COURTSIDE THE ANNUAL TORCH BASKETBALL MAGA ZINE
COURTSIDE T H E A N N UA L TO R C H B A S K E T B A L L M AG A Z I N E
READY AND WAITING The women’s basketball team had the No. 11 recruiting class in the country, according to ESPN.com, and return four starters from a group that reached the WNIT last year. This year, the Johnnies want a shot at the NCAA Tournament. STORY ON PAGE 24
Anthony Mason Jr.
Q&A with Norm Roberts Offense Walk-ons
Q&A with Sky Lindsay
MEN OF A CERTAIN AGE With a group of seven juniors that has two years of Big East experience, a talented incoming class and Anthony Mason Jr.’s return in early January, the men’s basketball team is looking to return to being the force it once was in the best conference in college basketball. STORY ON PAGE 8
COURTSIDE T H E A N N UA L TO R C H B A S K E T B A L L M AG A Z I N E
E D I TO R I A L BOA R D
Bill San Antonio
C O P Y E D I TO R S Everton Bailey Patrice Bendig Ramiro Funez Nell O’Connor
WRITERS Johan Acosta Katie Beckmann Matthew Bultman Mike Cunniff Yasemin Hizal
Recruiting Class Kim Barnes Arico
Editorial Page Editor Layout Editor
Mike Gurnis Dylan Kitts Steve Sidoti
Photographs by Laura Amato COURTSIDE
A VIEW FROM COURTSIDE
ig-time college sports programs don’t rebuild, they re-tool. When storied programs lose a host of star veteran players at the end of a great season, they don’t waste the next two years playing with a mediocre team, developing a dynamic group of young players that will eventually blossom, then, in turn, move on. There is no cycle of success for top teams. When they lose their top players, they bring more stars in. They harvest the field for top talent, recruit the best and perpetually put winning teams on display. Last year, the Big East was the most talented college basketball league that we’ve seen in years. Many teams had top national players and a number of teams had a legitimate shot at winning a championship. It was a tough, competitive schedule with no easy games. However, after the season, the inevitable reality of the college sports world set in across the league. Many star athletes outgrew their jerseys, and top Big East teams like Connecticut, Louisville, Notre Dame and Pittsburgh all endured heavy losses to the NBA and graduation. But these teams didn’t stay down for long. Coaches went out and signed more big-name talent in order to stay competitive this season. They re-tooled their would-be deflated teams in order to contend. Here at the Torch, the recruiting mentality was also alive and well coming into this year. We too experienced a significant loss of talented writers at the end of last year when our sports editor and a good portion of the staff graduated, leaving our frontcourt and defense rather anemic. In the spirit of recruiting, the Torch brought a number of key players into the office fray. Young editors took charge of the publication, guiding the new staff of keen writers to the summit of any Torch sports writer’s career, the magazine you have in your hands right now. Courtside is our national championship. It is, to be frank, our annual shot at glory. But unlike the Torch office and the management over at Pittsburgh, UConn and the like, the St. John’s basketball teams experienced a different kind of renewal. Instead of rebuilding the foundations of their programs, the teams spent their offseasons adding small pieces to their puzzles, in hopes that these players would elevate St. John’s back to being one of the big shots in the Big East. The women’s basketball team was included in one of the top recruiting classes in the country. With the return of four starters, the hope is that the combination of young talent and seasoned veterans will catapult the team into the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2006 and give St. John’s the opportunity to compete with Connecticut and Rutgers, teams known as the class of the conference. On the men’s team, many of the same faces known to St. John’s fans last season are suiting up again this year. Instead of instant All-Americans, they’ve got the advantage of experience, age and team chemistry. In addition to its core of seven juniors— five of whom are starters— the men’s team added four new players that will have an
immediate impact on the team’s versatility and depth. While these additions will in time benefit the overall performance of the team, it may take time. At the Torch, it took time for our new writers to become acclimated to their roles and begin to truly benefit the newspaper. It took time to get articles just right, and it took time to define our key players. Nevertheless, St. John’s is seeing slow signs of rejuvenation. The teams have all the necessary elements to hold their own against the likes of the current Big East powerhouses, and improvement has already been displayed. The bottom line is that these teams are comfortable with each other and for the most part, the fans should be comfortable too. St. John’s may not be raking in celebrity recruits, but both teams have added some valuable components that could make a huge difference to their seasons. For now, keep an optimistic demeanor, Red Storm hoops fans; your basketball teams may soon repay you.
SAN MAN BILL SAN ANTONIO EXECUTIVE EDITOR
wo types of people make up the St. John’s basketball fanbase. There’s the older fan, maybe an alumnus or someone who grew up during a time when the Red Storm were on top of the city and the college basketball world. He will be the first one to recount for you, battle for battle, the Georgetown games of the 1980s – it’s the only prompt he’d need you to mention prior to his discourse. He’d gladly reminisce about the Final Four team of 1985, and will fondly recount the days of his heroes: Lou Carnesecca, Chris Mullin, Walter Berry and Mark Jackson. He might even have a few kind words in him for Mike Jarvis, though he does not have such rhetoric for current head coach Norm Roberts. Then there’s the younger fan, the current St. John’s student. This person has seen the teams of recent years and their seasons all blur together into a sad image of frustration and loss. He’s like a Chicago Cubs fan: optimistic, but hesitant to get too excited. It’s because he doesn’t have much to reminisce about. He knows about past glory. There’s a vague understanding of better days. Heck, the history of the program is shoved in his face every time he walks into Carnesecca Arena. But he can’t seem to pinpoint the Red Storm’s place in the basketball universe. He doesn’t understand where the program has been. And to some degree, he doesn’t care, because despite the fact that he goes to the school, he wouldn’t even call St. John’s his favorite college team.
MURPHY’S LAW MUST BE FORGOTTEN FOR THE MEN’S BASKETBALL PROGRAM TO BE RESURRECTED Both of these fans have something in common: they are bound by St. John’s hoops in the current decade, and with that sentiment comes a cynicism and a total devotion to Murphy’s Law when talking about the team. They honestly believe that everything that could possibly go wrong for the Johnnies will, inevitably go wrong. And in recent years, can anybody blame them? Since the program’s deconstruction after a slew of off-court incidents in the early 2000s, St. John’s basketball has been reduced to a laughingstock. The once-proud program, the former staple for basketball in New York City, has lost hometown recruits to rival schools, has seen lineups of all-freshmen take the floor and has endured crushing injuries to its superstar players. But most importantly, the program hasn’t competed the way it used to, and there’s something very disheartening about that to the die-hard St. John’s fan. So rather than erase the memory of yesteryear and renew optimism, the contemporary St. John’s fan expects and accepts these painful occurrences. There is nothing to say that the next year will be any different, because there is nothing saying the next year won’t be the same as the last. That’s why a foundation of winning needs to be forged this year for the program to be saved from the depths of college basketball purgatory. Another season of mediocrity is simply unacceptable— and that should be the mindset of everyone af-
Win, and confidence will return to the fanbase. Win, and history gets re-written.
filiated with the program, from the players to coach Roberts to every Red Storm fan that fills every arena this season. The 2009-10 season will be the most important season in recent history because, for the first time in a long time, St. John’s can put a truly competitive team on the floor, one with depth and experience and versatility at nearly every position. This year’s roster strikes a balance between the confidence of veteran leadership and the wide-eyes of new players who are genuinely proud of putting on the St. John’s uniform. That’s been a quality missing from Red Storm rosters in the past, but one that has been necessary all along; the program will never be revived if every player isn’t hopelessly devoted to changing its history. And winning is all the team has to do. Winning really is the cure-all. Win, and the team climbs in the polls. Win, and the best players will want to play at St. John’s, unafraid of big, bad Syracuse and Connecticut and Louisville and Pittsburgh. Win in the Big East, and you’ll have no problem with the Big 12, Big 10 or ACC come NCAA Tournament time. Win, and confidence will return to the fanbase. Win, and history gets re-written. The task will not be an easy one, not by any stretch of the imagination. The Big East conference, though depleted following the most competitive season it has ever had, remains the strongest league in the country, with the biggest names taking the biggest stages every night. There are no guaranteed wins in any contest on the Red Storm’s schedule this season. Every game will be a battle, another story to reminisce about in the next decade to the next generation of proud St. John’s fans.
