St. John’s ’09-10 Preview
Will the Johnnies vault back into respectability?
Let’s be serious. The past few years, St. John’s has been nothing short of garbage. A Big East bottom-feeder in the Mecca of basketball. How?
Folks have wondered why a program in the center of various hoop hotbeds can’t hold their own on the national scene and in the conference. Is Norm Roberts on the hot seat this year?
If St. John’s fails to attain a winning season, that seat could be burnt to pieces. The main knock on Roberts, he of the paltry overall record, has been his inability to maintain homegrown talent.
He looks to be turning the tide and rectifying the problem that’s plagued the once prosperous program. He’s looking to re-write the script and allow folks to remember the days when the Garden roared, when the late, great Malik Sealy soared, and when Chris Mullin shot MSG into a power outage.
“We’re trying to recruit the best kids in New York, no matter what,” Roberts says. “But the key is, they’re not always going to stay home. I think people tend to forget that they don’t look at it from the opposite side. You know some times kids from a rural area will say, ‘I’m sick of living in this rural, country area. I want to go somewhere in the metropolitan area. Sometimes you have kids say ‘I’m sick of living in the city, I want to go somewhere else.’
“St. John’s, for a long time, did not get everybody. Ed Pinckney went to Villanova, Rod Strickland went to DePaul, Kenny Smith went to North Carolina. What happened here was, [St. John's] got Mark Jackson.”
Roberts continues, “You didn’t worry about the guys going out of New York. So we’ve got to deal with the guys we’ve got. We’ve got to get the guys that are the best, the guys that want to stay home, that want to be here and make them as good as they can possibly be.”
Roberts didn’t need a GPS system as much as he did a train, bus ticket, or thick-tired bicycle to find this season’s recruiting class. Roberts scoured the Big Apple and the national basketball real estate, drawing highly regarded guard Omari Lawrence.
Lawrence is a full basketball package, if he pans out. He can shoot, slash, defend, handle the rock, and become a presence in the passing lanes. Lawrence could make an immediate impact. The return of a healthy Anthony Mason Jr will also alter the perception of a team that finished in the Big East’s lower percentile last season.
The pieces make for a good puzzle.
Do Roberts and the Johnnies have the insatiable thirst for victory, enough to produce a winning formula in one of the nation’s elite conferences?
Anthony Mason Jr | 6-7 | F | Redshirt Senior
Tremendous athlete. Ultra-long forward can score the ball in a variety of ways. Young Mase can drain shots off the dribble and from beyond the confines of the arc. Top scorer brings back a swagger that was sorely lacking last season, particularly when the Johnnies looked like they couldn’t throw the ball into the ocean while standing on the George Washington bridge against Marquette in the second round of the Big East tournament (they established a new low-water mark in the Big East tournament with a meager ten points in the first half). Mase’s suspect shot selection will likely change with the emergence of other scorers around him this season. The Johnnies hope he’ll no longer have to rush shots and settle for mid-range jumpers.
Paris Horne | 6-3 | G | Junior
High-scoring guard who fell through the cracks as a high-end recruit out of Delaware. Horne, who averaged 14.6 points, picking up some scoring slack with Mason’s injury, and went off in games against UConn, Cincy, and Rutgers, has the potential to form a potent 1-2 scoring punch with a healthy Mason Jr. His emergence as a perimeter scoring threat will likely pay dividends this season, as it will take some of the stress off Mason Jr.
DJ Kennedy | 6-6 | G/F | Junior
Versatile big-bodied junior often shouldered the onus of leader last year. Kennedy, who averaged 13.3 points and 6.6 boards, served as jack of all trades at times. He created offense and made his teammates beneficiaries of his presence. His 6 assists in the first half against UConn was indicative of this. He also took scoring matters into his own hands, blazing the nets against Duke and Seton Hall. Kennedy, like his teammates, feasted on the cupcakes of the non-conference slate. He needs to step it up and bring the ruckus every game this season.
Justin Burrell | 6-8 | F | Junior
A freakish athlete, this could be Burrell’s season as a force down low. He has all the tools to emerge into a scorer down low who attacks the rim like the rest of us wake up in the morning. Burrell can also utilize his athletic and physical gifts on the boards. Look for him to be funneled into a bigger role and increase his numbers from last season (9 points, 4.5 boards), which suffered due to nagging injuries, as a supplement to Mase on the blocks. Must improve free throw shooting in ‘09-10.
Sean Evans | 6-8 | F | Junior
Another big who showed promise at various points last season, Evans returns his 10.3 points and 7.1 boards per. Must improve his consistency. Such an aspect is crucial with the talented core the Johnnies may finally boast this season.
Malik Boothe | 5-9 | G | Junior
Local product must bounce back from an injury-plagued ’08-09. He will certainly be pushed for minutes with the group of guards Roberts has reeled in. Boothe showed promise in games against Duke and Marquette, passing the pigment out of the basketball. Still needs to develop into the leader Roberts envisions him as being.
Justin Brownlee | 6-7 | F | Junior
Versatile and athletic forward who averaged 10.1 points and 5.7 rebounds at Chipola Community College (FL) last season. A potential five-tool talent, Roberts says he can utilize Brownlee from the one all the way to the four. Has the opportunity to make an impact in a forward-heavy system.
Dwight Hardy | 6-2 | G | Junior
Another high-octane guy in the backcourt, Hardy can shoot the ball from a different area code. He’s a virtual grenade launcher from beyond the arc and is also fundamentally sound in all facets of his game. JuCo transfer could make an immediate impact. Hardy spent this summer killing it in New York’s orchard beach league, blitzing teams to the tune of 47-spots. Don’t sleep….
Malik Stith | 5-11 | G | Freshman
Long Island-bred guard who returns to the area after a stop in North Carolina is dieseled-up and can handle the ball and create scoring opportunities. Will give the Johnnies the luxury of having a combination guard while also allowing other guards to work off of him.
Omari Lawrence | 6-4 | G | Freshman
High-motor guard who can do it all. Lawrence is athletic as they come and he can shoot, dish, penetrate the driving lanes and create offense. A highly sought after item on the recruiting market, Lawrence chose SJU over PITT, UConn, Virginia and Clemson.
Zach Smart has written for Big East Basketball Report, Hoops Addict and The East Coast Bias. Read more on his blog.