TORCH ILLUSTRATION/ALEXANDER JUAREZ
INSIDE THE ISSUE Dynamic Duo
Hoppie and England’s relationship goes beyond the court
Bright Lights, Big Expectations
Local players on what it’s like playing for their home city
The best moments from each coach’s tenure at SJU
Shamorie Ponds is back for his junior season in Queens
Not in Kansas Anymore
Marvin Clark II opens up about his past and looks to the future
THE 2018-2019 TORCH BASKETBALL MAGAZINE
EDITORIAL BOARD XCVI Angelica Acevedo Editor-in-Chief
Isabella Bruni Managing Editor
Amanda Negretti Creative Director
Brendan Myers Sports Editor
Erin Bola Chief Copy Editor
Jillian Ortiz Assistant Copy Editor
Derrell Bouknight News Editor
Spencer Clinton Photo Editor
Beatriz da Costa Opinion Editor
Nick Bello Social Media Manager
Samantha DeNinno Culture Editor
Morgan Mullings Outreach Manager
Beverly Danquah Features Editor
Jim Baumbach Adviser
Written by: John Cavanagh, Annie Drouillard, Nick McCreven, Brendan Murray, Sean Okula Illustrated and Designed by: Rachel Johnson, Alexander Juarez, Jenna Woo, Jesse Wyatt Cover Photo by: Amanda Negretti Back Page Photo by: Nick Bello TORCH PHOTO AND DESIGN/AMANDA NEGRETTI
Replacing the Rim Reapers Charles, Brelove and Wellere will fill the voids
2018-19 Men’s Basketball Schedule 11/01/18 11/06/18 11/09/18 11/16/18
Maryville (Exh.) Loyola Maryland Bowling Green
Queens, N.Y. (Carnesecca Arena) Queens, N.Y. (Carnesecca Arena) Queens, N.Y. (Carnesecca Arena)
GAVITT TIPOFF GAMES Piscataway, N.J. (The RAC)
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LEGENDS CLASSIC Brooklyn, N.Y. (Barclays Center) 7:00 PM Brooklyn, N.Y. (Barclays Center) 5:00 PM/7:30 PM
Maryland Eastern Shore
HOOPHALL MIAMI INVITATIONAL Georgia Tech Miami, Fla. (AmericanAirlines Arena)
Mount St. Mary’s
MADISON SQUARE GARDEN HOLIDAY FESTIVAL Princeton New York, N.Y. (Madison Square Garden)
12/16/18 12/19/18 12/22/18 12/29/18 01/01/19 01/05/19 01/08/19 01/12/19 01/16/19 01/19/19 01/27/19 01/30/19 02/02/19 02/05/19 02/09/19 02/12/19 02/17/19 02/20/19 02/23/19 02/28/19 03/03/19 03/09/19
Wagner St. Francis Brooklyn Sacred Heart Seton Hall Marquette Georgetown Villanova DePaul Creighton Butler Georgetown Creighton Duke Marquette Providence Butler Villanova Providence Seton Hall Xavier DePaul Xavier
4:30 PM 6:30 PM 8:00 PM 8:30 PM 7:00 PM 1:00 PM 7:00 PM 6:00 PM 6:30 PM 4:30 PM 12:00 PM 8:30 PM 12:00 PM 8:00 PM 12:00 PM 8:30 PM 5:00 PM 8:30 PM 8:00 PM 6:30 PM 12:00 PM TBD
Queens, N.Y. (Carnesecca Arena)
Queens, N.Y. (Carnesecca Arena)
Queens, N.Y. (Carnesecca Arena) Queens, N.Y. (Carnesecca Arena) Queens, N.Y. (Carnesecca Arena) Newark, N.J. (Prudential Center) Queens, N.Y. (Carnesecca Arena) Washington, D.C. (Capital One Arena) Villanova, Pa. (Finneran Pavilion) Queens, N.Y. (Carnesecca Arena) Queens, N.Y. (Carnesecca Arena) Indianapolis, Ind. (Hinkle Fieldhouse) New York, N.Y (Madison Square Garden) Omaha, Neb. (CHI Health Center Omaha) Durham, N.C. (Cameron Indoor Stadium) Milwaukee, Wis. (Fiserv Forum) New York, N.Y. (Madison Sqaure Garden) Queens, N.Y. (Carnesecca Arena) New York, N.Y. (Madison Square Garden) Providence, R.I. (Dunkin’ Donuts Center) New York, N.Y. (Madison Square Garden) Queens, N.Y. (Carnesecca Arena) Chicago, Ill. (Wintrust Arena) Cincinnati, Ohio (Cintas Center)
March 13-16, 2019 | BIG EAST Tournament | Madison Square Garden
Kadaja Bailey Finds Her Groove Jillian Ortiz For Kadaja Bailey, a simple switch in colors and a different area code made all the difference. It was a decision that brought her to a new set of paint, a new group of sisters and a new home. A Long Beach, N.Y. native, Bailey previously donned blue and white at St. Mary’s High School until she was recruited by Women’s Basketball Head Coach Joe Tartamella during her senior year. Bailey comes to Queens after leaving St. Mary’s High School as the all-time leading scorer after racking up more than 2,000 points. For the 2017-18 winter season, Bailey was named to Newsday’s All-Long Island Girls Basketball Team. “Putting on a high school jersey to a college jersey honestly made me feel like I was doing something great for my family. It just felt so wonderful just putting on a St. John’s jersey. Like I’m actually in college about to play in front of my fans and my family,” Bailey said. For Bailey, her family isn’t limited to those that will be watching her from the stands. It also includes the young women that travel up the court alongside her in red and white. Although she is the only freshman on the roster for the 2018-19 season, Bailey says she isn’t deterred. “Being the only freshman on the team this year...it doesn’t mean anything to me cause I just feel like I’ve been here all four years already. They just welcomed me as if I’ve been here all with them,” Bailey said. Bailey recalls that her transition from Long Beach High School to St. Mary’s was an ongoing process throughout her two years at the school. The women’s team at St. John’s has already fostered an environment that Bailey became easily acclimated to. Here, she said she “just fit in right away.” “It’s honestly such a great feeling, like I didn’t [think I would] experience coming to St. John’s and just falling in and just being a family right away,” she said. “I just thought it would have to take time in order for me to get used to them, but as soon as I got here, I was just already used to them. They just welcomed me home as if I was born with them.”
TORCH PHOTO/SPENCER CLINTON
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Junior guard Shamachya Duncan said, “We always want to give off that family vibe and mentality, just to keep our chemistry on and off the court.” Although the family sentiment was something she felt from the moment she stepped into the locker room, Bailey says that she is still adjusting to the differences between high school and college play. “...Coming from a Catholic school straight to college, it was a different type of atmosphere. Like, I wasn’t used to the type of tempo that they push the ball up quick. I was used to just bringing it up slow and then making a play,” Bailey said. “But like, coming here we just push the ball fast and I really wasn’t used to it, but I’m starting to pick it up now though.” The 6-foot, sixth-ranked wing in the class of 2018 (according to Prospect Nation), looks forward to bringing her skillset to the lineup this season. Bailey hopes to not only rack up impressive stats for the Red Storm in her first collegiate season, but also gain some notable accolades during her rookie campaign. “By the end of this season I hope to become freshman of the year,” Bailey said. “That’s what I hope to accomplish.”
