognize it will not be easy to replace the departures from last season. St. John’s will be without the services of Julian Champagnie, Aaron Wheeler, Tareq Coburn, and Stef Smith next season.
Nevertheless, they believe that they have the talent as the team to overcome these key losses after an active offseason.
“We lost a lot of key guys last year’s team,” Soriano said. “It’s going to be a team effort this year. Whatever role coach needs us to play, we will be ready. Whether it’s defense, scoring or coming in for 3 minutes or 40 minutes.” Soriano said.
Along with the higher-profile additions, perhaps St. John’s will make up some of of that production from their talented freshman class. Soriano raved about incoming freshmen Kolby King, Mohamed Keita, and AJ Storr. “They are great. They are working really hard.”
The team also took a trip to the Dominican Republic in August, allowing them 10 practices to start to get the new additions acclimated to Mike Anderson’s style of play. “The biggest emphasis has been our defense,” Soriano said. “Getting up to speed with how we play because we have some newcomers.”
On paper, the Red Storm should have one of the more talented rosters in the Big East. With a stronger non-conference schedule, some predict that this group will secure the first NCAA Tournament berth of the Mike Anderson era.
However, neither Jones nor Soriano want to get caught up in pre-season prognostications. “We are just working right now. We are not going to talk about that right now,” Jones said.
“We have a new team. We will see how the pieces fit,” Soriano added. St. John’s fans hope that the new pieces fit seamlessly.