MEN’S BASKETBALL COURTSIDE
MEN OF A CERTAIN AGE
THE CORE OF THE MEN’S BASKETBALL TEAM IS ANOTHER YEAR OLDER AND HUNGRY TO COMPETE IN A DEPLETED BIG EAST by Bill San Antonio
hen Paris Horne was a freshman two seasons ago, he admits he was a bit lost.Without a role and unsure of what head coach Norm Roberts expected from him, Horne played to his strengths— taking open shots and playing stellar defense whenever he’d entered a game. That summer, Horne worked on his complete game, unbeknownst of where it would lead him. As a sophomore last year, Horne’s minutes increased exponentially due to Anthony Mason Jr.’s season-ending foot surgery. As a result, Horne took off as the Red Storm’s leading scorer and established himself as one of its familiar faces and
strongest leaders. Horne and his junior teammates, point guard Malik Boothe, fellow swingman D.J. Kennedy, forwards Justin Burrell, Sean Evans and Rob Thomas, and center Dele Coker, built the foundation for which the current version of the St. John’s Red Storm is based. For each of the last two years, the group has undergone the rigors of playing as a young team in the Big East, often struggling to remain afloat. This season, however, St. John’s will boast one of the most experienced teams in the conference. “The one thing about the Big East, you’ve seen: the more experienced teams are the ones that play well,” Roberts said. “And hopefully that will bode well for us for when we’re in some tough situations. Our guys have already been through it and they’re going to be able to help each other. “Everything these guys have done up to this point is a learning experience— it was a new situation and this is how you react. Now they’ve been through some of those experiences and they’ll react even better for us.” The Big East has to replace some of the biggest names it has seen in years, leaving plenty of teams young and inexperienced— exactly what St. John’s used to be. Now, the Red Storm have the very real opportunity to be the team others are chasing. “We’re at a stage now where we’re not asking freshmen to be saviors,” Roberts said. “We don’t need that anymore. Those years where we said ‘we brought in six new guys, they have to play 30 minutes a game,’ is no longer here. We don’t need that anymore. We have a lot of guys who are capable of doing good things for us.” That depth can be found within the recruiting class St. John’s brought in, comprised of two freshmen (point guard Malik Stith and comboguard Omari Lawrence) and two junior college transfers (shooting guard Dwight Hardy and forward Justin Brownlee). Roberts and his
staff recruited players to fill particular needs, as it will often have to in order to compete in the conference’s recruiting world even in New York City, where some of the top talent in the country can be found. Because of the team’s depth at the guard position, with Horne, Kennedy, sophomore Quincy Roberts, Lawrence, Hardy and Brownlee able play multiple positions, Roberts wants to utilize as many of his players as possible to wear teams down defensively and play a lightning-quick offense, in hopes of instant offensive production. However, he doesn’t want other aspects of his team to suffer because of it. “One of the things we knew we
Mason Jr. returns from rehabbing his strained hamstring. Mason Jr. suffered the injury in early September, as the team was preparing for its trip to Canada over Labor Day weekend. In mid-October, Mason Jr. aggravated the injury, and team doctors – the same doctors who work with the New York Knicks— advised the forward take the most conservative approach possible for a full recovery. Last season, the Red Storm played smothering defense and, though its forwards were undersized, received consistent production in the frontcourt despite Burrell’s play with a facemask that obviously limited him offensively.
“The one thing about the Big East, you’ve seen: the more experienced teams are the ones that play well,” said Roberts. “And hopefully that will bode well for us for when we’re in some tough situations.”
had to address was our ball-handling— we’ve got to handle the ball better, and hopefully now with the guys that we brought in and our other guys handling the basketball better, we’ll do that,” the head coach said. And the depth will get even deeper by early January, when redshirt senior
During a practice last December, Burrell collided with Evans and suffered three hairline fractures in his face. Doctors told him that if the cut had been two inches closer to the left, he would have lost an eye, and that he’d have to wear a facemask on the court for most of the year. As a result, Burrell’s
productivity suffered. “It’s one of those things you try to put in the back of your mind but the facemask is a reminder of what could happen,” Burrell said. “The thing about it is you can’t play timid. I found myself a lot of times afraid to go to the basket and get contact, not because I’m not physically capable of doing it, I just know what could happen. The facemask was a constant reminder.” Fully recovered, Burrell expects to pick up on where he left off after a strong freshman campaign in 2007-08, when he averaged 10.8 points and 5.9 rebounds per game. However, through the team’s first three games, Burrell has found himself in foul trouble and has struggled in staying on the court. Though the team has achieved a goal in scoring more points, it hasn’t established the frontcourt that anchored the Red Storm offense last year. In addition, the team hasn’t played the tight defense that it was known for last year. But the team hopes its strengths ultimately outnumber the weaknesses as the season wears on. “We’ve got a lot of guys who can run around the court, that’s something that’s going to be important this season in the conference,” Kennedy said. “The Big East isn’t as big as it was last year, and there are probably going to be more athletic teams. I feel that’s to our advantage because we’re so versatile.” COURTSIDE
THE AUDACITY OF
ANTHONY MASON JR. IS ANXIOUS TO RETURN AFTER NUMEROUS INJURIES by Katie Beckmann
anuary can’t come soon enough for Anthony Mason Jr. When the 6-foot-8 swingman returns to the Red Storm lineup after missing much of the last two seasons and dealing with a strained hamstring to open his redshirt senior year, his legacy will be on the line. “I don’t think he’s had a chance to be the player that he could be,” said head coach Norm Roberts. “I think he’s shown glimpses of it at times but he really hasn’t had a chance to completely show it because he’s had constant injuries.” When Roberts recruited Mason Jr. in 2006, he was arguably the biggest signing of the head coach’s career in Queens. The feeling then was that the team was rebuilding itself, and Mason Jr. would be an integral part of that. He appeared in 24 games in his freshman year, making 23 starts and averaged 8.4 points per game and 4.9 rebounds. Mason Jr. recorded nine games of double-figure scoring and was a solid contributor throughout the year for the Red Storm. Mason Jr. came into his own during his sophomore year, starting 29 games for the Red Storm, who finished with their
first winning record of the Norm Roberts era. He averaged 11.9 points and 5.9 rebounds and earned second team All-Met honors from the MBWA. By his junior year, many thought that Mason Jr. was headed for continued success, but a high ankle sprain and other injuries kept him out of eight games and nagged him on the court. Mason Jr., who was named a captain that year, still managed a team-high 14 points per game. He earned an honorable mention All-Big East selection and first team All-Met accolades from the MBWA. All eyes were on Mason Jr. when last season began. He was to be a senior leader on a team of talented sophomores. Some projected that with a strong season he could be a second round pick in the NBA draft. But in just the third game of the season, Mason Jr. tore a peroneal tendon in his right foot and needed season-ending surgery. “It is frustrating, but I played two years before I got injured,” he said. “It bothers me a lot at times, but I really just don’t think about it. I know I can get back this year, I mean it’s not like they cut off my leg, so it’s not going to stop me. I’m
focused and I’m just thinking about getting back out there.” Mason Jr. will have about 17 games— most of the conference schedule— to secure his success and make sure he doesn’t become an example of unachieved potential. “I want people to look back at me, with all of the injuries I have had, and be able to say that he came back stronger than he was before and that he was a better player,” he said. “I want people to look at all of the things that I’ve been through, all of the injuries I’ve sustained, the fact that I haven’t played for a whole entire year and see that I came back to help the team get where they are, have a winning season, and get to the NCAA Tournament.” His coach is on the same page. “I think he wants to leave a legacy of winning and hopefully getting us to the post season play at the high level,” said Roberts. “I know he wants to be a big part of that and that is something that will stand the test of time if he can do that for us and I know he wants to do that with us.”
