By Laura Amato
What a difference a year makes—hopefully. A season after winning just one Big East game and playing a roster chock-full of freshman, the St. John’s men’s basketball team is staring down its upcoming schedule with one hope in mind—getting better.
The Red Storm are a year older, a year more experienced and filled with a year’s worth of disappointments. That’s left a fairly sizable chip on this team’s shoulder and, coming into this year picked eighth in the Big East preseason poll, it’s also left St. John’s with a fierce determination to prove itself.
“We know we’ve got to prove ourselves because after last year, people, they don’t respect us that much,” said junior guard Federico Mussini. “But we’re going to prove some people wrong.”
It isn’t just the Red Storm’s roster that has an extra year of experience under their belts. Second-year head coach—and former St. John’s star—Chris Mullin was as frustrated as his squad was with their 8-24 finish last season, but while the NBA Hall of Famer doesn’t enjoy losing, he’s focused on what’s next.
Mullin doesn’t want his returning players to forget those losses—he wants them to learn from them.
“I wouldn’t say we disregarded it. I think we accept it, analyze it and then disregard it,” he said. “To me, that’s really the best approach and it’s the best way to live.”
The Red Storm are just a few weeks into their preseason schedule this season, but that doesn’t mean the team is lacking for chemistry. In fact, this year’s squad spends most of its time together— even when they’re not on the court.
“I feel like this year we’re more united,” said junior Kassoum Yakwe, who led the Big East in blocks last season. “We’re young, but we’re also the same age, so we’re more into it. We like to chill with each other and wherever we go, we go as a group.”
Even the newcomers are finding their way into the mix with ease. Freshman guard Shamorie Ponds—who made a name for himself at Jefferson High School in Brooklyn—was named the Big East preseason Freshman of the Year, while Marcus LoVett has settled into a leadership role in the backcourt.
It’s left the Red Storm stacked at the guard position, but as far as St. John’s is concerned, that’s a good problem to have.
“I do think it’s good to help them and the team because they’re both really good players,” said Mussini, who added he may move to the wing to keep the two new freshman on the court. “They can help us in a lot of ways—they can shoot and move the ball.”
St. John’s overall stats last season didn’t do much to inspire confidence. The Red Storm averaged just 67.9 points, turned the ball over 15 times and were outrebounded by a margin of 3.8 boards per game.
This year’s team, however, isn’t worried about any of that.
This year’s team is ready for the next step because, unlike last year, the Red Storm has a bit of experience to its name. And that, combined with the chip on their collective shoulders, has the Storm certain it can make waves in the Big East this year.
“Their natural energy, it’s legitimate that they feel good about themselves,” Mullin said. “I made a conscious decision to play our young guys because that’s what they needed. Probably more than I wanted them to, but I think that will pay off.”