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St. John's European summer trip: five takeaways

With the Johnnies back in the United States after a cultural and athletic tour of France, Italy, and Spain, we look back for some insights to this year's Red Storm squad.

Thanks to <a href="">Sabrina</a> for the image of the team in the new-look uniforms.
Thanks to Sabrina for the image of the team in the new-look uniforms.
Sabrina Alvarez

The Johnnies are back with filled passports, many Instagram pictures, and sightseeing one usually only gets after spending a lot of money and time touring Europe. The Johnnies - returning 12 of 13 scholarship athletes (Amir Garrett counted as a scholarship despite having his schooling paid for by the Cincinnati Reds) - also played some games, and you're likely here to talk about what we've learned from the Euro Tour.

Can an observer learn anything from a foreign tour without boxscores, live game action, and only highlights and notes?

Of course we can.

Shout out to the dedicated tweeting of the @StJohnsBBall account for a wealth of information to help ask and answer a few questions about how this team - returning over 90% of the team minutes - can be different than last year's NIT squad.

Takeaways from these kind of games, even with full game film, are not true takeaways. Everything is an experiment. It's impossible to see which lineups and styles were clearly experimental for Coach Steve Lavin and crew, and which are indicative of how the team will play.

But there are some potential notes to keep track of involving returnee D`Angelo Harrison, newcomers/ redshirts Orlando Sanchez and Max Hooper, and Jamal Branch.

What we think we learned

1. The core and D`Angelo Harrison

Working with a starting five of

Jamal Branch | D`Angelo Harrison | JaKarr Sampson | Orlando Sanchez | Chris Obekpa/ Sir`Dominic Pointer

D`Angelo Harrison is still the team's star. He dropped 17 in the opener against Rouen, a team-high-matching 8 in the loss against Evreux, 27 in a win over CB Prat Joventut Badalona, and 21 over Basquet Manresa, who seemed to be the toughest team the Johnnies faced.

D`Angelo has worked his way back to major minutes, and it seems like he's still the player St. John's fans thought he was - a high volume scorer with an aggressive all-around game.

2. Orlando Sanchez will be looked to be a focal point of the team.

Sanchez started each game, providing a mix of shooting, rebounding, and playmaking on the squad. Sanchez has been starting over Chris Obekpa at times, who started 12 games, and 4 out of the Red Storm's last 5 contests, last season.

While the lineup of Orlando Sanchez and JaKarr Sampson may be a new thing, a second scoring forward should allow for JaKarr to look for his offense in different ways than last season. Last year, he was often the roll man in the pick-and-roll or looking for his shot off the drive.

3. St. John's was willing to play "similar" players together.

In the highlights, Rysheed Jordan and Jamal Branch - both long athletes vying for the starting point guard position - shared time on the court. That's a real positive, because both can drive into the lane, create shots, and find teammates well.

When healthy and aggressive, [Jamal Branch] can be the missing part of the Red Storm's offensive attack.

Marc-Antoine Bourgault and Max Hooper also shared time on the court.

Playing Hooper with another 3-point shooting threat in Bourgault helps spread the floor more, playing on opposite sides of the court. Bourgault has a playmaking aspect to his game that was more evident in his JUCO statistics and game play.

And despite Orlando Sanchez' presence, Christian Jones has a spot at the table as well as a backup forward.

4. Jamal Branch is a player.

With a game MVP against Rouen in the Johnnies' opener, "Saint Jamal" started each game and seemed to be a solid playmaker. We'll touch on his ups and downs in the next two weeks as we look back and forward at the Johnnies, but when healthy and aggressive, he can be the missing part of the Red Storm's offensive attack.

Rysheed Jordan, a top-25 player coming out of high school, will be nipping at Branch's heels for playing time.

In other words, point guard COULD be a position of strength.

5. Max Hooper is the team's zone buster.

After a middling season from Marc-Antoine Bourgault last year (29% from beyond the three-point arc), the excitement and hype about Max Hooper has been at "new season of Arrested Development" levels (or "new Kanye West/ Jay-Z album" levels perhaps?) in the St. John's twittosphere. While not every game was quite so spectacular, Hooper exploded for 31 points against a younger version of Italy's Stella Azzura squad, nailing 10/13 from beyond the arc. That kind of shooting in any game competition is a strong, skilled performance.

Hooper's big game explosion and the fact that he seems to have enjoyed heavy minutes indicate that he's a big part of the staff's plans.

Plus: The new Under Armour uniforms have likely not been seen in the wild.

While we thought that the look in the FoxSports1 promo video was a hint of the new Under Armour uniforms, the look we saw in the Europe trip was quite different. No names on the back of the uniforms, different lettering for the numbers, a series of stripes in the middle of the shorts, more of the blue from the new St. John's University branding with white borders. These uniforms were particularly patriotic, though, and were listed as "specialty" uniforms - in other words, they could be an alternate look for the Red Storm but are likely not the main kit.

Questions we can't answer without viewing the games

Is the team a better passing team?

Hard to say. We don't know if the opponents played zone or not; it's one thing to pass against a man-to-man team, to beat one's man off of the dribble, and another to find seams in a zone defense.

Was the foul trouble of St. John's indicative of a team-issue?

Who knows? Probably not, given the different rules and styles of European ball, and the mercurial whims of referees.

Has JaKarr Sampson's game changed?

Couldn't tell you.

How about the defense?

Hard to say if opponents enjoyed open shots, were more skilled than college opponents, or if the rotations need serious work.

Or the shot selection?

Much like above, we don't know.

How will Phil Greene and Balamou fit in?

Felix Balamou sat out with an injury and Phil Greene IV is recovering from his hip surgery. Despite the plethora of talented guards (Harrison/ Branch/ Jordan) Coach Lavin calls Greene's return huge:

While there are things Greene doesn't do well, Coach Lavin obviously sees a strong role for the low-turnover, shot-creating combo guard.


Also see NYC Buckets quantitative take on the St. John's trip to Europe.

What else did you see in the tweets that are telling for next season? Let us know in the comments.