& QA WITH NORM ROBERTS
The St. John’s men’s basketball coach talks about recruiting, coaching in New York and the pressures the Red Storm face this season by Bill San Antonio and Katie Beckmann Torch: What are your personal feelings coming into the season about the Big East, the team and about your career at St. John’s? Norm Roberts: I think the team is going to be pretty good. I think we have more experience and the ability to score better. We have a lot more options to score now. The guys who have been here for a while have developed their games and have made themselves better. The guys we brought in bring things to the table that will help us, from scoring to passing. [The thing] that hurt us last year [was] our depth. We are much deeper this year and if we could have everyone healthy, then we would be much deeper. I think that’s going to bode well for us. Last year, due to injuries, due to young guys not being ready to play on our bench, it hurt us. This year, we should be much better. How will this year be different from the other years you’ve been at the school? I think that because we have more talent and better talent [it will be different]. Our players are better developed. The thing about New York is that people don’t want to be patient, and you need to be patient. People need to understand that our guys are developing to get better. People don’t talk about things such as that there weren’t two sophomores in the Big East better than D.J. Kennedy and Paris Horne. Nobody ever wants to write about that. You check the stats, those guys are better than any sophomores in the Big East. Nobody talks about it, everybody wants to talk about how we didn’t win here or we didn’t do this. It’s a process and people need to understand that. The thing that hurt us along the way— lose your starting point guard [Malik Boothe] for nine straight games and see what happens to your team. People try to disregard that. He’s our captain, our leader, our best ball-handler and people try to look past that. Also, to have two freshmen [Quincy
Roberts and the departed TyShwan Edmondson] in the role of playing 30 minutes a game in the best league in America, how hard is that? It is very hard. I thought Quincy Roberts did a very admirable job there, he tried very hard. We had some good wins and then people want to try to translate it into excuses. It’s no excuse that Justin Burrell broke bones in his face and had to wear a mask that sweats all over his face and every three minutes he has to take it off to wipe it. It’s not an excuse, that is truly what happened and that affects us. Then you lose a guy [Anthony Mason Jr.] that averages 14 points a game in the second game of the season, that affects us tremendously. Our guys did a great job of coming back, staying strong, staying together, and playing through it all. Why do you think people are so quick to point out the flaws of this team? Because we are in New York. I know the beast better than everybody. A-Rod can play great Monday and Tuesday, but if he plays bad on Wednesday and Thursday they are going to criticize him. That’s a part of the New York media. When you come to the job, you know that. That’s how people are; they look at nitpicking stuff and negative stuff, while you should be looking at the positive stuff with our guys. With all of the injuries, our guys could have folded very quickly— they didn’t and they stayed strong. They kept going and they kept fighting. We’ve dealt with stuff that nobody else has dealt with. Do you think that this is going to be the season that will make or break the team? That is newspaper talk, this won’t make or break anything. The kids are going to play hard through
With all of the injuries, our guys could have folded very quickly— they didn’t and they stayed strong. They kept going and they kept fighting. We’ve dealt with stuff that nobody else has dealt with.
everything. They want to play well and represent the University well. They want to win every single game and they are going to try as hard as they can to do so. Nothing is make or break here, because this league [the Big East] is so good. If you think like that all the time you are going to be disappointed, because there can be games that we will get beat in, but we have to look at how we get better in the long run. I want my guys to keep trying to get better. I never think this is make or break because these kids have done very well and they are going to continue to do better. It is never make or break. What type of qualities do you look for in your recruits? We look for high quality guys that have a chip on their shoulder. We obviously look for guys who have talent and can help us win games. We look for the whole deal because St. John’s is not for everybody. I know everybody likes to feel that way, but it’s not. Some guys fit here and some guys don’t. People always talk about how we lose this guy and that guy, but maybe he wasn’t a good fit and we lose him. He goes somewhere else and people get caught up with that. Maybe he wasn’t a good fit for us and there is someone who will fit our program better. Did you base your recruiting this year on the team’s offensive problems last year? No. We look at our team every year and see what’s best for us and we look at our players and see how they’ve grown and developed. We always want to play fast, but you can only play as fast as you can handle the basketball. We didn’t handle the ball very well last year because of Malik Boothe getting hurt. We want to make sure we looked at that situation and make sure that’s hopefully not going to be a weakness for us. So [recruiting] a kid like Malik Stith, who can really handle a basketball, Omari Lawrence, Dwight Hardy, Justin Brownlee, they can all handle a basketball, they can all shoot, they can all score. So we definitely want to help ourselves offensively so we can score and I think we can do it. How do you and your players deal with all of the pressures of playing in New York? I don’t think our players think about it that much. They deal with it and know that it’s part of the business. They know that its part of playing at St. John’s and playing in the Big East and playing in a
big school. It’s like I tell my kids, ‘if you know you laid it out on the line, you played your hardest, you don’t care what anyone says.’ People are going to criticize things or critique things all the time. You know people [said] Sean Evans needs to make better free throws. They say that. Sean Evans shoots 100 free throws at practice every day. That’s what he does. So he’s trying to improve. It’s not like he’s not trying. So I think when you get criticized for those things when you know you’re working to try to improve those things, you don’t let it bother you. What are your feelings on the Big East conference this year? The conference is going to be as good as it always is. What it says is that when you have more experience you have a better chance to be good. That’s the bottom line. The worst thing you want to be in the Big East is young and hurt. It’s very hard because of the depth of [the] league. When you look at it, the teams that did better in the league last year were who? Pittsburgh, Louisville, UConn [and] Villanova. They had experienced guys who had been through the wars, fought through the battles and they were good. I can’t ever get down after a loss. I can be disappointed in what happened and we will evaluate it, but we’ve got to move on because our league is so tough. Who out of your returning juniors has grown the most as a player? They all have. That sounds cliché. They all have in different aspects. Paris Horne has gained 11 pounds [and] he’s getting stronger. D.J. Kennedy has been more versatile; he’s shooting the ball better. Malik Boothe has improved his shot; he’s improved his decision-making. Justin Burrell, you’re going to see the JB as a freshman more than you saw him on the sideline. He’s injury free now [and] he feels better about himself. Dele Coker lost weight; he improved his body. Sean Evans has made as much of a leap as anyone. Half the people didn’t think he could play at all. They didn’t think he was good enough to play in the Big East, then he averages 10 [points] and seven [rebounds] in the Big East as a sophomore. That’s very hard and very good. They’ve all improved in different ways. That’s going to bode well for our team because I think our guys are more like brothers.
OFFENSE: RUN, JOHNNIES RUN by Bill San Antonio
he St. John’s men’s basketball team plans to do a lot of running this season. To ignite an offense that finished 13th in the Big East in points per game, 12th in field goal percentage, and 13th in three-point shooting last season, and one that has been near the bottom of the conference in these categories each of the last few years, head coach Norm Roberts decided during the offseason to implement a new offensive system. Roberts wants his team to run. He wants his point guards to push the ball up the floor quickly for more fast-break opportunities and easy baskets, along with added offensive possessions. He wants his team to be the quicker one on the floor, to take advantage of a defense catching its breath. And he wants everyone on his roster to be take part in it. His practices this offseason have included extended conditioning drills and more wind sprints, to prepare them for the long nights of running up and down the hardwood floors of Carnesecca Arena and Madison Square Garden. All of this is fine with his floor general, junior point guard Malik Boothe, who played in this style of offense at Christ the King High School in Queens. “When we all came here, this is the type of game we wanted to play,” Boothe said. “I think we have the horses to really get up and down the court.” Early dividends of the of-
fense for Boothe included a seven-assist outing in the Nov. 13 opener against LIU and the game-winning free throws days later against St. Bonaventure, after he drove the length of the court with under 10 seconds to play and was fouled taking a potential-game winning shot. And the pieces around him are in place. Returning are junior swingmen D.J. Kennedy and Paris Horne—who added 11 pounds of muscle to his frame in order to better prepare himself for drawing contact when driving to the basket. “Paris can do anything. He can run with the best of them— he runs like a track star,” Kennedy said. “Boot camp [the team’s annual week of conditioning] is more of a mental thing, to try to get you mentally ready. I know what it takes to win, so all the little
tough things we have to go through, it all helps in the long run.” But the weight room isn’t enough to increase the numbers on the scoreboard. In order to improve shooting, Roberts figures, you have to take more shots and make the ones you are given. He has assigned multiple players, namely junior forwards Justin Burrell and Sean Evans, several hundred free throws before and after every practice. For the first time in a while, Roberts feels a strength his team possesses is the ability to shoot the basketball well and effectively. Roberts wants his players to take the open shot if they have it, but take smart shots and take what the defense gives them. This way, they can get higher-percentage shots— lay-ups and shots closer to the basket— and improve their overall basketball I.Q. Against
LIU, the team shot close to 60 percent from the field in the first half, but only took four free throws. Roberts attributed this to his players taking notice of all five Blackbird players crashing to the paint and conceding open perimeter shots. “When a team crashes in, you can either jam it in [the paint] and turn it over, or you can take the open shot, and our guys did a good job of that,” Roberts said. One of the team’s greatest strengths entering this season is its depth on the bench. Aiding Kennedy and Horne will be sophomore combo-guard Quincy Roberts, freshman swingman Omari Lawrence and junior transfers Dwight Hardy and Justin Brownlee, who can play multiple positions. “I tell our guys, ‘you may play a fourminute stint, well play your tail off for four
especially in the rigors of the Big East.” Against LIU, Hardy was thrust into relieving Boothe of point guard duties because of early foul trouble. In 25 minutes, he scored 14 points on 6-of-16 shooting from the field. Brownlee was a dominant post player at Chippola College in Mariana, Florida and at City College of San Francisco in California before that, but has lined up on
“I tell our guys, ‘you may play a four-minute stretch, well play your tail off for four minutes and then you’re coming out’” said Roberts.
minutes and then you’re coming out’, and then I’m going to put somebody else in and let them go,” Roberts said. “In other years we haven’t been able to do that. We’ve had to keep guys out there for a longer period, and when you do that, that’s when your defense slides back, your ball-handling slides back,
the wing since suiting up for the Red Storm. The team’s versatility among its offensive weapons was something that was not present in the past, and Roberts is confident that whoever is on the court at any particular moment could bring explosiveness and quick scoring runs on the offensive end.