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Off And Running
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Mustapha Heron is ready after months of waiting JOhn Cavanagh On Oct. 13, Mustapha Heron, Chris Mullin and every fan of St. John’s basketball let out a sigh of relief. The 6-foot-5-inch guard was granted a hardship waiver that made him immediately eligible to play after transferring from Auburn University. Heron posted great numbers as a former five-star recruit of the Tigers. Last season, he averaged 16.4 points a game, good enough for sixth in the Southeastern Conference in scoring. Now, he’ll be paired with guards Shamorie Ponds and Justin Simon to form one of the strongest back courts in the country. “I feel like he’ll fit in really well,” Simon said. “He’s a real horse, he’s versatile and I feel like you can put him anywhere on the floor and he can guard multiple positions.” Heron agrees, and thinks he can be a good fit by being himself. “Just being someone that attacks constantly, and doesn’t take their foot off the pedal,” Heron said. All that must be music to Mullin’s ears. Adding Heron to an already athletic team makes the Johnnies a match-up nightmare for opponents. The pressure to win is certainly there, but Mullin thinks Heron’s experience is his most valuable addition to this group. “He’s an accomplished college basketball player, played in big games, played big minutes and played on a great team at Auburn,” Mullin said. “I think his presence each and every day, the way he approaches practice, his daily routines — it’s important. He’s a good leader.” His leadership is already rubbing off on his teammates. During St. John’s open practice, Heron was one
of the most vocal players. To newcomers like freshman guard Greg Williams Jr., Heron can be a role model based on the way he carries himself both on and off the court. “He’ll be there for experience, mentoring me and getting me ready for those situations that he’s already been in,” Williams said. “Just listening to him and picking up on tendencies that he’s done to get to where he is right now, I feel like that will help elevate me in a way.” Heron is joining a team that returns key players like Ponds, Simon and redshirt senior Marvin Clark II. Those three were heavily relied upon last season, especially during a skid that saw the Red Storm lose 11 consecutive games in Big East play. However, the Johnnies responded by beating Duke
He’s a real horse, he’s versatile...put him anywhere on the floor and he can guard multiple positions. - Justin Simon
TORCH PHOTOS/SPENCER CLINTON
and Villanova in back-to-back games to end their losing streak. “We got a lot of older guys, we got a lot of experience,” Heron said. “We got a lot of leadership on the team so I think that it’s easy to come together because we’ve been together since summer time. Just talking to each other, trying to be as vocal as possible.” There’s no doubt his teammates and coaches think that he’ll be a great fit. But what made St. John’s an ideal fit for Heron? His decision to come home was because of his current family situation. “I’m committing to St. John’s,” Heron said to 24/7 Sports in May. “With my mom being sick and stuff, I just wanted to be close to home.” But there were local teams he could’ve picked that are closer to his hometown in Waterbury, Conn. Frankly, he could’ve picked any team he wanted
based on his abilities. Heron was named Second Team All-SEC by the Associated Press; so it could be encouraging that a key piece on a team that went 26-8 last season opted to play in Queens. “The team’s good,” Heron said bluntly. “We got a chance to be a really good team.” There’s no doubt Heron’s impact has already caught the national eye. ESPN had St. John’s ranked number 25 in their preseason power rankings for college basketball. “This spot originally came down to Florida, Clemson and TCU, but with St. John’s getting a waiver for Auburn transfer Mustapha Heron to play immediately, the Red Storm get the nod heading into the season,” the ESPN article said. Heron is right. The team is good. Now, they just have to prove it.
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NICK BELLO In order for a team to be successful, all of the players must work together as one cohesive group. This normally takes time, as everyone needs to get used to one another’s playing styles and personalities. However, the chemistry between Tiana England and Qadashah Hoppie last season was unparalleled, despite the fact that Hoppie was a freshman and England was in her second year at St. John’s, having missed her first season with an injury. “I had known Q before we came here, we came from the same AAU program before she switched over,” England said. “We already had a little bit of chemistry together.” This initial building block from their AAU days made building their chemistry at St. John’s simple. When Hoppie arrived last season, the two found ways to
take their dynamic to a new high. “I think it really started off the court, we became really close off the court,” Hoppie said. “It translated to on the court and we just got to know each other more and where we like to be.” At the start of last season, both Hoppie and England put up double figures in their first three games. The duo played in all 34 games and combined for over 600 points as the Red Storm made it’s 11th-straight postseason run. Hoppie’s best game came against William and Mary in November, when she dropped 21 points. Last season, she averaged 10.1 points per game while starting in 11 games. For England, her best game came in a February win against DePaul where she dropped 22 points. She also led the team with 171 assists last season while averaging a team high of five assists per game.
torchonline.com Their individual success on the court was, in part, because of each other. With England’s strong ability to pass and set up scoring opportunities for her teammates and Hoppie’s raw scoring power and ability to shoot the three, the duo become one of the best backcourt tandems in the Big East. Although they have had a lot of success when they are on the court together, their ability to find each other is something that comes naturally. “It’s something that kinda happened,” England said. “We knew where each other were going to be.” Head Coach Joe Tartamella appears to have a backcourt built for future success. “Obviously playing major minutes on the floor together, certainly helped them from a basketball standpoint but I think the bigger part is they get along really well off the floor,” Coach Tartamella said. “I think that they are going to continue to grow together and it’s a great backcourt to have.” Their growth both on and off the court is something of importance as the duo still have three more years together. For this upcoming season, their bond will
COURTSIDE | 7 play a crucial role in how successful each one can be. “The chemistry is gonna have a lot to do with it [their success],” Hoppie said. “That chemistry is gonna have to play a big part as well as the speed and our tempo and energy on the court.” As a whole, chemistry is something that the team has worked on a lot in the offseason. “We do a lot of team building activities and hangout with each other a lot,” Hoppie said when asked about how they strengthen the team’s camaraderie. “A lot of the time that transitions to the court.” “[We’re] continuing to make sure we’re around each other, getting to know each other and creating that trust and accountability,” Tartamella said. “I think a lot of that happens off the floor more than on the floor.” With an impressive dynamic between Hoppie and England, the Red Storm will look to make a 12thstraight postseason run this season. “Everyone’s buying into what we’re looking forward to do this year,” England said. “So as long as we have one common goal, we’ve got it.”
TORCH PHOTOS/SPENCER CLINTON
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Bright Lights, Big Expectations
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Jazzing Up the Court
‘Sharpshooter’ Jasmine Sina brings her edge
TORCH ILLUSTRATION/RACHEL JOHNSON
John Cavanagh The bright lights, the history and the expectations. Simply put, there’s no greater challenge than playing in New York City. Certain athletes are built for the moment and can handle the pressure. St. John’s has embraced their image as New York’s Team, and so have their hometown athletes. Junior guard Shamorie Ponds says the only thing he feels is pride. “I don’t think there’s any pressure,” Ponds said. “I just go out there and play my game. I don’t think there’s any added pressure at all.” Ponds has a quiet confidence. The Brooklyn native played at Thomas Jefferson High School and led the team to its first New York City title since 1954. So when he took the floor at Madison Square Garden, it didn’t seem to rattle him one bit. “It’s definitely something I dreamed of, especially Madison Square Garden,” Ponds said. “Being that I’m from here, it’s definitely important for me, personally, to shine on the biggest stage.” Ponds followed in the footsteps of Head Coach Chris Mullin. Mullin was also born in Brooklyn and stayed home to play for the Red Storm from 1981 to 1985. Now, the two will try to power St. John’s to the top of the Big East Conference. The women’s basketball team will also play at MSG this season when they face DePaul on Feb. 17. “We’re pleased that we’re playing at Madison Square Garden again this year in February, which is always exciting for everyone here,” Head Coach Joe Tartamella said. His players are excited too.
Freshman guard Kadaja Bailey, from Long Beach, N.Y., said it will be really special. “I’ve always wanted to play there,” Bailey said. “I knew in order for me to play there, I’d probably have to be in New York. That’s why I chose St. John’s.” There’s more to New York than the Garden, however. As Frank Sinatra said, if you can make it here, you can make it anywhere. “You get a chance to represent the state, town or city you’ve grown up in,” junior guard Shamachya Duncan said. “To represent, that means a lot.” Sophomore forward Kayla Charles echoed that statement. “It’s an honor to grow up in a place and play for that place you’re coming from,” she said. For athletes who are used to playing at home, the transition may be easier. They’ve experienced the raucous New York crowds, from the cheers to the jeers. Yet, the Johnnies still have plenty of players from outside of the state. Freshman guard Greg Williams Jr. is from Lafayette, La. With plenty of big-time basketball programs down South, Williams opted to play in Queens instead. “I felt like it was a great opportunity for me,” Williams said. “I feel like I can make a lot of big things happen.” Staten Island’s own Qadashah Hoppie said it’s been a great experience, even if it is challenging. “I feel like anyone who comes from New York who tries to play on a New York floor, there’s always a higher standard they’re held to,” she said. “I feel so blessed to be here at this moment and I don’t take anything for granted.”
From Bearcat to Johnnie, Jasmine Sina is bringing her game to the Big East, where she hopes to help an already experienced Red Storm roster. A transfer from Binghamton University, Sina has seen success on the court and in the classroom as proven by her many awards, including American East Rookie of the Year, and to numerous appearances on Binghamton’s Athletic Honor Roll and the American East Commissioner’s Honor Roll. Balancing life between academics and athletics can be tough, but Sina has been up for the challenge. “It is all about time management. I think the schools do a good job of making it possible for student athletes,” Sina said. Sina’s father began the family’s love of basketball. Her father and older brother have played basketball professionally in Europe. Sina’s older brother, Jaren, currently plays for the Flyer Wels of Austria, and played his college ball at Seton Hall. Sina’s success, however, hasn’t come without obstacles. Sina tore her ACL in her sophomore year, but didn’t let that stop her from continuing to grow as a player. Despite her injury, she rediscovered her freshman season form by becoming a consistent option for the Bearcats in her final two years of play. Sina, however, wanted a new challenge. “I have always wanted to play at this level,” Sina said. “This was just a great opportunity and I am so glad I decided [to come to] St. John’s.” Coach Tartamella has made it clear what Sina’s role with the Red Storm will be. “Jasmine Sina will be a sharpshooter off the bench for us,” he said. While the basketball program at St. John’s was a big factor in Sina’s decision to transfer, it was not the only reason. “I love New York City. I think that was a big thing for me to be able to come here and network in a big city,” she said. “Coming here was a great opportunity that I couldn’t pass up.” Getting to know her new teammates hasn’t been hard
TORCH PHOTO/AMANDA NEGRETTI
for Sina, as she said they have welcomed her into their close knit family. Akina Wellere, who Coach Tartamella considers to be the leader of the Red Storm, is excited to play with Sina on the floor this year. “She will have a big impact. She is a great shooter, I think she adds that quality to our team this year that we lacked last season,” Wellere said. With the support from her teammates and coaches, Sina’s goals this season are simple.“We obviously want to win the Big East and hopefully get a spot in the NCAA Tournament,” she said. Sina’s experience and sharpshooting will be a key element for the team this season. He wants them to improve on their three point shooting from last season. Her ability to spread the floor when she is on the court will create opportunities for the team to get involved. Sina has the chance to put the icing on the cake for her collegiate career with a final hurrah for the Red Storm. Considering her record from Binghamton, she will give the Red Storm everything they could have wanted from a transfer and more.
