SJU hoops duo heads to Europe to play pro ball

By Laura Amato

Danaejah Grant and Aliyyah Handford have already cemented their names in the St. John’s record books. Now, the women’s basketball duo are taking their talents to a slightly different venue, with each of them signing professional contracts to play in Europe last week.

Grant signed with Flying Foxes SVS Post of the Austrian Women’s Basketball League, while Handford cemented her future with AZS Lublin UMCS in Poland.

“First and foremost it’s exciting because they have a job,” St. John’s coach Joe Tartamella said. “They get to play the game that they love. I think we all knew they would sign, it was just about the right fit and they both feel really good about the teams they’re going to.”

The duo’s on-court exploits with the Red Storm were not only prolific, they were historic.

Grant racked up 1,498 points in the equivalent of three seasons at St. John’s, wrapping up her career as ninth on the program’s all-time scoring list. In her final collegiate game, she scored a game-high 25 and collected six rebounds to lead the Johnnies against Auburn in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

Despite hearing her name called at the WNBA Draft this year, Grant was not named to the Washington Mystics’ opening-day roster and opted to take her talents overseas.

“She was so polished, even as a high school player,” Tartamella said. “But when she had to sit the year out, we kind of knew she really had improved. We helped her develop, she helped herself develop with her work ethic and I think she became a legitimate pro at St. John’s. She probably snuck up on everybody this year.”

Handford, meanwhile, is in a class of her own when it comes to her time at St. John’s.

The first 2,000-point scorer in Red Storm women’s hoops history, Handford is one of just four players from either the men’s or women’s squad to reach that mark, joining legends Chris Mullin, Malik Sealy and D’Angelo Harrison. During her senior season Handford was named the Big East Tournament MVP, averaging 18.7 points, 5.0 rebounds, 3.3 steals and 3.0 assists during the postseason and leading St. John’s to its first title since 1988.

“The best way I can put it is when you talk to people on campus and they say that she’s their favorite player to watch,” Tartamella said. “That goes across women’s and men’s. When you hear that people are excited about women’s basketball because of how your players play and what they do on the floor, that speaks volumes.”

Handford was also selected in this year’s WNBA Draft, going 27th overall to the Connecticut Sun. The chance to have an immediate impact on a squad overseas was too much to walk away from however and Handford joins a squad that pu up a 12-10 record last season in Basket Liga Kobiet, one of the most competitive leagues in Europe.

“The moment that it clicked for me was probably when she started as a freshman against Duke at the Garden,” Tartamella said. “Watching her play in that game, the way she played, the confidence she started to show, that was the game where I knew at that moment she had a great shot at becoming a pro.”

Although Grant and Handford won’t be competing stateside this season, Tartamella is more than confident that their talent will translate.

“It’s an exciting moment for both of them because it’s the start of their career,” Tartamella said. “Then they’ll be able to come back and have another chance to play in the WNBA. That’s the biggest goal. You want to not only provide for the team that has signed you, but better your opportunity to make a WNBA roster.”

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