“We’re all around the same height and we can all do the same things,” Horne said. “That’s what’s good about our team, is that coach can take me out and put in D.J. or Dwight or Justin Brownlee and not miss anything.” By early Januray, the team hopes to have the offensive services of fifth-year senior forward Anthony Mason Jr., who aggravated a hamstring injury suffered in early September. “He’s really a year and about six weeks from playing,” Roberts said. “He hasn’t played with these guys in almost a year. There’s a lot of things he’s going to have to make up and we’re not going to rush him into that. When you’re dealing with a hamstring, you cannot rush that injury.” Plug Mason Jr.— one of the program’s alltime best shooters—into an uptempo offense, and St. John’s could have one of the strongest offensive teams in the Big East in 2009-10. Additional reporting by Johan Acosta
LESS TRAVELED TWO ST. JOHN’S MEN’S BASKETBALL PLAYERS GO THE NON-SCHOLARSHIP ROUTE TO EARN SPOTS ON THE TEAM by Mike Gurnis
here won’t ever be enough scholarships to accommodate all the talented, young basketball players in the world. For the amateur players looking to play college basketball, a Division I scholarship is the goal they work toward
with every shot in the gym and on the blacktop. But there will always be talent and hard work that goes monetarily unrewarded. Enter Kevin Clark and John Taubeneck— two walk-ons for the St. John’s men’s basketball team. They may not get many opportunities to make an impact on games, but their importance transcends box scores. The road to the roster is different for walk-ons, or non-scholarship players. Since they are usually not heavily recruited, walk-ons most often make the team via open tryouts and used as bench players. As a result, a walk-on does not have the luxury of coasting through workouts or scrimmages, because he could be called on at any moment during a game to contribute. “You have to come in and work hard, no matter what,” Clark said. “Whether you’re playing or not, you have to come in with the same enthusiasm every day. You never know what could happen. Players can foul out. Anything is possible. You have to stay positive and have the mentality to jump in and produce for the team when needed.” Clark and Taubeneck, both juniors, did not received very much attention from big colleges during their high school careers and were only courted by Division III programs. During his freshman year, Clark tried out for the St. John’s team but was cut early in the process. Taubeneck, on the other hand, transferred to St. John’s after playing COURTSIDE
one season at Division III Roger Williams University and originally had no intention of playing basketball for the Red Storm. But as a sophomore last fall, Taubeneck decided to try out and ended up making the team along with Clark, who persevered and made the team on his second try. “It was exciting,” Clark said. “[The scholarship players] all knew coach Roberts and were used to what he does, so it was a new experience. But the team pretty much accepted us, and we were able to jump right
“You have to come in and work hard, no matter what,” Clark said. “Whether you’re playing or not, you have to come in with enthusiasm every day. You never know what coiuld happen.”
in. The team very much has a family aspect.” Practice is just a part of the huge time commitment that walk-ons, along with the rest of the team, have to make. Like everyone
else, the walk-ons are present at every practice, every meeting and are on the bench for most games. But one major difference is that walkon players normally don’t see much playing time, nor is there a guarantee that they’ll even dress for games. “We were nervous,” Taubeneck said about the first few practices. “It was hard to keep up with the rest of the team, since they were so used to running the drills. But after a while, you get used to it.” To most on the outside, bringing intensity and going full-force during practice sessions is a major commitment without a big payoff, especially when the players know they may never once see the floor and record minutes. But to Clark and Taubeneck, playing time is not the most important part of the experience. “Our goal is to help the scholarship players get better every day, which also makes us better,” Clark said. “When the team gets a win, it feels like we helped them do it, like we accomplished something as a team. Winning feels the same.” Taubeneck said that the walk-on players match up well with the scholarship players shot-for-shot, but there are other areas where the walk-ons fall short. “Skill-wise, I think we can keep up with them but they have more athleticism,” Taubeneck said. “I’m obviously shorter than most of them, but we’re able to make up [for it] with our energy every day in practice. You have to continuously bring energy every day.” This fall, Clark and Taubeneck did not have to go through the tryout process again and were even able to participate in the team’s off-season practices. Guesly Saint-Aubin, a senior, replaced two walkons who did not return for the 2009-10 season, junior Matt Duell and sophomore Julius Brown. “We try to have fun with it as opposed to taking [not playing] personally,” Taubeneck said. “I love basketball and I’ve always loved this program and being on this team. It’s a big time commitment, but at the end of the day, it’s all worth it.”
WHILE MANY OF LAST YEAR’S STARS ARE EARNING NBA PAYCHECKS, THE CONFERENCE IS STILL THE BEST IN THE COUNTRY by Bill San Antonio
ne would think that after winning the regular season Big East championship and the conference tournament in 2008-09, Louisville would be picked to repeat as champion in the preseason polls—if only as a testament to its successes last year. But the Cardinals are picked to finish fourth in the 2009-10 Big East Preseason Coaches’ Poll, and Villanova is at the top. Last year, the Big East conference was loaded with the best talent it has had in years. The stars— Luke Harangody of Notre Dame, Hasheem Thabeet of Connecticut and Terrence Williams of Louisville— were all on display, and graced television screens and magazine covers for much of the season. Others emerged, such as Jonny Flynn of Syracuse, Jerel McNeal of Marquette and DeJuan Blair of Pittsburgh, who the conference would come to know and fear soon enough. This year, only one of those names— Harangody, who was named the conference’s Preseason Player of the Year for the
second straight year— returns, as much of the conference’s superstars can now be seen sporting NBA uniforms and playing in front of slightly larger crowds these days. But make no mistake: the Big East is still as good as it has ever been. There’s a good reason Villanova was picked by the conference’s head coaches. The Wildcats were better able to replace their superstars as painlessly as possible. They only lost one superstar (Dante Cunningham) and two starters (Cunningham and Dwayne Anderson), while retaining veterans Scottie Reynolds, Corey Fisher, Corey Stokes, Reggie Redding and Antonio Pena. Coming in are three former McDonalds All-Americans in Dominic Cheek, Maalik Wayns and Taylor King, a transfer from Duke University. The Wildcats are no lock to win anything, however. The conference is so good, the preseason rankings may become obsolete by December. West Virginia, picked to finish second, is COURTSIDE
only replacing one starter, Alex Ruoff, and features two players, Da’Sean Butler and Devin Ebanks, on the 2009-10 Preseason All-Big East team. In 35 games as a freshman last year, Ebanks averaged 10.5 points and 7.8 rebounds in 30.2 minutes per game, numbers that are expected to improve tremendously in his sophomore season. No team lost more than Connecticut, who saw the likes of A.J. Price, Jeff Adrien and Thabeet leave after the season ended. The team that was selected as the preseason conference favorite last year, as well as one that reached the Final Four, will be replacing them with three role players from that squad whose roles will dramatically improve. Jerome Dyson will fill Thabeet’s role as a big-time rebounder and defensive player, Stanley Robinson will take over on the wing for Price, and sophomore Kemba Walker will man the the point guard position for Adrien. Another talented recruiting class for head coach Jim Calhoun places the Huskies third in the preseason rankings. Though many of the familiar teams are still at the top, two could make a splash in the conference after suffering heavy losses and bringing in star reinforcements. After losing three starters from 200809, including the team’s soul in Flynn, one would expect 2009-10 to be a rebuilding year for Syracuse. That, however, is not the case— the Orange will simply be highlighting a different facet of their overall game this season. Rather than look to Flynn and the also-departed Eric Devendorf to lead the way every night, the Orange will be increasing the services of for-
30 games and five others who started at least 10. But if there is to be a surprise team in the conference this season, the favorite, coaches assume, is Cincinnati. The team was picked to finish seventh in
But make no mistake: the Big East is still as good as it has ever been.
wards Arinze Onuaku and Rick Jackson, two 6-foot-9 big men who tip the scales at 261 and 240 pounds, respectively. If they wear down, teams will have to be able to stop guard Andy Rautins, a deadly shooter who should see more touches now that Flynn and Devendorf are gone. If there’s one thing Cincinnati did very well last year, it was putting together starting lineups. The Bearcats had one player—Deonta Vauhgn—who started
the conference, just behind Syracuse, after finishing 10th in the final conference standings last year. Along with the four impact players returning—Vaughn, Yancy Gates, Larry Davis and Rashad Bishop— the difference-maker for Cincinnati could be Preseason Freshman of the Year Lance Stephenson, who averaged 28.9 points and 10.2 rebounds as a senior at Lincoln High School, New York City’s premiere amateur basketball powerhouse.