Let the Talent Speak for Itself Brendan Myers
Before Tip-Off on Oct. 12, the casual St. John’s basketball fan might not have known about L.J. Figueroa. The hype belonged to returning star Shamorie Ponds and incoming transfer Mustapha Heron. Things have changed. The soft-spoken Figueroa broke out in a loud way at TipOff, introducing himself with passionate dance moves, sweet mid-range jumpers and thunderous alley-oop finishes. Figueroa’s endearment to the Carnesecca Arena faithful proved to be the culmination of a long journey that’s taken him all over the continental United States. After looking for the right spot, Figueroa had no doubt in his mind where the journey would take him next. “I came [to St. John’s] with my mom and it was just the right fit,” he said. A native of Lawrence, Mass., he has used his travels around the country to refine his game and learn new skills. Figueroa split time in high school between his native Massachusetts and Florida. With stops in Orlando and then to Odessa Community College in Texas, where he played a season of junior college basketball, he learned the foundations of each place’s unique basketball culture. “When I was in Florida, kids were dunking on each other. I had never seen that, ”Figueroa said at St. John’s Media Day in October. “I thought that only happened in mixtapes.” When Figueroa steps onto the court, he feels like he’s representing a culture that stretches far beyond anything basketball-related. Before displaying his wide array of skills on the newly-minted hardwood at Carnesecca Arena at Tip-Off, Figueroa had already garnered a large cheer when he came out of the fog-tunnel proudly showing off a Dominican Republic flag. “It’s so important to me. It always reminds me of who I am,” Figueroa said. Figueroa showed his strong ties to the Dominican Republic by representing the country in the 2016 FIBA U18 Championship of the Americas, where he was stacked against current NBA players such as Markelle Fultz, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Michael Porter Jr. In the five games that he played, Figueroa finished as
the fourth leading scorer in the entire tournament, scoring 14.6 points per game, including a 25 point outburst against Chile. When the news broke that Figueroa decided not to pursue Division I basketball right away, analysts insisted that fans remember the name. Early in his time in Queens, Figueroa is backing up the hype and impressing his teammates. “L.J. Figueroa is a guy that’s going to surprise and shock a lot of people,” redshirt senior Marvin Clark II said at Big East Media Day. “He resembles me a little bit, just not as strong, but he’s a lot more athletic. “ Clark II sees his role as the leader for new players like Figueroa as a rite of passage. “I remember like it was yesterday when I was a freshman,” Clark II said. “It’s only right, the roles are reversed. I try my hardest to help our new and younger guys every day.” Despite the praise, Figueroa isn’t quite satisfied with everything about his game.“Just different strategies and learning all the defensive techniques, I think that’s where I need to grow the most,” Figueroa said. Figueroa’s journey to St. John’s is relatively similar to that of former Red Storm forward Bashir Ahmed. Both players grew up in the Northeast — Ahmed is a native of the Bronx — and both players became All-Americans at the Junior College level before returning to the Big Apple for careers at St. John’s. Look a little deeper and you might see many similarities between Ahmed and Figueroa’s game. Without yet seeing him in organized Division I action, Figueroa appears to be a more efficient player with Ahmed’s skill set. They both possess a quick first step with the ability to score at all three levels of the court. While the St. John’s coaching staff most likely knows what they are going to get day in and day out from players like Ponds, Heron, Clark II and Justin Simon, the key for the Johnnies this season will be the newer, less-known names on the roster. But don’t be mistaken, it shouldn’t take long for L.J. Figueroa’s game to introduce itself.
L. J. F I G U E R O A
TORCH PHOTO AND DESIGN/AMANDA NEGRETTI
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POWER RANKINGS Top 5 Moments of Mullin's Tenure 1. Wins over Duke, Villanova (2018): These two wins alone were bright lights at
the end of an extremely dark and miserable tunnel. The team was on an 11-game losing streak, star point guard Marcus LoVett was caught up in a strange injury situation and what was once looking like a promising season had fallen apart. However, two days in February changed it all. On national television and at The World’s Most Famous Arena, St. John’s upended #4 Duke and charged down I-95 a few days later to stun the top-ranked, and eventual National Champions, Villanova.
2. St. John’s beats #13 Butler (2016): The Syracuse wins
were nice, but this game was Mullin’s first signature Big East moment as Head Coach of his alma mater, and showed promise of what could come. In front of a sold out Carnesecca Arena, the Big East was introduced to Shamorie Ponds (26 points) and the Red Storm took down the 13th-ranked Bulldogs 76-73 with some late game heroics.
3. Shamorie Ponds’ 44 point outburst vs. Marquette (2018):
1. Big East Tournament title (2016): Again, this was the obvious
choice for the top moment of Coach Tartamella’s tenure. The Johnnies stunned top seed DePaul on their home floor with some late-game heroics and then followed it up with a stifling performance against Creighton to take home the program’s first conference title since 1988.
2. Nadirah McKenith and Shenneika Smith make history with draft picks (2013): The
edge for these two former Red Storm players over Aliyyah Handford and Danaejah Grant had to be that McKenith and Smith were the first Red Storm players ever to be drafted into the WNBA and subsequently sign WNBA contracts.
foul from Amar Alibegovic on a Georgetown player, tempers flared, leading to a sideline scuffle to bring old Big East nostalgia to the forefront of college basketball. However, this time it was Mullin versus a different member of the Ewing family (Patrick Ewing’s son, Pat Jr. ) St. John’s against Georgetown. The Red Storm ultimately pulled this one out in thrilling fashion, winning 74-73 giving Chris Mullin his first Big East Tournament win as Head Coach.
#2 3. Maya Singleton ties rebounding record (2018): One half of the team’s
dominant front court last season, Maya Singleton tied a 41-year old-program record on Dec. 18 when she grabbed 24 rebounds en route to a double-digit overtime win against the Kansas Jayhawks. Mary Doyle is the only other player to match Singleton’s historic night with her 24 rebound performance in 1976 against Brooklyn.
4. Back-to-back wins over Syracuse 2015 (2016): There weren’t many moments to pick for this list from Mullin’s
5. St. John’s vs. Georgetown (2017): After what seemed like a pretty innocent
TORCH DESIGN/AMANDA NEGRETTI
Top 5 Moments of Tartamella's Tenure
Lost in the madness of the back-to-back wins over Top 5 teams, Shamorie Ponds concluded that week by scoring 44 points against Marquette and setting the single-game scoring record of all-time at Carnesecca Arena. Ponds scored more than half of the team’s 86 points on the day and continued the magical week following that dreadful 11-game losing streak.
first season in charge. But a strong performance at Madison Square Garden, led by Federico Mussini and Amar Alibegovic, fueled the Johnnies to a big victory over old rival Syracuse, who would make the Final Four later that season. Fast forward to Mullin’s second season in charge, when St. John’s went up to the Carrier Dome and left after running Syracuse out of the gym by a score of 93-60.
PHOTO COURTESY/ ATHLETIC COMMUNICATIONS TORCH PHOTOS/AMANDA NEGRETTI, NICK BELLO, SPENCER CLINTON
4. Joe Tartamella wins 100th game (2017): A late-game surge by the Red Storm secured a win over Providence to give Tartamella his 100th win as ead coach of St. John’s, becoming the fifth coach in program history to do so. This milestone in just his fifth season leading the Red Storm signifies the strong and consistent culture that he has built as 5. Aliyyah Handford and Danaejah Grant drafted (2016): Handford left St. John’s as the program’s all-time leading scorer and Grant wasn’t far behind on the leaderboards, finishing as the ninth leading scorer in program history. Both players were drafted, just four picks apart with Handford being the 27th overall pick to the Connecticut Sun while Grant was taken with the 31st pick by the Washington Mystics.
