Let’s be completely honest: Who would have thought, the Red Storm would be in this exact situation one year ago? I vividly remember attending last year’s Big East Media Day and just witnessing first-hand the genuine excitement of what was to come for the Red Storm. And if we’re being even more honest, here: Who could’ve blamed them? The Big East competitor had a exciting, New York City born and raised guard in Shamorie Ponds, who was named the conference’s preseason Player of the Year.
When you looked closer on their roster, you discovered a dynamic and versatile quartet in Marvin Clark II, Justin Simon, Mustapha Heron, and LJ Figueroa, that actually defined the words just described about them. Lastly, they had a head coach in Chris Mullin, who was not only a two-time inductee into the Basketball Hall of Fame, but the best player to ever play at their school. I’m talking about All-American honors. Being named the best player in the entire New York City, multiple times. In fact, Mullin was so great, he led the Red Storm to the 1985 NCAA Final Four.
So when considering those factors along with their previous years of growing pains, random transfers, and surprising upsets (Hello, Duke!) the 2018-19 St. John’s Red Storm seemed very ready for a jump in the right direction and then some. But, as they say, it’s funny how life works out sometimes.
2018-’19 Record: 21-13.
2018-’19 Big East Finish: Seventh via their 8-10 record in conference play.
Postseason History: Had to play as of the last/”first” four participants in the NCAA Tournament, which earned them a date with Arizona State in Dayton. The Johnnies would lose 74-65, thus capping off a memorable but slightly disappointing season.
2019-’20 KenPom Ranking: #95. Last season, the Queens, NY based program actually spent a lot of time being ranked in the forties and fifties before dropping all the way down to #88 in March.
Fast forward, a year later, we are in a different situation with the biggest college basketball team in NYC. Several people, including Ponds, Clark, Simon, and even Mullin have departed for various reasons. Over the course of 10 days this spring, the Red Storm’s search for a new head coach had bizarre turns including a on-air radio interview by a well-known school booster, highly preferred targets declining their offers, and rumors of key contributors entering the transfer portal. Please, keep in mind, we haven’t discussed what happened on the court yet.
But Mike Anderson would soon be hired for the job and a new slate was given to the Red Storm. On task for the former Arkansas coach, who possesses a 369-200 record with no losing seasons, is rebuilding this program from the ground up. In comparison to last year’s Red Storm, which witnessed them be led on the court by a group of hard-nosed veterans, this year’s team could play and act a lot younger.
New additions such as freshman Julian Champagnie, and JUCO transfer Damian Sears will likely be looked at as key contributors entering this season. The trio will brings various skills to the table between their long-range shooting, crafty ball-handling and consistent rebounding. But with that said, questions have and will exist as to who else forms the nucleus that helps Heron and Figueroa on a nightly basis.
Speaking of Heron and Figueroa, it will be interesting to watch their ascendance as the No. 1 and 2 options. Even though, they proved they were capable of stepping up and producing solid numbers last season (Heron with 14 & 4 and Figueroa with 14 & 6), it’s a much different experience between the top one or two options on offense. How will Anderson make sure these two can successfully play off each other and not tire as fast? Maybe stagger their minutes after the start of the game? Can either player effectively play off the ball?
Either way, we are entering this new Mike Anderson era where the first couple of questions will likely revolve around his ability to get these players to compete and whether or not they’re improving at all. In fact, that last question will certainly ring true next year, when recruits such as four-star prospect Posh Alexander, Dylan Wusu, Vince Moore, and Isaih Moore enter the fold.
To all of the Red Storm’s fans out there? Stay patient and enjoy what you can, while you can.