The parity in the conference is so good that Seton Hall and St. John’s, two teams who have come upon tough times in recent years, have been selected to finish 10th and 11th, respectively, due to their depth and experience. Conversely, a team like Marquette, one that needs time to replace its former stars, was picked 12th. But one thing will remain constant in the near future. After the memorable regular season battles, the Big East will return to Madison Square Garden for its postseason tournament. The conference’s contract with MSG was extended for the next five years, meaning more memories, like last year’s six-overtime semifinal match between UConn and Syracuse— the longest game in Big East history— will be made. With the depth and talent this conference boasts, expect those memories to come sooner, rather than later.
2009-10 SCHEDULE Dec. 2 Dec. 5 Dec. 9 Dec. 13 Dec. 20 Dec. 23 Dec. 31 Jan. 3 Jan. 9 Jan. 13 Jan. 17 Jan. 20 Jan. 23 Jan. 28 Feb. 2 Feb. 6 Feb. 11 Feb. 14 Feb. 17 Feb. 20
vs. at vs. vs. vs. vs. at vs. at vs. vs. at vs. at vs. at vs. vs. at at
Stony Brook Duke Georgia Fordham Hofstra Bryant GEORGETOWN PROVIDENCE LOUISVILLE CINCINNATI DEPAUL CONNECTICUT VILLANOVA PITTSBURGH LOUISVILLE RUTGERS WEST VIRGINIA LOUISVILLE notre dame usf
*Big East games in CAPS **Home games in Bold
Team Louisville Connecticut Pittsburgh Villanova Marquette Syracuse West Virginia Providence Notre Dame Cincinnati Seton Hall Georgetown St. John’s USF Rutgers DePaul
Big East 16-2 15-3 15-3 13-5 12-6 11-7 10-8 10-8 8-10 8-10 7-11 7-11 6-12 4-14 2-16 0-18
Overall 31-6 31-5 31-5 30-8 25-10 28-10 23-12 19-14 21-15 18-14 17-15 16-15 16-18 9-22 11-21 9-24
PRESEASON BIG EAST RANKINGS 1. Villanova 2. West Virginia 3. Connecticut 4. Louisville 5. Georgetown 6. Syracuse 7. Cincinnati 8. Notre Dame
Da’Sean Butler and Devin Ebanks lead a West Virginia team that reached the NCAA Tournament for the second consecutive year under head coach Bob Huggins.
The Panthers brought in freshmen Dante Taylor, the fifth McDonalds All-American in program history, and Lamar Patterson, who played in the Jordan Brand Classic, to restock a roster that replaces Sam Young, DeJuan Blair and Levance Fields.
9. Pittsburgh 10. Seton Hall 11. St. John’s 12. Marquette 13. Providence 14. USF 15. Rutgers 16. DePaul COURTSIDE
OUT OF THE
SHADOWS WHILE THE MEN’S TEAM REBUILDS, THE WOMEN’S TEAM IS THE ONE TO WATCH
JUSTIN THRIFT Torch Editorial Page Editor
he St. John’s women’s basketball team is the best team on campus that no one talks about. Sure, they’ve experienced a resurgence of success in recent years, quietly building a reputation as one of the elite teams in the Big East. Yet it seems difficult for them to completely break out from the shadow of the men’s team who, though they have recently fallen on hard times, are steeped in the rich history of college basketball folklore. For the women’s team, this shadow seems to blanket its seasons and send its accomplishments under-the-radar of the average Red Storm hoops fan. The team’s games are poorly attended compared to the men’s team, and the players don’t experience that same celebrity persona that those of the men’s team do around campus. The strange thing about this is that in recent years, the women’s team has enjoyed far more successful seasons and has regularly performed better in postseason play than the men’s team has. Back-to-back appearances in the WNIT and a 2006 NCAA Tournament appearance three years ago form an impressive string of recent postseason life, some-
team’s best season in recent memory. Four senior starters return to lead the team this year, including senior co-captains Joy McCorvey and Kelly McManmon. The return of the 2008-09 Big East Freshman of the Year, Da’Shena Stevens, will also prove to be a key advantage for the team’s depth. In addition to a strong veteran group of talented starters, their recruiting-class was ranked No. 11 nationally by ESPN.com, highlighted by the acquisition of guard Shenneika Smith. Smith represents another valuable addition to the team going forward and is a promising asset for the next four years. And while the players on this year’s team represent one of the best lineups of late, the leadership of head coach Kim Barnes Arico, who returns this season for her eighth year in Queens, is a huge reason for the team’s Big East resurgence. Since coming to St. John’s, Barnes Arico has joined the ranks of coaches like Geno Auriemma of Connecticut and C. Vivian Stringer of Rutgers as cornerstones of Big East women’s hoops. So how can this team possibly be experiencing such a drought in fan support?
The women’s basketball team has all the necessary ingredients to break out this season and establish an individual name for itself.
thing that the men’s team hasn’t done since the early 2000s. Those who follow the women’s basketball team predict similar optimistic results for this season; many even expect this to be the
Considering the success of the women’s basketball team and the obvious talent that it brings to Carnesecca Arena, how can it be that this team is still flying under-the-radar?
This team seems to be up against the only thing left that can make or break a competitive sports team: marketability. The surest, most definite way to increase that marketability is to make a deep NCAA Tournament run this season. A significant run in the tournament would provide them with valuable attention from major media outlets, and boost their campus spotlight to new heights. For many of the players and their fans, this spotlight would be a deserving reward for any tournament success. In last year’s edition of Courtside, senior star Monique McClean told the Torch that her team needed more support, in reference to the poor turnout at Carnesecca Arena during the team’s WNIT appearance. She went on to say that, “The WNIT is good, but the NCAA Tournament, if we would’ve went there, I think a lot more people would’ve come out.” As McClean understood, an appearance in the NCAA Tournament leads to exposure for the team and excitement for the fans. A great appearance in the NCAA Tournament leads to even greater exposure, and, of course, more fans and more attention. Simply put, the deeper the tournament run, the more this team will benefit from their current host of promising prospects. The NCAA Tournament provides exactly the kind of national recognition that this team is starving for right now, and considering everything they have going for them, there seems to be no better time to aim for an impressive run on the national stage. The women’s basketball team has all the necessary ingredients to break out this season and establish an individual name for itself — now they just have to do it.