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A Journey Back Home Natural leader Alissa Alston steps in ISABELLA BRUNI For Alissa Alston, traveling and shooting from multiple courts doesn’t make for a well-rounded player. Alston says it’s the effort and commitment put into the game that makes you great. Having taken her shots from New England, the South and New York, this player knows what she’s talking about. Alston, a St. John’s transfer guard, started playing basketball as a 12-year-old in her hometown of New Haven, Conn. She has since taken her talents to the University of Mississippi and then back to the Northeast at St. John’s. “The transition is a little bit different,” she said. “I was used to a faster pace. Going down to the South, I kind of slowed down a little bit.” On deciding to leave the pleasant Mississippi heat for New York’s changing seasons, Alston said, “I like it back home, it’s a safe environment, an environment I’m used to. I felt this was [going to] give me my spunk and my confidence because my support system is here.” And that support system is family — her own family, and the Red Storm family. The redshirt junior’s first moments with basketball came during a bitter time in her life, way before she could taste that sweet love for the game. Alston’s brother had fallen ill with a kidney disorder, which prevented him from playing and finishing his high school basketball career.
So at the tender age of 12, she picked up the ball for the first time. “I felt like I kind of needed to pick up the slack for him to keep him in good spirits,” Alston said. “I needed to take on the task and keep playing and then I fell in love with it.” And once that happened, she hasn’t stopped shining. Head Coach Joe Tartamella called her a “leader” on multiple occasions at St. John’s Media Day. Alston concurred that leadership was one of her biggest goals coming to play with Tartamella and the rest of the team. With an impressive record up her sleeve, Alston was one of three players to average double figures over her junior season with 14 points per game. At Ole Miss the 5-foot-8 guard racked up 131 assists that season, making her good to sit fourth in the Southeastern Conference with 4.5 per contest. Along with her strong offensive abilities, Alston brings a “dangerous defensive effort” that made her stand out, according to redstormsports.com. “My goals here that I plan to bring to the women’s team at St. John’s is leadership, accountability and really a family-oriented environment. You know you try to give off that big sister vibe, give them that shoulder to lean on,” Alston said. “Leadership is the biggest part about it.” Alston found that family element while working with Tartamella. “Our relationship grew a lot bigger once I started to
torchonline.com feel that vibe from him,” she said. “He gives off that father-figure vibe of wanting to make sure that you get it, understand it and that you are getting better and most importantly trying to help you accomplish your goals off the court,” Alston said. Relationships like this with Tartamella, as well as her teammates, made Alston’s transition from the South to the North much smoother.
...[what] I plan to bring to the women’s team at St. John’s is leadership, accountability and really a family-oriented environment. - Alissa Alston
Redshirt senior Akina Wellere threw in the word “amazing” more than once, and more than twice, when talking about her fellow guard. “She’s allowed me to compete with her and play with her, and kind of like find myself too as being a senior and continue to grow as a player and leader,” Wellere said. “She’s helped me hone in and split the leadership role on the team. As a whole, she’s an amazing player and an amazing person.” With her three goals constantly in mind whenever she picks up the ball for practice, Alston said she can’t help but think about the opportunities that could follow in the city that never sleeps.
COURTSIDE | 15 “This is New York, the mecca of basketball, so you see all the fans and all the crazy dunks, but down South it’s just fundamentally about basketball,” she said. With her travels she’s seen a difference in the culture of the game, but the work ethic is what you put into it, she said. “In New York for instance [it] is more of ‘create it for yourself’ and make a name and a brand for yourself. The South is more of a unit type of thing,” she said. With her family-oriented values and drive for self improvement, it seems Alston has figured out how to hold onto that perfect balance for her future with the Red Storm. Besides basketball? There’s nothing. That’s what is always on her mind. “My thing is all about basketball so if it involves basketball, you know I’m around,” she said.
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The “King of Queens” is back at St. John’s Sean Okula Knocking down jump shots with a silky disposition, a left-handed assassin plays the lead role at Carnesecca Arena this winter. New York born and bred, he’s ingrained himself into a basketball culture that runs deep through the city’s soul. He’s one of St. John’s best, past or present. Oh, and Chris Mullin will also be around. All due respect to the Hall of Famer, but Shamorie Ponds is a big deal. He enters his junior year ready to lead a talent-laden roster to face all that the 2018-19 season has in store. But six months ago, his return to Queens was far from certain. Ponds declared for the NBA Draft in March without hiring an agent, leaving the door open for a return. The then-sophomore guard displayed his skills at NBA workouts, hoping for — and ultimately not receiving — a draft combine invitation. By the end of May, he announced his intention to return to St. John’s. Red Storm relief notwithstanding, the process
outlined parameters for the Big East’s leading scorer to focus on the upcoming campaign. “Just work on my body,” Ponds said the pro scouts told him. “Pay attention to the little details. Pretty much, just getting my game better overall.” Areas to improve upon are hard to spot for a guard who knocks down over 50 percent of his attempts. Above everything, another year in school simply means another chance to refine his skills as a facilitator and leader. “Coming back, it’s me adding more experience; I’m another year older,” the guard said. The decision to come back hinged on the pro-level’s evaluation of his athletic development. Now 20-years-old, his physicality will naturally progress toward what is expected at the professional level. While St. John’s fans awaited word, coaches and players were in a similarly anxious state. Ponds says he didn’t have much contact with the coaching staff during the decision-making process.
torchonline.com “I talked to the guys a little bit,” he said. Justin Simon was in contact with Ponds over the course of the spring and summer, which he made emphatically clear. “Of course!” Simon said. “That’s my best friend.” Carefully choosing his words as not to speak on his teammates behalf, the backcourt’s ringer expressed excitement for Ponds’ opportunity. “I don’t know exactly how he would feel about that process,” Simon said. “I know that’s something he’s always wanted to do.” “For him to be that close, I know he’s really excited,” he added. Close to the vest on the details of the decision, both returnees spoke more candidly on the backcourt’s prospects for the season. Ponds cited the “group of guys [we’ve] got now” as a deciding factor in his return, while Simon sung his point guard’s praises. “Having another guard that can facilitate the ball, initiate the offense, guard another primary ball-handler, that helps me out a lot,” Simon said. “To have a guard like that, one of the best players in the Big East... that helps,” he continued. Throw recently-cleared transfer Mustapha Heron into the mix and the Red Storm have a three-headed monster. While all have a unique skill set, Heron adds a physicality and ability to bully his way to the basket, both to score and to rebound. It’s a talented group, but success will hinge on the left hand of their universally acclaimed point guard. Soon, Ponds will knock down NBA jumpers. For the time being, the stage of the Big East will have to suffice. “I feel like I received some accolades, but I feel like I didn’t showcase my winning and that’s what a lot of people want to see,” Ponds said. “See me lead the team and be a winner.”
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MEN’S STAFF PREDICTIONS Record
Most Important Game
The Red Storm should 1/1 vs. Marquette. have a successful non-con- Marquette should be ference campaign and a fringe Top-25 team the necessary confidence. all-season; a win over The Big East schedule can the Golden Eagles will lead to tumultuous times, give the Red Storm but expect 18 or 19 wins the confidence they with more talent need for the and depth. Big East. BRENDAN MYERS
The Red Storm should have a winning season given the 12/19 at Seton Hall. The most important talent they have. Howevgame is their first Big er, they will face a lot of East game against tough competition and it is Seton Hall in Newark. safe to say they will drop This game should be a good amount of games an indicator of how once Big East play comes good they could be. around.
1/8 at Villanova. The Johnnies will finally The Red Storm will win more than 20 games face the National for the first time in Chris Champions, a team Mullin’s coaching tenure. they beat on the road The Red Storm will be last year. If they do helped by a more talented it again, it will prove team and soft non-confer- this team is for real. A ence schedule. big statement game.
I think the team will finish 19-11 overall. There will be a few growing pains with the new roster, but I would love to see them grab a win against Villanova, Marquette or Xavier to assert themselves.
2/2 at Duke. I’m sure the Blue Devils will want redemption after the Johnnies’ victory last season. Duke’s offensive firepower will make life difficult for SJU’s defense.
The time is now. The non-conference schedule shouldn’t draw too much pushback. Play the Big East around a .500 clip, and the Dance is in play.
2/28 vs. Xavier. Two bouts with the Musketeers down the stretch could prove crucial in résumé padding. Conference play is where the damage will be done.
L.J. Shamorie Figueroa Ponds
Shamorie Mustapha Ponds Heron
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WOMEN’S STAFF PREDICTIONS
Best Most Newcomer Improved
Shamorie Mustapha Ponds Heron
Most Important Game
Marvin Clark II
This is contingent upon how quickly the team adjusts to playing without Maya Singleton and Imani Littleton, but a strong backcourt and a talented scorer like Akina Wellere, it shouldn’t take long.
