A St. John’s athletic communications staffer entered the media room of Carnesecca Arena to face a gaggle of reporters following the men’s basketball team’s October 12 Tip-Off.
He asked the pool which of the “veterans” the reporters would like to speak with. Instinctively, they called out “D’Angelo [Harrison]” and “Amir [Garrett]” and then everyone seemed to look at each other. One reporter asked the staffer if the two were veterans yet.
But in fact Harrison and Garrett, along with Phil Greene, Sir’Dominic Pointer and God’sgift Achiuwa, were tenured players on a team comprised mainly of underclassmen.
Just more than an hour earlier they and the women’s basketball team stormed the court at Carnesecca before hundreds of fans to kickoff the season, which starts for the men’s team on November 13 against Detroit.
For the men’s team, fans first got an introduction mainly of the new recruits, the ESPN No. 8 recruiting class this year, who appeared to be ready to go.
But then, the vets came out and their role was solidified by their teammates. The entire team was on the court, just one man down. He finally appeared, silhouetted behind a screen, adorned with an aisle of cheerleaders.
His teammates formed an arch and started moving faster and faster toward the aisle as Harrison made his way around the screen, entrenched by amped teammates jumping around him as if he hit a walk-off home run to win the World Series.
Harrison, Greene, Pointer and Achiuwa have just a full year of Division I basketball under their belt; Garrett has a half season after being deemed academically ineligible until last January.
Now they have fit into a role that requires them to lead after playing on the youngest roster in the program’s history.
Though he seemed to command his squad during the tipoff’s scrimmages, Harrison said there isn’t a single leader on the team. Rather, each of the five returning veterans has played a different role in mentoring the players, most just a single year younger.
“We’ve got to guide the guys, show them the way basically because we’ve been here, we’ve been through it all,” he said. “More of the guards will come to me and Phil, some of the wing guys will go to Amir and Dom and the big guys will go to Gift. It works out perfectly because we have a leader in every spot.”
Of his “veterans,” head coach Steve Lavin said they would merge well with his new players to form a core that would keep fans and the college basketball world interested.
Harrison improved over the summer in all aspects of the game, Lavin said, adding to his breakout season last year.
“He’s made dramatic improvement across the board as a leader, in playmaking and decision making on the floor and just representing very well,” Lavin said.
The five returning players are now playing a leadership role that was hardly available last year, Garrett said. By each returning player becoming a mentor, the newcomers’ transition to the top level of college ball will be easier and more productive.
“The young guys look up to us being role models,” he said. “We really didn’t have anybody like that last year except Gift and Malik Stith. Now that they have a core to look up to … they have five people that they could look up to and follow, instead of us: last year we only had two. We can show them the way.”