WOMEN’S BASKETBALL COURTSIDE
READY AND WAITING THE WOMEN’S BASKETBALL TEAM LOADS ITS ROSTER FOR POTENTIAL NCAA TOURNAMENT RUN by Dylan Kitts
uring the 2005-06 season, the St. John’s women’s basketball team made the NCAA tournament for the first time in almost 20 years. After missing the cut during the last three seasons, receiving bids to the WNIT in the last two, the Red Storm hope it will not be another 20 years before they earn
another NCAA Tournament invite. “We lost a bunch of tough games that went down to the wire [last season],” said head coach Kim Barnes Arico. “If we win those close ones [this season], I think we are an NCAA team.” The Red Storm began the 2008-09 season winning 13 of their first 14 games, but then lost five straight conference games, four of them by four points or less. “It was hard letting those slip away,” said senior co-captain guard Kelly McManmon. “It definitely hurt our confidence through the year. If we had won any of those games, we would have had a different year.” At the end of the regular season, the team’s record stood at 17-14, which was enough to get them into the WNIT Tournament where they eventually fell in the third round to Boston College, 68-64. “Words cannot describe how frustrating last year was,” said senior co-captain Joy McCorvey. “I feel it was a learning experience
and we learned from it and moved on from it.” But with a new season comes a clean slate, and Barnes Arico is banking on the team’s four returning starters, McManmon, McCorvey, 2008-09 Big East Freshman of the Year Da’Shena Stevens and junior guard Sky Lindsay to help get the Red Storm to the big dance in March. “I hope to sit here next year to say the experience made a difference in the season,” Barnes Arico said in November. “I think it’s made a difference so far. We’ve only had one scrimmage and I’ve seen a difference in the experience.” The first difference comes with the evolution of Stevens. The 6-foot-1 forward set a new St. John’s freshman scoring record last season with 406 total points while averaging 11.9 points per game, the second highest on the team. She also lead the team with 6.6 rebounds per game and 35 total blocks. She was the only unanimous Big East All-Freshmen team selection last season and with a year of experience under her belt, Stevens is expected to take on a bigger role this season. “She is going to be hard to
stop,” Barnes Arico said. “She shines in practice day in and day out. She’s our go-to player. I’m sure other teams are really going to focus on her, but we are expecting her to have a great season for us.” Stevens was invited to try out for the U-19 USA Basketball team last April. She didn’t make the final roster, but the sophomore said she benefited from playing against some of the best young players in the country. “It was a great experience,” Stevens said. “I met a lot of top players that influenced me to just be a better person. I met a lot of great players. I just think that experience helped [my] whole outlook on basketball and that the sky is the limit— to know anything can be accomplished.” After notching the No. 11 recruiting class by ESPN.com, Barnes Arico expects similar production from her freshmen this year, including guard Shenneika Smith, who the website ranked as its No. 7 overall prospect. “They are all very very talented young ladies,” Barnes Arico said. “If you came in a gym you would see Shanneika and you would say ‘Oh my God. She looks like she can be playing in the WNBA.’ She has that type of talent.”
Smith did not play a game last season for her high school, St. Michael Academy, after a stress-fracture in her left foot was discovered during the preseason. She sat on the sidelines watching her team win the New York State championship last April. “[The injury] just motivated me more to just know I can be playing one game and it can be taken away the next,” Smith said.
“We have more talent, so it’s more intense. Everybody has to work hard if they want to play.” “Practice has been way more competitive than it has ever been,” Linsday said. “I really have to work hard in every single practice.” Lindsay also sees the core of freshmen has a relief. The 5-foot-11 point guard ad-
“It definitely hurt our confidence through the year,” said McManmon. “If we had won any of those games, we would have had a different year.”
“It helped me see that and that I have to work hard all of the time. I have to try and get better and make sure I’m focused all of the time.” The 6-foot-1 guard did not return to playing basketball until the Rose Classic Tournament in late April, where she played with future freshmen teammates Amanda Burakoski, Jennifer Blanding and Nadirah McKenith. The five-player class has already changed the dynamic of practice, creating a more intense environment. “I don’t think the intensity was as good as it was this year,” McCorvey said.
mits she was fatigued toward the end of the season. She said the newcomers will allow the team to play full court more and have a bigger rotation. “The main difference is we have a full bench,” Lindsay said. “We have fresh legs, all of the time. It is a huge help for everybody.” Fresh legs, coupled with a proven veteran group, should provide the right combination this group hopes will earn them an NCAA Tournament bid. “We want to be in the NCAA,” McManmon said. “We’ve been to the WNIT. We don’t want to be there again.”
& QA WITH SKY LINDSAY
THE JUNIOR POINT GUARD DISCUSSES THE WNIT, DA’SHENA STEVENS AND FRESHMEN REINFORCEMENTS
by Yasemin Hizal Torch: With the season upon us, how excited are you to get started? Sky Lindsay: I’m extremely excited, because I’m a junior and I know this year I have to be a bigger leader on the court. I’m playing a much bigger role than I did in the other seasons. This year is an even more special season. It’s a special year. Last year, the team received its second straight bid to the WNIT. Why wasn’t that team ready for an NCAA berth? I think we were ready for the NCAAs, we just fell short at the end. And if we do make it this year, we’re definitely going to be ready. And I have a good feeling that this year just might be that year. What kind of impact did Monique McLean’s suspension have on the program? Monique definitely was one of the best players on the team. However, we had so many other great players that we were able to bounce back and we didn’t let [her situation] affect us too much on the court. We are still friends and we’re still cool with her. She’s still like family. We just knew all of us had to step up even more now that she wasn’t going to be with us on the court. Did you expect Da’Shena Stevens to have the kind of year she had as a freshman last year? I did expect it, because I saw it during practice and during the summertime. I realized that she had a lot of potential and she was great and she was definitely special. I wasn’t surprised when she got [Big East] Rookie of the Year and I’m happy she did it because it put St. John’s on the map even more. Was her success inspirational in any way? It is inspirational because now the other teams all around the world know about us. Now that they know, they’re gunning for us, because they heard about St. John’s. We’re known more now. How has she improved her game from year one into year two? This year she’s like a guard/forward, so what’s special about her is that she’s doing more this year. She can shoot the outside jumpers. She can even shoot threes now. That’s what she’s doing more this year than last year. It makes it harder to guard her. Usually big forwards are guarding her and don’t even want to step out that far to the three-point line to guard her.
She obviously turned out to be a big recruit and this year your recruiting class was ranked No. 11 by ESPN.com. How do you think these players contribute to the team this season? There are definitely a lot of freshmen this year. The good thing is that there are great upperclassmen who are great role models for the underclassmen. They’re fitting in well and they’re a great asset to the team and I’m happy that our coaches did go out and get the good recruits, because we need better recruits for [how much] farther we’re going to get this year. I feel this year will definitely be our year.
Is there a Da’Shena Stevens among them? I think there’s a Da’Shena Stevens among all of them. All of them have the potential to be Rookie of the Year or [make the] All-Freshman team. I see it in all of them. It just depends on who shows it more in the real game. But all of them have the chance. As a point guard, how does it feel to have so many weapons around you? It definitely takes a little bit of pressure off me, because I know I have great shooters on the perimeter and great shooters always make the point guard look good as well. I’ll get a good breather. [We’ll have] more fresh bodies on and off the court. We should always be energized and pressing full-court, always have more fast-paced games. There’s so many of us to sub in and out now. Is there any added pressure on you personally to improve your individual game because the talent pool on your own team is so much deeper? I think more than anyone else, I put pressure on myself, because I want to do better for myself and my school. I want to represent St. John’s as well as my name and my family. I put pressure on myself, but that’s how life is and the people who succeed in life are the ones who take pressure the best. So I try to keep a smile on my face and deal with the pressure the best I can and it doesn’t bother me at all.
I put pressure on myself, but that’s how life is and the people who succeed in life are the ones who take pressure the best.
Will this group be content with another WNIT appearance or is it NCAA or bust? Making any postseason play is always special, even WNIT. Not all the teams get chosen and make the WNIT. So we appreciate just making that every year, but we definitely want to go farther than that. I know I haven’t made it to NCAAs yet, and that’s my goal before I graduate— to see how it feels to play in that. But we’re definitely appreciative of the WNIT. We don’t belittle it and we see it
as a special honor. When people think about the Big East, they think of Rutgers and Connecticut. Is this the year St. John’s really steps up and makes a name for itself ? Well, we’re definitely on the map now, since we had the Rookie of the Year [last year]. Everyone should know about St. John’s now. And now we have such a great recruiting class, the freshmen class that came in. I think that this year is our year and everyone definitely knows about us.