The team won’t play a better program all season than UConn. It’ll be a good test to see where the Red Storm stack up against the elite of women’s college basketball.
Coming off of their 11th-straight postseason berth, the team should reach 20 wins again. With the addition of Kadaja Bailey and the return of Qadashah Hoppie and Tiana England, expect the same results.
Bryan Trimble Jr.
Marvin Clark II
Best Most Newcomer Improved
11/22 vs. Purdue Purdue should be a good matchup in the Paradise Jam given that both the Red Storm and the Boilermakers made it far in the WNIT last year.
This experienced team will once again return to the postseason and thrive under a more fast-paced style. Expect another 20-win season from Joe Tartamella’s squad.
11/23 vs. UConn An early season test on the road against the number two ranked Huskies. What a win this would be.
The Red Storm have a few grueling non-conference opponents to begin their season. I have them at 16-13. An early season win over UConn, however, could propel the Red Storm to new heights.
11/23 vs. UConn. A game against one of the most elite programs in college sports will always be exciting. A win could put the Johnnies on the map as a NCAA tournament threat in the season.
The non-conference schedule has daunting foes. Just .500 in-conference got the Red Storm to the WNIT last year. This year it might take a little more. 18-11 is my prediction for the Johnnies.
2/17 vs DePaul Valentine’s Day weekend features home bouts with both preseason conference favorites. Just one win could be a big statement.
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A Revived Front Court Sean Okula Preseason chatter is fueled by overzealous narratives. Bold assertions can be made without any frame of reference. It’s fun, but often frivolous. In that spirit, the rejuvenated St. John’s frontcourt needs a presumptuous, New York-centric tagline. The New York Block Exchange? The Queens Skyscrapers? The Midtown Tunnel (where the lanes are always jammed)? We’ll work on it. What’s certain is that this group’s talent — assorted talent at that — provides a different set of skills to complement the others. “Athleticism and versatility,” said Marvin Clark II, the lone returnee among last year’s big men. “We should be among the best frontcourts in the nation.” The redshirt senior is confident, a product of his ranking status. He takes pride in helping the new faces with their initiation, learning a little about their game along the way. On freshman Josh Roberts? “[He’s] showed the most improvement from summer to now,” Clark II said. “Espe-
cially because coming in he was just really raw. Football player, just an athlete. Now he’s learning the game, and you can see him learning the game as he plays it.” What about Sedee Keita? “He’s a freak of nature. 6-foot-10, 6-foot-11. Fast. Moves great laterally. Skilled, strong, blocks shots, great timing. I think he’s gonna be our most important piece going into the season,” Clark II said. Albeit new to the lineup, Keita was around the team during his redshirt transfer year. He built up a rapport with Clark II, who thinks the South Carolina import will help him get some open looks. “He sets great screens,” Clark II said. “For me being a shooter and being able to play off the pick-and-roll, it’s going to be a great added dimension to our team.” That spells bad news for the rest of the Big East. Clark II, a Kansas City native, shot 41 percent from three-point range a year ago. Defenders aiming to neutralize his deep stroke could leave a dangerous Keita unguarded near the hoop. St. John’s not-so-secret weapon figures to make his impact on the other side of the ball. Listed at 6-foot-9-inch-
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es, he’s aided by a beefy 235 pound frame. The transfer of Tariq Owens seemed to have left an opening in the paint, an opening Keita could fill quite easily. “I’m just trying to be an anchor on the defensive side,” Keita said. “Last year, we pretty much played with six players and we still kept up scoring. We just didn’t play defense.” Keita blocked 11 shots in limited action with South Carolina during the 2016-17 season. That figures to translate to an increased workload, though Coach Mullin hopes his perimeter defenders can keep the ball out of his shot swatter’s domain. “I think Sedee’s gonna be a big addition, offensively and defensively,” Mullin said. “I think our added depth and experience on the perimeter should allow us to better contain the ball and rely less on the blocked shot, which Tariq [Owens] was really good at.” “I think we’ll contain the ball better and be an overall better defensive team,” he added. Vertically challenged for most of his tenure at the helm, Mullin will have reinforcements to deploy in the middle. Up against Keita, three-star recruit Josh Roberts clocks in at 6-foot-9-inches and 210 pounds. With Clark’s praise, he just might run his way straight into the rotation. “Just doing what I do,” the Alabama native said. “Using my athleticism, running the court at full speed.” Athleticism was on full display at Tip-Off, though from a relatively unheralded source. Sophomore L.J. Figueroa
greeted the fans with one-handed jams, stuffing the ball through the hoop with ease. The junior college transfer could slip under the radar on a St. John’s roster filled with notable imports, but his scoring ability can’t be missed. He shot 48 percent from beyond the arc in his lone junior college season, and his 21.4 points per game earned him a spot on the NJCAA All-American First Team. Rebounds are a cinch with his wide wingspan, something he credits in diversifying his game. “It helps me in a lot of ways,” he said. “Getting offensive rebounds, deflections, tips. Just a bunch of little things in the game that I need.” Acclimation to the court has come easily, but acclimating to his surroundings has been even easier. A Boston-area native, he says his time in a Florida High School and at a Texas college left him feeling out of touch with his Latin roots. “I have a lot of Spanish people around me,” he said. “Being down in Florida and Texas, I was standing out. Just being here makes me feel at home.” The human side of sports is often overlooked amid the unrelenting desire to win, but comfortability can be key in an athlete’s performance. New York, the fans and especially his teammates, so he says, have embraced Figueroa with open arms. “All our senior leaders,” he said. “All our veteran leaders. Shamorie, Marv, Simon, they all helped me. They showed me what I’m going to get into and what to expect.”
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Follow the Leader Alisha Kebbe picking things up from last season NICK BELLO For junior Alisha Kebbe, leadership is something that seems to come naturally. As an upperclassman, Kebbe looks to be a strong leader for the Red Storm this season as they pursue a potential postseason run. “As an upperclassman, I became more positive because of my experiences. All the games, tough times and adversity, I’ve been through it all,” Kebbe said at Big East Media Day in October. “It’s my job to spread those experiences to help my younger teammates and maintain a positive attitude for them,” she added. During her freshman season, Kebbe shined as she was named to the Big East All-Freshman Team while starting in 32 games. Her best game that year came against Seton Hall, where she dropped a season high 17 points against the Pirates. Last season, Kebbe started in 30 games and averaged 9.8 points per game. Kebbe scored in double figures 18 times last season and led the Red Storm in scoring in eight different games. In the postseason, Kebbe helped the Red Storm defeat Duquesne in the round of 16 by dropping 16 points, while shooting 5-for-11 from the court. Kebbe was also named to the All-Met Writers Association Third Team, which is something she takes pride in. “I think it was [a] really good honor, you know a lot of times some people get overlooked,” Kebbe said. “I really felt like [the committee] noticed the little things that I do.” For this upcoming season, Kebbe looks to pick up where she left off last year. “I feel like for this year, it’s my job to do more for my team and for the league,” she said. In her time at St. John’s, Kebbe has helped tremendously with rebounding. In her freshman season, she averaged 4.4 rebounds a game and grabbed a season
high of 10 rebounds against Rutgers’ Scarlet Knights. Last season, Kebbe was second on the team in rebounds with 99 and led the Red Storm in rebounding on two different occasions. “Rebounding, it just comes naturally to me,” Kebbe said. “I do work on it more, like knowing where to be on the court to [be] in a good rebounding position.” Kebbe was also the team leader in free-throw percentage last year with an impressive 84.7 percent from the line. Kebbe’s success from the charity stripe is partially due to the routine she has after practice. “I shoot 25 free throws after every practice,” Kebbe said.
I feel like for this year, it’s my job to do more for my team and for the league. - Alisha Kebbe
This after-practice ritual has been something that she has done since she arrived at St. John’s her freshman year. “I always stay after practice and put extra shots up to improve,” Kebbe said. Kebbe’s success at St. John’s is also due to the coaching staff, who have helped her become not only a better player but a better person. “He [Tartamella] keeps me sane,” Kebe said. “He keeps me level-headed and focused.”
