During Rick Pitino’s introductory press conference two months ago, the legendary coach warned of a major roster turnover in order to fit his coaching system. In the following weeks, ten players from Mike Anderson’s 2022-23 roster jumped into the transfer portal and every recruit from Anderson’s incoming class (Brandon Gardner, Yaxel Lendeborg, Harrison Reede) re-opened their recruitment. The only remaining players from the Anderson era were two big men with very different track records: Joel Soriano and Drissa Traore.
What has followed in the eight weeks since has been an unprecedented, head-spinning transformation. Eleven new players, including ten transfers from the MAAC, Big East, Pac-12, Ivy, Big 12, Southern, and Atlantic 10 conferences. This motley crew features experienced grad transfers, mid-major scoring dynamos, lengthy and offensively-gifted wings, underutilized underclassmen, and a former national champion. All of this experience and versatility should make the Johnnies well-positioned for a tournament bid in March.
Here is a breakdown of all 13 scholarship players on the 2023-24 St. John’s men’s basketball team.
Coming back to play for the Johnnies are Joel Soriano and sophomore Drissa Traore.
Soriano’s accomplishments last season are well known – second-team Big East at the center position, the second most double-doubles (25) in the nation, and the Big East Most Improved Player award. The expectations for Soriano’s continued improvement are high, especially under the tutelage of Rick Pitino.
He was the Red Storm’s best player this past season, establishing career highs across most major categories and providing a steady offensive presence during a turbulent and difficult St. John’s season. With statistics rivaling those of the country’s best centers, his return to the Red Storm in 2023-24 sets the stage for another stellar campaign. Thankfully for Soriano, Pitino is no stranger to coaching strong play at the center position.
Drissa Traore had little court time during the beginning of the past season. His efforts were recognized as the season progressed and his limited time on the court slightly increased. At 6-foot-8, Traore brings strength under the backboards and hustle all over the court. He also is clearly a team player, usually the first off the bench to congratulate teammates during timeouts and during the opening introduction of the starters.
Of the ten transfers to the Red Storm this year, six were listed amongst the top 150 transfers in the country according to 247Sports. Those on this list have been identified below.
Forwards and Bigs
Zuby Ejiofor, 6’ 9” sophomore from Kansas (ranked #104 on the 247 transfer list)
Last season with Kansas: 25 games off the bench, averaging 1.2 points, 1.7 rebounds, 0.2 assists, 0.6 blocks, 65.0% FG, 50% FT
Ejiofor is a 6-9 forward from Garland, Texas who logged 5.1 minutes per game in 25 games in his one year at Kansas. An athletic physical force to be reckoned with, the sophomore big is productive on the glass and offensively versatile from inside 20 feet of the basket. He likes to post up or face up and attack to score through contact. Ejiofor has a college-ready body in which he relies on physicality to compensate against others who are taller and longer. In the very limited playing time he received with the Jayhawks last year, Ejiofor made the most of it, scoring at an efficient 65% from the field and recording a block in more than half of his contests, despite only playing 10 or more minutes in just four games last year.
“Zuby adds front-court size, athleticism and some toughness on the interior,” said 247Sports.com national recruiting analyst Eric Bossi in an article for the New York Post.
Quinn Slazinski, 6’9” grad student from Iona
Last season with Iona: 7 games and 3 starts, averaging 11.3 points, 5.7 rebounds, 1.9 assists, 42.6% FG, 29.0% 3P, 75.0% FT (had season-ending ankle surgery in January)
Originally playing the first two years of his collegiate career at Louisville, Slazinski is a crafty stretch four who can create offense off-the-bounce and off-the-ball. Before an ankle injury prematurely shut down his senior season, he has shown that he can lead an offense. Against Hofstra, he logged a team-high 20 points, 10 rebounds, and 4 assists. The Houston native has shown impressive playmaking abilities for a frontcourt player, flashing a 12.9% assist percentage in each of his last two seasons with Iona.
“He’s legit. Good shooter, not a great defender, but a solid defender,” a college coach familiar with Slazinski said in an article for the New York Post. “He’ll keep the defense honest. He can stretch the floor. He’s got good size; he can shoot the ball.”
The sharp-shooting forward from Houston, TX @quinnslazinski always brings the intensity! He’s looking to further cement himself as one of @MAACHoops best in 2022-2023#GaelNation pic.twitter.com/dbIsiS12gp— Iona Men’s Basketball (@IonaGaelsMBB) August 18, 2022
Glenn Taylor, 6’6” junior from Oregon State (ranked #95 on the 247 transfer list)
Last season with Oregon State: 32 games and 26 starts, averaging 11.6 points, 3.7 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 43.1% FG, 30.8% 3P, 80.1% FT
One of the few bright spots on some shabby Oregon State teams the last two seasons, Glenn Taylor has shown flashes of brilliance in Corvallis. He logged double-doubles in wins against top-70 KenPom teams Colorado and USC, and he saw his offensive efficiency improve in conference play.
The 6-foot-6, 200 pound small forward was the best two-way player on the Beavers last year, with his ability to score and plus defense making him a good fit in any system. He is a versatile wing that boasts good size and length, with a plus frame that has plenty of room to grow.