BACK FOR MORE by Steve Sidoti
a’Shena Stevens has seen success on the court at every level of her basketball career. Throughout each of her four years on the varsity team at Trinity Catholic High School in Stamford, Conn., Stevens’ averages in points and rebounds per game increased. She was an all-state selection in each of her four years there and finished her high school career ranked seventh on the all-time state scoring list. She would carve her name into St. John’s basketball history in just her first season with the Red Storm. In 2008-09, Stevens became the first St. John’s player since Ann Marie McNamee in 1983 to receive the Big East Freshman of the Year award, finishing second on the team in scoring (11.9 points per game) and leading the team in rebounding (6.6 per game) and blocked shots (35 total) while recording 24 double-digit scoring performances. Senior forward Joy McCorvey is impressed with Stevens work ethic. “Da’Shena is a remarkable athlete,” said the team’s co-captain. “She’s very competitive, very hard-working, she pushes you in practice and it shows in the game.” But Stevens’ coming out party in the Big East came on Feb. 11, when the Red Storm hosted conference-rival Connecticut. She scored 27 points against the eventual-National Champion Huskies, the most Geno Auriemma’s team would surrender to an individual player all year. “That game was very intense,” Stevens said. “They were the No. 1 team in the nation, so you are always going to start the game with a little more because you want to show what you can do against the best. I think that game showed a lot of what I can do against great competition.” That one performance, according to Stevens, was just a glimpse of what is yet to come in her young career, a thought that will loom in the minds of fellow Big East opponents this year. Last April, Stevens was invited by USA Basketball to participate in the 2009 U-19 National Team trials, competing against 29 of
the best players of her age group in the country. Though she did not make the final roster, she got a feel for what it takes to be the best. “I met a lot of top players that influenced [me] to be a better person,” the Connecticut native said. “That experience just helped my whole outlook on basketball and to know that the sky’s the limit— that anything can be accomplished.” So what does the reigning Big East Freshman of the Year do for an encore? She takes to the gym and gets better. “She really has worked on her game a tremendous amount in the offseason,” said head coach Kim Barnes Arico. “She’s really worked on her conditioning and her game from the time the season ended until the start of this year. She is going to be hard to stop.” With a year of college experience under her belt, as well as the accolades she’s already received, a new dimension to Stevens’ game has emerged— her abilities as a leader. “Since I was a freshman last year and I got a lot of minutes, I talk to those girls and try to push them because I think they will have a great impact on us this year,” she said. “I think I know a little bit more, having been through it last year, so I definitely do talk to them a lot.”
Barnes Arico recognizes how much the new players gravitate toward Stevens. “They all look up to her,” said coach Barnes Arico. “They know the kind of year she had last year and they all want to be the next Da’Shena Stevens and they want to be the next Freshman of the Year in our league. It’s a lot of pressure for a sophomore to have, but that’s the kind of player she is. ” Her teammates agree. “I think Da’Shena is definitely one of our leaders, as she established herself last year,” said senior guard Kelly McManmon. “She’s much more confident this year and I see her just taking off from where she finished last season.” Having such a solid work ethic and respect from other teammates says a lot about the individual and player Stevens can be. It is clear that she wants to succeed and grow in those aspects. “I just think this year I have a better group of surrounding players around me,” said Stevens. “I have a lot of people to go to, so everything won’t be on me. I will be able to have some pretty open shots sometimes and focus some more on rebounding. So I just think with the group around me, it will be better.” COURTSIDE
LOCKED AND RELOADED RED STORM SIGNS ESPN’S NO. 11 NATIONAL RECRUITING CLASS AND NO. 7 OVERALL PLAYER by Matthew Bultman
he St. John’s women’s basketball team landed quite possibly the most talented recruiting class in program history this past summer. This highly-touted group of freshmen was rated as the No. 11 recruiting class in the country and No. 2 in the Big East by ESPN.com. Head coach Kim Barnes Arico can’t help but rave about these five newcomers as the team prepares for the upcoming season. “They are pretty phenomenal,” said Barnes Arico. “They add a lot more depth to this team. You take them along with the addition of our returning players, I’m really excited.” This type of class is especially impressive, considering the Red Storm annually competes with Connecticut and Rutgers in the recruiting world. “UConn is always down here trying
to get Christ the King [high school players] and other local kids,” said Barnes Arico. “You have to be somewhat lucky to get this caliber of players. “ The highlight of the 2009 class is Brooklyn native Shenneika Smith. Smith was the No. 7 overall prospect as well as the No. 2 wing player in the country by ESPN. Scouts have called her “the best pure shooter of the class,” and “a real gem at the next level.” Smith was also one of 19 players from around the country selected to represent the U.S.A. on the U-18 women’s team. Even with all the hype surrounding her high school career, Smith said that she tries not to focus on the attention. She simply wants to go out and play her game. “You can’t pay attention to rankings and recruiting hype,” Smith said. “The rankings are so up and down if I worried about them I wouldn’t be able to
“My coach always told me, ‘You can be an All-American on paper, but it’s about what you do on the court,’” said Smith.
accomplish my goals. My coach always told me, ‘you can be an All-American on paper, but it’s about what you do on the court.’” Barnes Arico expects the young players to have an immediate impact on the team, saying that three freshman, Smith, Nadirah McKennith and Eugeneia McPherson, all have a chance to eventually crack the starting lineup. A fourth, guard Amanda Burakoski, would be included in that mix if not for an injury suffered in early September. Burakoski says that she has been working hard since her injury and is slowly returning to full strength. The final piece of the recruiting class is Jennifer Blanding, who teammates refer to as “Big Love.” The 6-foot-3 center from Massachusetts is not expected to start, but Barnes Arico expects every member of this freshmen class will contribute at some point this season. The initial intensity of Barnes Arico’s practices, however, left some of the newcomers a little overwhelmed. All seem to agree that the intensity of practice has been taken up a few notches
compared to what they are used to. Smith described the practices as “crazy,” while Burakoski said that college basketball is no comparison to high school hoops. “Even the warm-up drill here is like the hardest drill we did in high school,” she said. So how did the Red Storm end up with a group of such talented players? Since coming to St. John’s Barnes Arico has stressed building an early relationship with recruits, a strategy which seemed to be the deciding factor for some of the incoming players. The attraction of New York City as well as playing in a highly-regarded conference such as the Big East also helped attract many of the recruits to St. John’s, most of whom are from the New York area. But the opportunity to play against the best competition every night and help St. John’s gain national attention was something many players did not want to pass up. “I wanted to come here and help build something special,” Smith said. “Besides, who would want to leave New York?” This young group has impressed both coaches and players since they set foot on campus three months ago. Nearly everyone who watches them
play talks about their work ethic and willingness to learn. Sophomore point guard Britney Murphy praised the freshmen for their intensity in practice and for listening to the advice of the upperclassmen as they attempt to prepare them for the grind of their first season in the Big East. Senior forward Joy McCorvey said that this class is the best freshmen class to come in since she has been at St. John’s, saying that they will “do big things” in the next four years. For now though, the focus is developing a team that can contend for a berth in the NCAA Tournament. “We came in here with five strong freshmen and we all came here to do what we need to do in order to help this team make it to the NCAA Tournament,” said McPherson. So don’t expect any of these players to back down from the competition early in their careers. “I think it’s going be pretty tough to guard me,” Smith said. “There are many things I can do that people haven’t seen yet. I think [I’m] going to be a pretty tough matchup.” Added Burakoski, “If I’m on with my three-point shot you have to step up on me but I can take it to the basket too. But my shot is pretty crisp.” Barnes Arico knows that her team
will need that sort of swagger as they will face five teams ranked in the preseason top 25 and annual bouts with No. 1 Connecticut this season. As to how much this team is depending on the true freshmen to contribute, Barnes Arico made it pretty clear. “This season may depend on how the freshmen adjust to life in the Big East,” she said.