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Not In Kansas Anymore Clark II remembers his past as he prepares for the future Derrell Bouknight Just off of Interstate 70 in Kansas City, Mo., the blue awning of the Restart Inc. homeless shelter introduces itself from the mud brown hue of the six-story building it occupies. Its top droops out at 918 East Ninth Street, steps from the Kemp playground and five minutes from the Sprint Center downtown. For 37 years, the organization has served more than 30,000 homeless people, including 11,500 children and youth. On a brisk Thursday morning, sitting atop a small platform at the World’s Most Famous Arena, 1,400 miles away, Marvin Clark II recalls how he was one of those children. He can attest to the rats and roaches that infested the facility. He knows how crime-ravaged the area was and how many of his friends succumbed to the harsh lifestyle. Those who grew up on streets numbered with “50s” were gang rivals with members of the “30s.” If paths were crossed, lives were lost. “I know of a lot of people that I grew up with that took the easy route,” Clark II said. “They dove into the streets. They dove into what was cool. I knew early on that wasn’t the path I wanted to go down. I knew it would take hard work if I wanted to get out of there.” As he sits in a chair a few feet from the rims he rocked during his junior campaign – one in which he averaged 12.5 points and 4.7 rebounds per game – Clark II leans back and smiles. He raises his southpaw shooting arm before resting his hand on his head. On his bicep and underneath the sleeve of his suit, he teases his “816” Kansas City area code and Chiefs’ logo tattoos. It’s a commemoration to the “Show Me
State” that Clark II loves, the same one in which he saw his mother beaten by men as he and his siblings helplessly watched in horror. The oldest of six, Clark II tries to show his brothers and sisters each day that anybody can fall into the temptations of the life that surrounded them. He knows it’s not easy. He experienced it firsthand. When he was three years old, Clark II’s dad died of a heart attack. As he and his mother, Donette Collins-Miller, prepared to pay their respects at the open casket funeral, Clark II did not grasp the magnitude of the situation. He went to the casket, saw his father and tried to climb in to wake him up. Everybody at the service began to cry. “Anything that’s worth doing is going to come with some difficulty and adversity,” he said. “I was blessed with realizing that early on.” He transferred schools almost every semester. He describes his homelessness as “in and out,” saying he was never stable. Sports, he said, helped him channel the negative anger that built inside of him to cope, to vent. With hardship serving as much of the backbone for Clark II’s early life, he turned his focus to basketball. He shined at Sunrise Christian Academy, averaging 20 points and nine rebounds in his senior year under Head Coach Luke Barnwell. He signed his letter of intent to play at Michigan State in April 2014, playing under Hall of Famer Tom Izzo for two seasons. “I learned a lot from Izzo,” Clark II said. “I came to this conference and had to learn as far as being a big time player. Now I’m ready to plug that in and focus on winning.”
Anything that’s worth doing is going to come with some difficulty and adversity. I was blessed with realizing that early on. - Marvin Clark II
torchonline.com Now in the Big East, Clark II understands the significance of this season. Transfer guard Mustapha Heron is paired with conference Preseason Player of the Year Shamorie Ponds to form one of the country’s scariest backcourts. Justin Simon is back after a strong season, and big man Sedee Keita looks to clog the paint as a true center. Clark II says the time to win is now. He has the experience. He put in the work over the summer. “It’s about maximizing my potential,” Clark II said. “Maximizing the time I put in the gym. Now, I feel like I know what it takes.” At Tip-Off, the annual basketball celebration that takes place before the start of the season, Clark II took the microphone to address the fans in attendance. He made a declaration with conviction in his voice, a sight veiled by his mild-mannered personality. He promised that the Red Storm wouldn’t disappoint this season. They’ve received Top-25 votes. Two players are on national award watch lists. Simon is a candidate for the All-Big East Second Team. And for the first time in a while, New York’s team may be the one to rock the Garden and Carnesecca Arena once again. On the school’s website, Clark II lists LeBron James as his favorite athlete. Dwyane Wade, one of James’ former teammates and one of his best friends, announced that his retirement will come at the end of the year and dubbed this season “One Last Dance.” When asked if he also had a motto for his final year in Queens, Clark II couldn’t come up with one. He thought for a while, smiled and instead took the time to acknowledge the team he has around him. “We have a great addition in [Mustapha],” Clark II said. “He has experience. Shamorie and Justin too. We’ve grown together. When Shamorie was a freshman, it was my first year here. We’re like the last three here from his class. With Mustapha, us four playing unselfishly and playing team basketball defensively will help us get over that hump and win games this year.” Ponds described Clark II as the leader of the team, one who has led by example since his first day on campus. Despite sitting out a season due to NCAA transfer eligibility rules, Clark II could be seen walking the court encouraging his teammates. On the bench, he was a vocal leader, and nothing has changed. “He’s pretty much our main piece,” Ponds said. “He directs everything. He’s the big brother to everybody. If he has an off day, everybody will probably have an off day.”
COURTSIDE | 27 Simon, who transferred from Arizona the same year Clark II came from East Lansing, echoed Ponds, calling Clark a big brother and a person he looks up to. “Our relationship as a whole has been wonderful,” Simon said. “Leading these guys and building the culture and seeing the development of the program has been big. Sharing moments like that with him is huge.” The group is tight knit, a band of brothers at their home away from home. Clark II said that he played a slew of positions in football, saying he would put Ponds at safety. “Me, safety?” Ponds said to Clark II. “Nah, I can’t hit. Wide receiver.” During a February matchup with Seton Hall at the Garden, Simon inbounded the ball to Clark along the baseline. Clark II took two dribbles, knocked his defender to the ground and passed it back to Simon, who took two dribbles toward the free throw line and returned the favor. Controlled and tranquil, Clark II pump faked, leaving Ismael Sanogo in the dust and rose for a tomahawk slam. He hit the ground, clenched his fists and let out a booming yell, bruising the rim and amplifying the gym. The sequence is reminiscent of his life back in the 816. The back and forth. The constant motion. One decision to the next in a split second. For 24 years, he has prepared for this moment, one of the biggest of his life. “Looking back on the years, this is the last place I thought I would be,” he said. “At an early age, I knew what sacrifice was. Being here now is crazy. I’m proud of it, but I won’t be too proud until I accomplish what I came here to do, and that’s to bring this program back to prominence.” His last message to the St. John’s fans before the season begins is to simply stay tuned and stay excited. “Enjoy the fruits of your labor,” he said. The fans deserve a team to root for. They’ve waited long enough, and he believes this is the year that New York’s team will win the city over. Clark II never forgets the good and bad, remembering everything about his past: Restart Inc., the streets, the two legends he has had the honor of playing for, his family back home and his teammates. Before getting up to take media pictures and flash his signature smile, Clark II stops for a moment. Suddenly, he remembers. TORCH PHOTO/SPENCER CLINTON
NICK BELLO Many have said that the St. J o h n ’s R e d S t o r m a r e b o u n d t o have a breakthrough season this y e a r. W i t h t h e r e t u r n o f S h a m orie Ponds, Justin Simon and Marvin Clark II, the Red Storm have a roster loaded with talent. While Red Storm nation is hyped for this season, we asked some of the best minds in college basketball what they thought about t h i s y e a r ’s t e a m .
Dave Leitao (DePaul): I think last year was a very good indication of what lies ahead and that they started off really slow but then they caught a rhythm, obviously Shamorie [Ponds] had a lot to do with that, as well as the other guys that were returning. And so that momentum — we even talk about it with our group — learning what the taste of winning is all about and why you win, and so when you add pieces that were both sitting out and transferred in, it gives them great optimism, it’s what every coach seeks in building a program. I think Chris [Mullin] has done it kind of similar to a lot of teams in building, where on the outside, people look at him a certain way because of the judgement on W’s and L’s, but you win over Duke, you win over Villanova, those kinds of things can change a mindset. And I think that’s what’s going on right now.”
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Word on The Street Steve Wojciechowski (Marquette): “I think they’re gonna be terrific. Arguably, they’re as talented as any team in the conference-starting with Shamorie Ponds, Mustapha Heron, Justin Simon [and] Marvin Clark — those kids are all big time players. I think they’re poised for a breakout season, I think they have a chance to be one of the better teams in the country.”
Greg McDermott (Creighton): “I think they’re really good, you know, I think Shamorie is the best guard in the league and you know what they’ve added around him. But, you know, the way they were playing the last three or four weeks of the season last year, I think was a sign of things to come and now the maturity of the players in their program and the additions that they have through recruiting and transfers, I think they’re poised to have a great season.”
Travis Steele (Xavier): “I think they’re gonna be really good, they’re as talented as any. I think they have a talented backcourt as anybody in the entire country. You talk about Shamorie Ponds, who’s obviously the Big East Preseason Player of the Year, he’s as good as any guard in the country. You know think about [it], they beat Duke last year, they beat Villanova last year, the talent’s there. Like Chris Mullin said, they’re older, more experienced, I think they’re gonna make a tremendous jump this year. I think they are one of the best teams in our league obviously, so I think they got a chance to be really good.”
Jay Wright (Villanova): “I think the combination of experienced players returning, a go-to-guy like Shamorie Ponds, who could be one of the best players in the country, and then Chris having his culture established.”