An encouraging endorsement of Taylor’s character came from his former head coach Wayne Tinkle, who said Taylor was “at the forefront in regaining the culture” for the Beavers this past February in an article for the Albany Democrat-Herald.
As a playmaker, he sees the court very well and has a high basketball IQ. Taylor plays best as a slasher due to his body control and high level touch around the basket, but he is a streaky shooter (29.6% from three in his career) who is more of a weapon off the bounce. Perhaps playing on a St. John’s team that oozes offensive versatility and potential will open the floor for Taylor and help his efficiency.
R. J. Luis, 6’7” sophomore from UMass (ranked #52 on the 247 transfer list)
Last season with UMass: 27 games and 10 starts, averaging 11.5 points, 4.6 rebounds, 1.3 assists, 45.5% FG, 34.8% 3P, 78.9% FT
The 6-foot-7, 196-pound native of Miami shined for the Minutemen last season, earning a considerable role under Frank Martin, who rarely gives much playing time to freshmen. As the third-leading scorer on the Minutemen, Luis was named to the Atlantic-10 All-Rookie Team for his efforts. Some of his finest performances included dropping 31 points and 18 points in respective wins against Duquesne and Colorado.
With the potential to start from day one, Luis should form a formidable slashing and playmaking tandem alongside fellow transfer Glenn Taylor.
“He has a lot of skills. He was one of the guys from that team that you had to prepare for,” a college coach who faced UMass shared in an article with the New York Post. “The kid can score from the outside. Really, really good off the dribble. He can create his own shot. Strong finisher, athletic. Good size and length at the three-spot. He’s talented.”
Brady Dunlap, 6’7” freshman from Harvard Westlake School in Los Angeles, CA
Recruiting rankings in Class of 2023
247Sports: #135, ESPN: #86, On3: #96
A four-star prospect from the class of 2023, Dunlap is a 6-foot-7, 180-pound forward, who, according to Coach Pitino, has “an awesome future. He’s a gym rat who shoots it as well as any wing basketball player out of the high school ranks. Brady is athletic, quick, and will really thrive in our fastbreak system.”
“There’s definitely high-upside there, just because of the shooting and size alone,” Rivals.com national recruiting analyst Rob Cassidy said to the New York Post. “He’s a floor-spacer. He creates matchup problems on the perimeter. You can’t leave him alone out there, and he can score a little bit in the lane, too.”
Sadiku Ibine Ayo, 6’6” sophomore from Iona
Last season with Iona: 25 games and 4 starts, averaging 2.6 points, 1.5 rebounds, 0.2 assists, 38.5% FG, 33.3% 3P, 70.0% FT
Maintaining the recent Our Savior Lutheran pipeline through Queens, Sadiku Ibine Ayo adds continuity to a St. John’s team in desperate need of some, as he became the fourth Iona player to follow Rick Pitino to Queens.
Only playing 10.4 minutes per game for the Gaels last season, Ayo will have a difficult time trying to gain consistent minutes at a higher level of competition in a very crowded and experienced Red Storm rotation. But his high-energy play is a major reason why Rick Pitino wanted Ayo to continue playing for him.
“Ayo can play multiple positions. He’s an outstanding athlete, and he’s one of the finest young men I have met in my 40-plus years in coaching,” said Coach Pitino in a statement. “He is a hard worker who brings it every day with a great attitude.”
Ibine Ayo had the most energy on the Iona side at the start of the game and he contributed late as well. Here’s that key three during the Gaels 10-2 run late in the 2H.#MAACHoops #maAChoops23 pic.twitter.com/Llgg5eMtpX— MAAC Hoops Breakdown (@MAACDaddyHoops) March 11, 2023
Jordan Dingle, 6’3” senior from Penn (ranked #14 on the 247 transfer list)
Last season with Penn: 28 games and 26 starts, averaging 23.4 points, 3.6 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 46.4% FG, 35.6% 3P, 85.6% FT
If there was a signature “get” for St. John’s in this transfer portal cycle, it’s Jordan Dingle. His game-changing scoring ability should immediately make him the top scoring option for the Red Storm next season.
The 22-year-old Valley Stream native has averaged at least 13 points per game in each of his three seasons at Penn. Dingle has averaged more than 20 points per game in each of the past two seasons and he ranked second in the nation with 23.4 points per contest during the 2022-23 campaign. Dingle also set career-highs in field-goal percentage (46.4), three-point percentage (35.6) and free-throw percentage (85.6) in 28 appearances for the Quakers last season.
There shouldn’t be any concerns about how his play will translate to the Big East because he has already proven he belongs at this level. In three career games versus Villanova, Dingle averaged 21.3 points per game on 43.8% shooting from the field and 37.9% from three. Across his collegiate career against other high-major opponents, Dingle has logged 27 points against Arizona, 19 points against Providence, 23 points against Florida State, 18 points against Missouri, and 24 points against Alabama in his collegiate debut. For three seasons, teams knew exactly where the ball was going against the Quakers and they still couldn’t stop Dingle.
