It was a day many St. John’s fans had looked forward to. This past Sunday, fans caught the men’s basketball team in action for the first time this season: not against an opponent, but amidst themselves.
With the doors opening at 1:00 PM, fans observed an early practice with Coach Pitino running plays featuring ball movement, hard cutting to the basket, feeding the post, and using Joel Soriano, in particular, to receive passes near the foul line and to seek out teammates cutting towards the basket, making passes to them for layups. The practice sets, with defenders opposing the plays, were filled with instructive remarks from Coach Pitino, who clearly is detail-oriented and an advocate for “getting it right”.
It was great having fans back in Carnesecca Arena today!❤️— St. John's Men’s Basketball (@StJohnsBBall) October 1, 2023
We can’t wait to see you soon⏳ pic.twitter.com/87NsIruRCx
Amongst many instructions, Coach Pitino could be heard calling for back door cuts to be made and for the Johnnies with the ball to be aware that a teammate could make himself open.
A twenty-minute scrimmage between two Red Storm teams followed. One team included Joel Soriano, Jordan Dingle, Drissa Traore, R.J. Luis, Simeon Wilcher, Sadiku Ayo, and Nahiem Alleyne on one side. They were opposed by Sean Conway, Chris Ledlum, Daniss Jenkins, Glenn Taylor, Zuby Ejiofor, and Cruz Davis.
Freshman Brady Dunlap was not playing due to, as he described it, a “mild sprained ankle”.
Individual statistics were not recorded but team statistics were collected to assess the shot choices the Red Storm players were making. These statistics portrayed an early picture of the team which, most likely, will change as the season progresses based on Coach Pitino’s call during the practice, “Get some layups, too much perimeter”.
There were seven post-ups within four feet of the basket resulting in three made baskets and one missed shot due to a foul called on the defender. Three other times the feed to Soriano or Ejiofor was successful but the shot was missed.
- There were seven mid-range jumpers taken with three being successful.
- There were fifteen layups taken. Seven were successful.
- There were eight fast breaks on which five baskets were made. One of the misses was the result of the player being fouled. He was awarded two foul shots.
- There were 28 three-point attempts with eight being successful.
- There were 22 free throw attempts with ten shots being made.
Of 57 field goal attempts recorded in the twenty-minute scrimmage, 28 were from three-point distance or 49 percent. Joel Soriano was the first to successfully hit a three, from the top of the key. Sean Conway made three three-pointers and was most successful when fed by teammates after working himself free.
Once again, given Coach Pitino’s call for more layups, it is expected that the percentage of three-point attempts will decrease as more time is available to fine tune offensive sets.
Flying into the week like… pic.twitter.com/L5qn971FB5— St. John's Men’s Basketball (@StJohnsBBall) October 2, 2023
Other notes from the scrimmage
- There was a clear effort by both teams to feed the two centers: Joel Soriano and Zuby Ejiofor. The two centers scored 19 points between them with Soriano moving from low in the post to the free throw-line and then to the wing. Receiving passes away from the basket found him making successful passes to cutting teammates for layups.
- R.J. Luis demonstrated quickness in attacking the basket, thus creating opportunities off the dribble. He finished the scrimmage with thirteen points and eight rebounds. This scrimmage was held before he suffered a fractured hand during this week, which will keep him sidelined for the next 6-to-8 weeks.
- Daniss Jenkins was a consistent facilitator. One drive to the basket, supported by a behind-the-back dribble, enabled Jenkins to hit an open Ejiofor who drew a foul and foul shots. Jenkins finished the scrimmage with seven assists.
- From a team perspective the poor shooting percentage, particularly on three-point attempts was, in part, due to good defense. There were very few open shots throughout the scrimmage from anywhere on the floor. The team played disciplined defense, no longer, as in past years, gambling on making steals and, if unsuccessful, leaving opponents free for open shots. When a defender was beaten teammates picked up the driving or shooting opponent.
- Coach Pitino was often calling out “take the ball out and go” or “pick it up”. In response, the offense pushed the ball but found defenders getting back on defense hence the small number of fast breaks over the twenty-minute scrimmage.
Coach Pitino briefly addressed the fans mid-practice and prior to the scrimmage. He stated that the team is deep and he has not yet decided on a starting lineup as all of the Johnnies are skilled. He wants to play an uptempo game with the goal of “tiring out the opponent’s defense”. With so much parity in the players’ ability, he shared that the starting lineup will be determined to a great degree by who “rebounds and plays defense and is in shape”.
In all, this is an athletic team that plays defense and moves the ball around on offense. There was little one-on-one play. The identity of the starters is unclear. Which combination of players will work best together is still to be determined. The skill level of the players leaves many possibilities. The depth of the team should allow Coach Pitino to make adjustments before and mid-game to create the best match-ups to enhance success.
After the scrimmage, the team met for an autograph signing session. For a stipend, fans were given a team picture that could be signed by the players. What was impressive was the camaraderie between the players in the room and the enthusiasm they shared with the fans.
The next chance for the public to see the Johnnies will be on October 21, during an exhibition game against Rutgers at Carnesecca Arena at 2:00 PM. Tickets are available for this game.