BIG EAST PREVIEW
UCONN ONCE AGAIN THE FAVORITE TO PREVAIL IN PRESEASON COACHES POLL
by Katie Beckmann
ver the past decade, the Connecticut Huskies have become a perennial powerhouse in the Big East conference and all of women’s Division I basketball. After going 39-0 last season and winning the Big East conference tournament and the national championship, the Huskies are favored to repeat after being ranked No. 1 in both the Big East and Associated Press preseason polls. Head coach Geno Auriemma leads a team with three preseason All-Big East selections, including junior Maya Moore, the Big East Preseason Player of the Year, senior Tina Charles, sophomore Tiffany Hayes. Senior Kalana Greene, who was named to the All-Big East Honorable Mention team. Notre Dame, picked to finish second in the conference and ranked fourth in the AP preseason poll, on paper proves to be the Huskies’ biggest challenge. The Fighting Irish will rely heavily on the leadership of senior guards Ashley Barlow and Lindsay Schrader. Notre Dame will also look for Skylar Diggins, the Big East Preseason Freshman of the Year, to have an immediate impact on the program. But after the Huskies and Fightin’ Irish, the playing field opens up tremendously. DePaul, Louisville, and Pittsburgh, ranked three, four and five, respectively, in the Preseason Coaches’ Poll, could challenge for the Big East crown as well. DePaul returns four starters, including senior Deirdre Naughton, the Blue Demons’ leading scorer last year, and sophomore Keisha Hampton, who was named to the All-Big East Freshman team last season. Naughton and Hampton were both also named to the preseason All-Big East team. National runner-up Louisville lost NCAA All-American and the top pick in the 2009 WNBA Draft, Angel McCoughtry. Junior guard Deseree’ Byrd and center Keshia Hines are expected to be key starters for the Cardinals this season and hope to build on last season’s 34 wins, a school record. After coming off one of the best seasons in program history, Pittsburgh is looking to make another run at the Sweet 16. The Panthers return with senior Sophronia Sallard and junior Shayla Scott from a 2008-09 team that finished 12-4 in the Big East. Sallard had a solid season last year, averaging 6.6 points and 3.0 rebounds per
game. Scott is the Panthers’ top returning scorer. Rutgers, picked to finish sixth in the Big East, will be another team to watch. C. Vivian Stringer’s squad has posted 11 20-win seasons in the last 14 years, but is without Kia Vaughn and Heather Zurich, who combined for 102 wins over their four-year careers. The Scarlet Knights will also be playing this year without last season’s leading scorer, All-American Epiphanny Prince, who left the team to pursue a professional basketball career overseas. Returning this season is senior Brittany Ray, who was named to the Preseason All-Big East Honorable Mention team, and redshirt sophomore Khadijah Rushdan, who is considered one of the best point guards in the conference. Syracuse, Georgetown, Marquette, South Florida, St. John’s, Villanova, Seton Hall, Providence, and Cincinnati round out the poll.
DOING IT HER WAY
IN EIGHT SEASONS, KIM BARNES ARICO HAS TURNED THE WOMEN’S BASKETBALL PROGRAM FROM LOUSY TO LEGIT by Mike Cunniff
hen Kim Barnes Arico took over the St. John’s women’s basketball program in 2002, her coaching peers thought
she was crazy. After winning a combined 11 games during the 2000-01 and 2001-02 seasons, the Red Storm were the laughingstock of the Big East conference. Yet seven years later, Barnes Arico has successfully turned the program into a potentially deadly team in the conference. The Red Storm have reached postseason play in four of the last five years, highlighted by their NCAA Tournament appearance in 2006. But when she first got to the Queens campus, Barnes Arico didn’t know how long it would take to build a competitive program. Though the team went 8-19 and 10-18 in her first two seasons at the helm, St. John’s didn’t exactly take the conference by storm. In that time, Barnes Arico realized what the program was lacking, and with that realization came the spark that eventually turned St. John’s into one of the most solid teams in the Big East. “They hadn’t been accustomed to winning,” she said. “It’s a tough thing when you’re not used to winning to try to develop that mentality. I think for us at first it was recruiting those types of players into our program – people that came from winning high school programs, people that believed they can really win and really make a difference at St. John’s.” This shift in mentality became apparent during the 2004-05 season, Barnes Arico’s third year with the team. St. John’s started 11-0 and finished 20-11, reaching the WNIT. It was the program’s first 20-win season since 1988 and started a run of success that has continued to the present day. The next year, the team won 22 games and reached the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 18 years. “Those kids all believed that they can make a difference and wanted an opportuni-
“They hadn’t been accustomed to winning,” Barnes Arico said. “It’s a tough thing when you’re not used to winning to try to develop that mentality.”
ty to play at the highest level and play against the best competition,” Barnes Arico recalls. “Those kids stuck together and that’s the team that went to the NCAA Tournament. We really had a special team.” Expectations for the team were at an alltime high going into the 2006-07 season. The Red Storm were ranked as high as No. 16 in preseason polls, and then-junior guard Kia
Wright was tabbed as a preseason All-American. However, the team collapsed under the burden of having to replace three starters from the previous year— guards Greeba Barlow, Tara Walker and forward Danielle Chambers— and struggled to an 8-20 record. But the setback was only temporary. Barnes Arico and her team bounced back COURTSIDE
to earn WNIT bids in both 2007-08 and 2008-09, and have set their goals even higher for 2009-10. “Even though my freshman year [2006-07] was rocky, we have bounced back from that over the past two years,” said senior forward Joy McCorvey. “This year we’re looking really good. We have a great group of freshmen coming in and we have a lot of returners. We’re still coming up and people are really starting to notice us.” Barnes Arico has tried to take advantage of what the New York recruiting scene has to offer. She has five players from New York City on the roster, and nine from the tri-state area. “She has gotten a lot of New York kids,” said sophomore guard Da’Shena Stevens. “I think they bring a lot of energy and more fans to our games.” Her players attribute her success to the honest and open relationships she builds with them. “Even when [the coaching staff ] was recruiting me, they always told me what I could work on to be better,” said freshman guard Nadirah McKenith. “Most recruiters will tell you what you’re good at and what you can do and they won’t push you and tell you what you need to do when you come in.” Stevens agreed, saying, “She’s really open with me and I’m really open with her. I think that relationship that we built before I even came here has really enhanced now that I’m here.”
Junior guard Sky Lindsay said she has also learned from Barnes Arico. “I’d never played for a female coach before,” she said. “Just playing for a female coach is something positive because she understands us on and off the court so we’re able to connect with her better.” But make no mistake: it’s not all milk and cookies with Barnes Arico. “Even though she’s a female she’s very loud,” Lindsay said. “We hear what she’s saying. She communicates well and she definitely pushes us to our limits and she never settles for less. She’ll never allow that.” Stuck in between two powerhouses in the Big East, Connecticut and Rutgers, Barnes Arico has had to carve out a space for St. John’s. “[The Big East] has gotten tougher and tougher every year,” she said. “The first couple years were real tough to be competitive, but since that point we’ve been right in the mix with things.” Entering the 2009-10 season, Barnes Arico is armed with quite possibly her most talented team. This season’s recruiting class was ranked as the 11th-best in the country by ESPN.com and her veteran foundations include senior co-captains, McCorvey and guard Kelly McManmon, and the reigning Big East Freshman of the Year in Stevens. Barnes Arico thinks her team could become a top force in the conference for years to come. “I think some of those programs are tough to compete with because of football, and because financially they have some resources that we don’t have,” she said. “But we were fortunate enough to get the 11th-ranked recruiting class in the country, so why not St. John’s? Why can’t we be the Rutgers or UConn of New York? That’s our goal.”
2009-10 SCHEDULE Dec. 4 Dec. 6 Dec. 10 Dec. 13 Dec. 19 Dec. 20 Dec. 29 Jan. 2 Jan. 5 Jan. 10 Jan. 12 Jan. 16 Jan. 23 Jan. 27 Jan. 30 Feb. 2 Feb. 7 Feb. 10
at at vs. vs. vs. vs. at vs. vs. at vs. at vs. at vs. at at vs.
Columbia North Carolina LIU Rhode Island Texas-Arlington Virginia Tech/UAB Northeastern WEST VIRGINIA marquette cincinnati seton hall depaul usf syracuse providence georgetown seton hall louisville
Feb. 13 Feb. 16 Feb. 24 Feb. 27
at vs. at vs.
connecticut notre dame rutgers villanova
*Big East games in CAPS **Home games in Bold
Team Connecticut Louisville Pittsburgh Villanova Notre Dame DePaul Rutgers USF Marquette Georgetown West Virginia Syracuse St. John’s Providence Seton Hall Cincinnati
Big East 16-0 14-2 12-4 10-6 10-6 10-6 9-7 8-8 7-9 7-9 5-11 5-11 4-12 4-12 4-12 3-13
Overall 39-0 34-5 25-8 19-14 22-9 23-10 21-13 27-10 17-16 20-14 18-15 17-15 19-15 10-20 17-14 14-17
PRESEASON BIG EAST RANKINGS 1. Connecticut 2. Notre Dame 3. DePaul 4. Louisville 5. Pittsburgh 6. Rutgers 7. Syracuse 8. Georgetown
Last year, the Hoyas put together their first 20-win season in more than 10 years and earned a WNIT berth. Seniors Jaleesa Butler and Shanice Fuller return to a team that has stockpiled talent, with seven sophomores and a recruiting class featuring Ta’Shauna “Sugar” Rodgers, a McDonalds All-American.
Ten players return to a Golden Eagles team that finished 1716 last year. Junior guard Angel Robinson, a Preseason All-Big East selection, returns as Marquette’s leading scorer.
9. West Virginia 10. Marquette 11. USF 12. St. John’s 13. Villanova 14. Seton Hall 15. Providence 16. Cincinnati COURTSIDE