By Joseph Staszewski
Aliyyah Handford is on the verge of standing alone in St. John’s women’s basketball history and joining an elite group of players to suit up for the school.
The Red Storm women’s basketball senior guard can become the program’s all-time leading scorer this season and also become just the fourth Johnnie to reach the 2,000-point plateau. The 5-foot-9 Handford, who has 1,514 points, is chasing the mark of 1,950 of Ling-Ling Hou (1977-80). Only men’s players Chris Mullin, Malik Sealy and D’Angelo Harrison have ever scored 2,000 points.
“It’s going to be very special, coming here and your name is still known,” said Handford, the program’s first ever Big East preseason player of the year selection. “It’s a great thing.”
She will get to that point with minimal help from the 3-point shot, which didn’t exist when Mullin played. Handford, who has become an excellent mid-range shooter, has made just three shots from behind the arc in her career, but scored 655 points last year.
“If you think about that, it makes it more insane,” Red Storm coach Joe Tartamella said.
The feat certainly wasn’t unfathomable. The fourth-year coach knew he had a special player when he recruited her at Shabazz in New Jersey. Once she got to Queens, he marveled at her work ethic on the court and in the classroom, her ability to get the most out of her skill set and her maturity.
Her first year, Handford was thrown into the starting lineup when Eugeneia McPherson was lost for the season to a knee injury, and didn’t bat an eye. She went on to earn Big East All-Freshman team honors, which Handford credited to being pushed by program greats Nadirah McKenith and Shenneika Smith.
“Coming in my freshman year with Shenneika and Nana it was scary,” Hanford said. “It was a lot of pressure, having them yell at you all the time to fix things.”
Handford is more the quiet type, but her game and effort speak loudly. Tartamella said she is the player who wins practice, which has a scoring system, more consistently than anyone he’s ever had. Dependability is her calling card.
“I know what I am going to get from her every single day,” Tartamella said.
Her toughness, superb athleticism and ability to come through in the clutch have rightly earned her the unquestioned trust of her teammates. She has also averaged 5.4 rebounds per game for her career. There isn’t a play they don’t believe she can make.
“Energy every single time she steps on the court, even at practice,” senior forward Sandra Udobi said. “She makes some crazy move and I am looking at here like, ‘How do you do that?’”
A few more things can make Handford the program’s unquestioned best. The Red Storm is again expected to be in the running for a conference title and Tartamella believes Handford has done enough to be the third player drafted into the WNBA.
All of it will lead to Hanford being forever in a pantheon among the elite players men or women to ever suit up for St. John’s. Handford isn’t thinking about that now, but understands how much that will mean years later.
“Coming back here after a few years when I’m gone it will be great to still hear my name around this program,” she said.
It is a name that could stand alone