Jon Rothstein (Analyst for CBS Sports): “[The] most talented roster in the Big East, I don’t think there’s any doubt about it. The one thing that you’re going to have to look at, actually there’s two things you have to look at. End of game execution was critical, last year I believe they lost by seven points or less, so what kind of team are they going to be in the final four minutes? Another thing is can they overcome the way that they [are] scheduled. Scheduling right now is the second most important part of any program in college basketball, after recruiting and the roster you put together. So I think when you look at St. John’s from a recruiting standpoint, they’re in really good shape, and I think that was illustrated last year, by not having Marcus LoVett and still beating Villanova, the national champion, on the road. Beating Duke, who was a one seed in the NCAA Tournament, and then also beating Butler, the team that went to the round of 32, without Shamorie Ponds. So the talent is not the issue at St. John’s, the biggest questions are, are they gonna execute in big game situations and can they can overcome a non-conference schedule, that quite frankly is just unacceptable if you want to be a regular NCAA Tournament team.”
(On Chris Mullin’s development of the program)
Kevin Willard (Seton Hall): “I think they’re gonna be really good. I think Chris has done a phenomenal job of being extremely steady in what he’s doing. He didn’t rush the process, he didn’t do anything. I think he’s done what he said he was going to do, he’s gonna take his time and build the program and he’s done a great job doing that. I think they’re extremely talented and I’m looking forward to watching them play.”
“I mean it takes time, you know when you talk about a young team, the players might be young but the coaches culture is young, he has got it established, you can tell by how he played us, he has got it established. I think they have a chance to be one of the top teams in the country.”
Patrick Ewing (Georgetown): “They have a very good coach, they were a very talented team last year. For some reason their record wasn’t an indication of their talent, but they’re a good team.”
Ed Cooley (Providenece): “I’m happy for the Big East, I’m happy for Chris [Mullin], who is an unbelievable human being. We [the Big East] need St. John’s to be good, and they are good, they’re very good. They have probably the most experience coming back, I think them and Marquette. Ponds can score from anywhere, Heron getting eligible, that doesn’t help the Friars, you know. They’re about to have an unbelievable season.”
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The sophomore looks to build on promising finish Nick Bello As fall slowly turns into winter, the environment around St. John’s changes as the seasons transition. With this progression, we are reminded of the transformations that the Red Storm are making everyday as they prepare for the start of the season. For sophomore shooting guard Bryan Trimble Jr., however, his evolution started in the summer of 2017 when he arrived in Queens. Coming out of high school, Trimble was ranked 59th among shooting guards in the country and sixth in the state of Missouri. He also played on MoKan Elite, a Nike EYBL team that also featured Michael Porter Jr., the top-ranked high
school recruit in the class of 2017. Although Trimble was an elite player coming out of high school, transitioning to college wasn’t easy, as he had to adjust to the change of pace as well as the mental demands that came with it. “Mental, physicality and bringing it everyday [was] the biggest transition,” Trimble said as he discussed his transition from high school to college. In Trimble’s first season at St. John’s, he received a lot of minutes off the bench and provided a spark with his ability to shoot from three-point land with ease. As the year progressed, Trimble received more minutes as he began to settle into his role. “I just really locked in more,” Trimble said about the
TORCH PHOTO/SPENCER CLINTON
improvement later in the season. “I really understood that there’s gonna be ups and downs.” His best game of the season came on the road against Marquette in February, where he dropped 19 points and shot 71 percent from three. Trimble also contributed to the Red Storm’s win over Georgetown in the Big East Tournament, pouring in seven points in 15 minutes of play. Trimble said that his improved mentality was one of the main reasons why he was able to perform well in these games. “Just wanting to be better, knowing that I am better,” Trimble said. “Just bringing it.” Over the summer, Trimble brought this mindset to his offseason preparations. His hunger for a better season and his work ethic certainly didn’t go unnoticed by Chris Mullin and his coaching staff. “He took the summer and dedicated himself to fitness and has gotten himself into good shape,” Mullin said. “I think with that he’s shown himself as a whole new dimension to his game that he’s exploring now that wasn’t there.” This offseason, Trimble worked on trying to develop more facets of his game. He worked on his playmaking, as well as his ability to create for his teammates and not just for himself. “Coming off screens a lot more, on and off the ball,” Trimble said. “And just becoming a better
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Bryan Trimble’s Transformation
player defensively and offensively.” As for how confident he is in his game, Trimble answered simply. “I put the work in all summer,” he said. In his second season at St. John’s, Trimble will most likely be coming off the bench, again providing a necessary spark from beyond the arc when his team needs it. “He’ll have a big impact because we’re really gonna try and use our bench as much as possible,” Mullin said. “Not only just to give us a punch, but to keep everybody fresh,” he added. Trimble’s hard work and determination have paid off, as he has become the go-to-guy off the bench for Mullin. His mental strength and perseverance have transformed him into the player he is today.
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Following His Heart Brendan Myers
For Marcellus Earlington, the choice wasn’t even close. Yes, he was a three-star defensive end for one of New Jersey’s football powerhouses, Don Bosco Prep. He racked up close to 15 major Division I offers, from the likes of last year’s runner up University of Georgia, according to the recruiting website 24/7 Sports. He was also a two-time all-state basketball player that helped lead the Ironmen to a 58-5 record over his final two seasons and back-to-back New Jersey state championships. Basketball ultimately won out when Earlington decided to commit to St. John’s in April, and he isn’t looking back. “I just followed my heart,” Earlington said. “I’ve been playing basketball since I was two.” As much as Earlington loved basketball, Earlington admits that the football offers were something that he had to take seriously. “I listened to both sides, and I was really all ears,” he said. “But at the end of the day, I felt comfortable with my decision and the discussions I had.” Once Earlington closed the door on the gridiron, his choice of where to play college basketball proved to be another straightforward decision. “Matt [Abdelmassih] talked to me a lot, and I really liked the coaching staff,” Earlington said. He said that he occasionally misses playing football, which he began playing in eighth grade. But overall, there is some sense of regret. “I love basketball, I grew up with a ball in my hand,” Earlington said. Before speaking with Earlington and hearing his passion for basketball, the decision might appear a puzzling one on TORCH ILLUSTRATION/JESSE WYATT
the surface. Despite his success on the field, Earlington says he was never pressured to stick with football. “My coaches were really supportive of the decisions,” he said. He has a knack for using his frame to seal defenders off on the block with an uncanny ability to finish through contact. While he seems comfortable in the low post, calling Earlington one-dimensional would be a bold-faced lie. Officially listed at 6-foot-6-inches, Earlington’s just as comfortable with his back to the basket as he is taking his man in isolation. Earlington also possesses the opportunity to shoot the three ball at an efficient rate. The Stony Point, N.Y. native is already starting to earn some high praise from his teammates. “Marcellus is a strong player who really reminds our team of Draymond [Green] a little bit as far as his rebounding ability and the way he uses his body,” redshirt senior Marvin Clark II said. Earlington’s strong frame and physical playing style will certainly be a strong asset to have off the bench. “Our three freshman, they’ve shown and grown a lot this offseason,” Clark II said. “Those are guys that we expect to have big impacts for us.” Earlington comes to Queens already accustomed to playing against some of the highest competition in the game. During his senior year, the Ironmen had matchups with some of New Jersey’s elite recruits, including current LSU Tiger Naz Reid and Kentucky-bound senior Kahlil Whitney. The one thing Marcellus Earlington wants to make clear is that he is a basketball player and he belongs on the court, not on the gridiron.
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Loaded with Experience Joe Tartamella only has three new faces John Cavanagh
Last season was a successful one for Head Coach Joe Tartamella and the Red Storm. The team won 19 games despite new faces and a hard non-conference schedule. This season, they return with a roster loaded with talent and experience. They’ll carry a smaller squad of only 10 players, six of whom are upperclassmen. The only freshman on the roster is guard Kadaja Bailey, who set a school record by scoring over 2,000 points during her playing time at St. Mary’s High School in Manhasset, N.Y. The Johnnies return with most of their roster, although they lost Maya Singleton and Imani Littleton, who both averaged over 25 minutes a game. The Red Storm are relying on many players to take that next step and assume bigger roles. One of those players is forward Kayla Charles. The 6-foot-3 sophomore averaged two points and 2.9 rebounds in her freshman campaign. Her versatility allows her to score from different spots on the floor. “I am stepping into a position where I have to show up and give it my all every day after losing Maya and Imani,” Charles said. “It’s tough but it will have to be done in order for us to win.” As a coach who’s made it to the postseason every year that he’s been at the helm, Tartamella knows what it takes to get it done. He noted that his team would once again be strong on the defensive end. However, even an accomplished coach needs to make changes. “We’re trying to play a little quicker, so we’re playing a little bit smaller,” Tartamella said. One of the benefits of a smaller lineup is being able to stretch the floor. Tartamella wants his team to push the pace and focus on those first seven to eight seconds of each possession. The key in executing this new style of play will be point guard Tiana England. The redshirt sophomore started 32 of 34 games in her
TORCH PHOTO/NICK BELLO
first season and led the team with five assists per game. The Red Storm will need similar numbers from England, and she believes that she, along with the rest of the team, is focused on the right things to make them even better this season. “This year, definitely, our defense is important,” England said. “We were a little shaky last year. Good defense creates offense, so I’ve been working this offseason improving in that area, as well as less turnovers.” Experience isn’t just about the players. The coaching staff welcomed new Assistant Coach Shenneika Smith this season. Smith was St. John’s second ever WNBA draft pick back in 2013, and returns to Queens after having played two professional seasons and seven seasons on the Jamaican national team. “I’ve been able to learn a lot from her, whether it’s preparing me the opportunity to play professionally or in-game scenarios,” senior guard Akina Wellere said. “She motivates me to be better every day.” The Red Storm won’t play at Carnesecca Arena until Nov. 29 against Delaware State. Their first three games will be on the road, including a matchup against the vaunted UConn Huskies. Progress is being made, but we’ll see just how far they’ve come when they face some tough tests early on in the season.
