By Joseph Staszewski
Being picked by the coaches to finish last in the Big East didn’t faze St. John’s. Instead, the new-look Red Storm men’s basketball team displayed a quiet confidence as they prepared to start their season with an exhibition game against St. Thomas Aquinas Nov. 4 at Carnesecca Arena.
“If we are working hard, it will show when it is time to show,” graduated student guard Durand Johnson said.
It was not unexpected that the Johnnies would be 10th out of the 10 teams in the Big East, considering it returns just three players, none of whom saw significant playing time, from last season’s NCAA tournament team. The Red Storm roster under first-year coach Chris Mullin features eight underclassmen. He doesn’t plan on using their ranking as any type of rallying cry.
“I think if you have to do that, especially this early in the season, you are missing something,” Mullin said. “We’ve got work to do.”
He pointed to the team’s preparation as the reason the players feel confident in what they can accomplish when it is time to take the court. Senior guard Felix Balamou spoke about how the new coaching staff has focused on discipline and how things are more clearly regimented. Mullin said he didn’t even know the coaches voted for the poll, which put Villanova in the top spot for a second-straight year.
“Well maybe they can take it out on them,” he said.
Balamou, Johnson and graduate student transfer Ron Mvouika are expected to play key roles along with returnees Amar Alibegovic and Christian Jones. Marcus LoVett, Kassoum Yakwe, Yakuba Sima, Malik Ellison and Fedrico Mussini highlight a talented freshmen class. They understand the situation they are in.
“I don’t really pay attention to preseason stuff and, quite frankly, it wouldn’t change what we are going to do tomorrow at practice,” Mullin said. “That’s where we are at. We are rebuilding.”
Johnson can’t wait to showcase what he and his teammates have been working on. Balamou simply smiled and nodded when asked if the team was taking a “wait and see” approach.
“I’m very confident,” Johnson said. “We have a lot of underrated guys.”