By Joseph Staszewski
D’Angelo Harrison wouldn’t talk about not being selected as the Preseason Big East Player of the Year, an award that was given by the league’s coaches to Georgetown junior guard D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera.
The noticeably disappointed Harrison forwarded all questions to classmate Sir’Dominic Pointer.
Pointer expressed his and his teammates’ surprise that Harrison, the lone returning member of last year’s All-Big East First Team and the reigning Haggerty Award winner, was not tapped. Harrison averaged 17.5 points and 4.9 rebounds last season.
“I think he should be preseason player of the year for sure,” Pointer said. “I feel like he’s earned it. I feel like he is the best player in the Big East right now.”
St. John’s wants to be the best team as well. The senior-laden Johnnies were picked to finish third behind Villanova and Georgetown. It’s was just another sign to them that despite a 20-win season a year ago and 10 conference victories they still have some respect to earn in the final season for stalwarts Harrison, Pointer, Jamal Branch and Phil Green IV.
“It’s fair,” Pointer said. “We haven’t done anything in the Big East yet. We have to prove ourselves.”
To them that means winning the Big East title and leading St. John’s to the NCAA tournament for the first time in five years. Red Storm coach Steve Lavin believes this group has been building toward this during their three seasons in Queens. Their experience will be a big reason why they can finally get over the hump.
“We want this group to be able to leave a foot print behind that they can be proud of, have their own legacy, write their own chapter in this storied program,” Lavin said.
St. John’s will have to rely more heavily on its guards after the recent news that junior forward Keith Thomas was ruled academically ineligible following a transcript scandal at his former school, Westchester Community College. Harrison, super sophomore Rysheed Jordan, and Greene have the potential to be one of the more dynamic guard groups in the league and Branch can provide a spark off the bench. Jordan, who many believe has an NBA future, could be the biggest key. St. John’s had its best stretch when he raised his level of play a year ago.
“There is no doubt when Rysheed is playing well, he’s the one that make this whole team purr,” Lavin said.
Thomas’ absence puts more responsibility on returning junior center Chris Obekpa, who is expected to be a bigger offensive force. St. John’s is thin up front after Obekpa and Pointer. Christian Jones, Joey Delarosa and freshmen Adonis Delarosa and Amar Alibegovic could be looked at to play bigger roles.
“We have the talent,” Harrison said. “We just have to finally bring it together.”
It’s NCAA tournament or bust for this group because they know it is their last chance.
“If we don’t make the NCAA tournament, it is going to be a complete failure,” Harrison said. “Hands down.”