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Living His Dream
Basketball is king for Camus in Queens
Watching sports as a child allows you to develop a special bond with a team, city and community. You have someone to look up to and something to inspire you, even into your adulthood. Sports bring people together as a community and allows them to feel connected to the city that the team represents. For a Queens native like current player Jay Camus, that team was the St. John’s Men’s Basketball team. Camus was born and raised in “The World’s Borough” and regularly attended Johnnies’ basketball games. After years of admiring the team from the stands, Camus now finds himself on the floor as a part of the team he rooted for during his childhood. “It’s an incredible honor to be on this team. I grew up loving this team,” he said. Camus began his high school basketball career at Archbishop Molloy High School, a five minute ride down Union Turnpike from St. John’s. He helped lead the Stanners to a 2013 CHSAA J.V. City Championship his sophomore year. He played AAU with Crown Basketball, proving he was continuously working to make improvements to his game. He then attended Manhattan College, a Division I school in the Bronx, playing in the MAAC conference alongside other mid-major Northeast schools like Quinnipiac, Fairfield, Monmouth and Iona. He walked onto the roster as a freshman and made an appearance in a game against St. Mary’s. After transferring schools, Camus attended the St. John’s basketball team’s open tryouts and secured
a roster spot in his junior year, along with former high school teammate Justin Cole. Camus, now living his childhood dream of playing for New York’s team, says that he feels he is treated equally to his recruited counterparts like Shamorie Ponds and Mustapha Heron. “It’s the same for me as everyone else here. They treat the walk-ons the same as the scholarship players. I have to lift. I got practice. I got class,” he said. If it were not enough that his hard work brought him to a Big East roster, he also gets to play under the coaching of legendary St. John’s alumnus Chris Mullin, top 50 all-time NBA scorer Mitch Richmond and Assistant Coach Greg St. Jean. “It’s great. I play under two Hall-of-Famers and highly touted Assistant Coach St. Jean. So I learn a lot,” he said. Camus ultimately wants to savor the moment entering his senior year. He aspires to be an entrepreneur after college and is currently majoring in business management. These will likely be his final days of organized basketball, at least in the form of which he is accustomed to. Camus wants to do everything he can to bring his team to its full potential this season. “I try to push these guys everyday in practice. I do everything I gotta do. This is it,” he said. No matter what happens, Camus is playing the sport he loves in the uniform he grew up watching, which is all he said he can ask for, “If I could play basketball anywhere in the country, I would still pick St. John’s.” TO R
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Replacing the Rim Reapers Brendan Myers
those roles for the Red Storm in 2018-19. “Kayla Charles is ultra athletic, she’s grown a lot It seems strange to say that on a team that features from last year,” Tartamella said at Big East Media Day only three new players, Head Coach Joe Tartamelin October. “When she’s locked in, she’s extremely la has two major voids to fill on the court. While his impressive offensively.” squad returns a lot of talent, the Red Storm will feaWhile Tartamella noted that Charles has had to be ture a new frontcourt after the graduation of star forchallenged defensively, he believes that the 6-foot-3wards Maya Singleton and Imani Littleton in May. inch needs to be good in order for the Red Storm to Singleton, now playing professionally in Switzersucceed this season. land, proved to be one of the team’s most efficient The other player seemingly set to help fill the void players last season while averaging a double-double, left by the absences of Singleton and Littleton is 11 points and almost 11 rebounds per game on 45 now-eligible forward Curteeona Brelove. percent shooting. If the outside shot wasn’t working “She’s been blessed with the ability to have good for the team’s guards, they had a safety blanket with size, strength and agility and has the ability to shoot Singleton in the paint. it as well,” Tartamella said. Singleton’s frontcourt partner, Littleton, didn’t have Sophomore guard Qadashah Hoppie said that she quite as big of an impact on the offensive end, but has been impressed with Charles’ rebounding ability. turned into one of the conference’s premier rim deBrelove has a different type of game than Singleton fenders. While starting in all 31 games she appeared and Littleton, but certainly one to watch. in last season, Littleton amassed a team-leading 43 “She can shoot from behind the arc a little bit, she blocks while finishing third on the team with 33 steals. can face up more, so it’s a kind of versatility that she While still acknowledging the significance of these has,” Hoppie said. two players’ departures, Coach Tartamella doesn’t The other challenge of losing two major seniors is a seem worried about the two players that will step into loss of leadership. While Tartamella thinks there is room to grow for players like Brelove and Charles, he isn’t worried about the leadership in the locker room. “Akina Wellere has been a big part of that,” Tartamella said. “Akina’s been with us for four years, she understands, she’s been part of a championship.” The most important thing that was constantly reiterated at Big East Media Day is that no matter who leaves, the identity of the team will not change. “Defense has always been our main priority,” Hoppie said. “Even though those players have left, that culture is not going to change within us.” TORCH PHOTO/NICK BELLO
2018-19 Womenâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s Basketball Schedule
New Rochelle, N.Y. (Hynes Athletic Center) West Point, N.Y. (Christl Arena)
5:30 PM 5:00 PM
11/22/18 11/23/18 11/24/18
PARADISE JAM (GUVI SPORTS & FITNESS CENTER) Purdue St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands UConn St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands Ole Miss St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands
5:30 PM 7:30 PM 5:30 PM
11/29/18 12/02/18 12/06/18 12/09/18 12/15/18 12/21/18
Delaware State Wake Forest Yale Florida State La Salle James Madison
Carnesecca Arena Winston-Salem, N.C. (LIVM Coliseum) Queens, N.Y. (Carnesecca Arena) Queens, N.Y. (Carnesecca Arena) Philadelphia, Pa. (Tim Gola Arena) Harrisonburg, Va. (JMU Convocation Center)
7:00 PM 1:00 PM 7:00 PM 2:00 PM 2:00 PM 2:00 PM
12/30/18 01/04/19 01/06/19 01/11/19 01/13/19 01/18/19 01/20/19 01/25/19 01/27/19 02/01/19 02/03/19 02/08/19 02/10/19 02/15/19 02/17/19 02/22/19 02/24/19 03/03/19
Seton Hall Xavier Butler Providence Creighton DePaul Marquette Georgetown Villanova Butler Xavier Creighton Providence Marquette DePaul Villanova Georgetown Seton Hall
BIG EAST CONFERENCE GAMES South Orange, N.J. (Walsh Gymnasium) Cincinnati, Ohio (Cintas Center) Indiannapolis, Ind. (Hinkle Fieldhouse) Queens, N.Y. (Carnesecca Arena) Queens, N.Y. (Carnesecca Arena) Chicago, Ill. (McGrath-Phillips Arena) Milwaukee, Wis. (Al McGuire Center) Queens, N.Y. (Carnesecca Arena) Queens, N.Y. (Carnesecca Arena) Queens, N.Y. (Carnesecca Arena) Queens, N.Y. (Carnesecca Arena) Omaha, Neb. (DJ Sokol Arena) Providence, R.I. (Alumni Hall) Queens, N.Y. (Carnesecca Arena) New York, N.Y. (Madison Square Garden) Villanova, Pa. (The Pavilion) Washington, D.C. (McDonough Arena) Queens, N.Y. (Carnesecca Arena)
1:00 PM 7:00 PM 1:00 PM 11:00 AM 2:00 PM 8:00 PM 3:00 PM 7:00 PM 2:00 PM 7:00 PM 2:00 PM 8:00 PM 1:00 PM 7:00 PM 1:00 PM 12:00 PM 2:00 PM 2:00 PM
March 9-12, 2019 | BIG EAST Tournament | Chicago, Ill. (Wintrust Arena)
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