“He’s just able to score from everywhere,” an Ivy League coach said in an article for the New York Post. “Catch-and-shoot, he makes 3s. He makes 3s off the dribble. His mid-range game is elite and he’s athletic enough to drive in and dunk it. We’ve been pretty convinced he’s an NBA player.”
Daniss Jenkins, 6’4” grad student from Iona (ranked #65 on the 247 transfer list)
Last season with Iona: 35 games and 35 starts, averaging 15.6 points, 4.4 rebounds, 4.9 assists, 41.8% FG, 36.1% 3P, 78.6% FT
The first of the many transfers to arrive in Queens, Jenkins projects as the starting point guard for the Red Storm. Some Red Storm fans may be quick to write off Jenkins as a consolation prize for missing out on the commitment of his fellow teammate Walter Clayton, Jr, but Jenkins’s three-level scoring ability and cunning playmaking should bode well at the Big East level.
“Daniss Jenkins is a lightning-quick guard who is a tremendous leader on and off the court,” Coach Pitino said in a statement. “He is someone we will rely on heavily to lead us into next season.”
The 6-foot-4 guard averaged 15.6 points and 4.9 assists. His assist rate led the MAAC and ranked in the top 50 in Division I.
A MAAC coach familiar with Jenkins said, “Combo guard, good feel for the game, can score the basketball. He’s a quality piece.”
@HerculesTires— #MAACHoops (@MAACHoops) March 12, 2023
in his veins...
After losing an 11-point lead, this 3pt shot by @IonaGaelsMBB Daniss Jenkins all but secured the program's 14th MAAC title#MAACHoops x #maAChoops23 pic.twitter.com/TUFYRpyfWS
Nahiem Alleyne, 6’4” grad student from UConn (ranked #140 on the 247 transfer)
Last season with UConn: 39 games and 8 starts, averaging 5.2 points, 1.2 rebounds, 0.8 assists, 36.2% FG, 30.5% 3P, 87.1% FT
As a 6-foot-4 shooting guard with plenty of wingspan and a solid three-point shot, Nahiem Alleyne plays precisely into Rick Pitino’s system of floor spacing on offense and full court pressure on defense.
After starting in 84 games and shooting a strong 38.7 percent from three through his first three seasons at Virginia Tech, Alleyne’s role and shot diminished in his only season at UConn, playing an average of just under 18 minutes a game and averaging 5.2 points. He averaged 7.2 points in UConn’s six NCAA tournament games. His three-and-D capabilities and veteran leadership will benefit the Red Storm, and he will have the chance of regaining the lethal shooting stroke he had at Virginia Tech.
“Nahiem is a veteran coming off a national championship,” said Pitino in a statement. “He has had great success at both Virginia Tech and Connecticut, and he is a wonderful addition to our roster. Nahiem has strong fundamentals at both ends of the floor.”
A college coach familiar with Alleyne echoed Pitino’s praises, raving about his character as someone who will do the right things on and off the court.
Sean Conway, 6’5” grad student from VMI
Last season with VMI: 29 games and 28 starts, averaging 12.1 points, 4.9 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 41.8% FG, 37.8% 3P, 87.0% FT
The 6-foot-5 guard brings tons of experience and shotmaking ability to St. John’s. Aside from the deep-range threat he brings on offense, he plays much bigger than his stature reads, as he shot 57 percent on shots at the rim last season. He has also shown an ability to make shots off-the-dribble, draining a contested spin-around jumper in the clip below.
Conway hopes to help the Red Storm’s shooting after making 37.8-percent of his shots from 3-point range last season for VMI.
“Sean is an outstanding shooter and understands how to play in the EuroLeague offenses that we have installed,” said Pitino in a statement, “He really understands how to play the game the right way.”
For his career, the Fairfield, Connecticut native is a 36.6-percent 3-point shooter. He averaged 12.1 points, 4.9 rebounds, and 1.4 assists per game a season ago and also increased his free throw shooting up to 87.0-percent.
Cruz Davis, 6’3” sophomore from Iona
Last season with Iona: 24 games and 7 starts, averaging 6.5 points, 1.4 rebounds, 1.0 assists, 41.9% FG, 31.7% 3P, 76.3% FT
Coming to New Rochelle as a three-star recruit, Davis played limited minutes as a freshman in 2022-23 amongst a loaded Iona backcourt. His upside impressed Pitino enough to retain him as he makes the jump to the high-major level.
Coach Pitino shared, “Cruz is an elite athlete who is long and very active defensively... He is an extremely quick left-hander with outstanding potential and upside.”
Davis was named to the MAAC All-Freshman Team this season after posting 6.5 points, 1.4 rebounds, and 1.0 assists per game while shooting 41.9-percent from the field and 31.7-percent from 3-point range.
“He’s a good shooter, athletic guard, solid defender,” a MAAC coach familiar with Davis told the New York Post. “If he’s making shots, he’ll be good for them.”
Due to so many new athletes who have demonstrated an ability to shoot, one Big East coach advised: “No one will dare play zone against the Johnnies this year”.