The Independent Student Newspaper of St. John's University

The Torch

The Independent Student Newspaper of St. John's University

The Torch

The Independent Student Newspaper of St. John's University

The Torch

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Courtside: Handford ready to take turn at the helm

Four years ago St. John’s women’s basketball head coach Joe Tartamella recruited an athletic and versatile guard from Shabazz High School in Newark, N.J. That player was Aliyyah Handford and, today, the 5’9” guard stands on the cusp of being the greatest player to ever step on the court for St. John’s.

The expectations of Handford are at an all-time high this season as the senior guard is coming off her best collegiate season and one of the best seasons in program history. During her junior campaign she scored 655 points – the second highest season total in program history – and averaged a Big East leading 19.3 points per game. Combine those impressive numbers with the fact that Handford’s game only improved in the offseason and it’s clear why she garnered Big East Preseason Player of the Year honors.

“I don’t think of it as any added pressure because no matter what the situation is, I am going to go out there and perform,” Handford said of the accolade. “I  want to come out and play as strong and as best as I possibly can. A lot of this honor has been because of my teammates and how they have helped me reach this point. I’m very thankful [for] my teammates.”

Tartamella praised Handford’s growth, saying, “Aliyyah is regarded as one of the best guards in the country and we expect her to continue to show why she is so highly respected,” Tartamella said.  “Her dedication in the offseason to improving her game, specifically from the outside, has been apparent throughout the summer and beginning of practice. I’m very proud of her growth and expect her to have her best year yet.”

Handford currently sits at 1,514 points in her career and, if this season goes as expected for the star guard, she will almost certainly become the program’s all-time points leader and the first member of the 2,000 point club in program history, surpassing Ling-Ling Hou’s (1977-80) program record of 1,950 points. If Handford does reach the 2,000 point plateau she will join elite company as only the fourth player in both the men’s and women’s programs to reach the milestone. She would join the likes of Chris Mullin, Malik Sealy, and D’Angelo Harrison.

Handford’s growth throughout the past three years has brought her into a period where she is now the face of the program. Three years ago she was the new girl looking up to Briana Brown, Shenneika Smith, Nadirah McKenith, Eugeneia McPherson and Amber Thompson. Handford now finds herself as the new general on the court, shaping the younger players on the team to follow in the footsteps that she is currently following.

“I really feel like since [Crystal Simmons’] freshman year she learned a lot just off me and Danaejah and us helping her out and building her confidence up,” Handford said. “She’s going to play a big role this year. I love what she’s doing at practice… I feel like she’s just becoming a better player every day.”

It’s typical for star athletes to fall into the trap of placing the entire scoring burden on their shoulders, and thus perform below expectations. Tartamella, since his first season as head coach, has stressed a selfless and supporting environment. Handford’s brilliant play will be on display as the season progresses, but her teammates reassure that the burden is theirs to share and will carry the weight of it when she might be off her game.

“The best part about playing with her is that every single night I know she is going to come out hard and give it her all,” senior guard Danaejah Grant said. “Also when’s she’s not playing well I know I can help her out, as can everyone else on the team, and the same goes with me if I am not playing my best.”

Tartamella echoed Grant’s sentiments.

“…I think she also knows she needs her teammates and she knows that she wants to win,” he said. “And our goal becomes one thing, as much as the individual accolades for her are a good thing, we want to win a Big East Championship.”

Handford is the type of player that all coaches want running the point for them because night in and night out she will attack the basket with reckless abandon and do anything to help the team win. To her,  all of the  personal accolades won’t mean much unless the Red Storm make their mark in both the Big East and the NCAA Tournament. This all starts and goes through the backcourt of Handford and Grant, who make up one of the most dangerous tandems in the nation.

“Me and Danaejah try to come into practice with a lot of energy. We’re just trying to get our freshmen in a better position of how to play college ball,” Handford said. “We’ve been working hard with them. When they don’t have confidence in practice we pick them right up.  But we all get along so it’s been great, the practices have been great. We’re just feeling good about this year”

Handford’s role in her earlier years with the Red Storm was as the quiet playmaker of the team; igniting a spark within her peers, but was more soft-spoken and introspective than her teammates. The tenacity is still there today, but now it’s accompanied by a more vocally expressive Handford.

“When you watch Aliyyah [Handford] play and you watch how hard she plays, I think that speaks for itself,” Tartamella said. “She’s one that’s been a little more internal than others as far as her voice is concerned, so she’s worked on that since she was a freshman, but she’s really grown.”

Tartamella’s first official recruit as head coach, Aliyyah Handford was a fiery prospect with loads of potential. In the span of their three years together at St. John’s, Handford has become the offensive stalwart and floor general of a program that has made an NCAA Tournament run in two of her three years as a Johnny.

“When she was a freshman, there was not a kid on the floor that played harder than her every day in practice. As you get older as a player, certainly you’ve been through a couple more battles and been through some things that may not allow you to go as hard every day, but she hasn’t stopped,” Tartamella said. “So when you can win practice consistently every day for three years, that makes you pretty special.”

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Stephen Zitolo, Sports Editor
Sports Editor:
Stephen is a senior Journalism major who intends for the sports section to continue to be the number one source for Red Storm sports in the St. John's community. He intends to increase readership of the section and the newspaper as a whole by including more human interest stories in the section.
Kyle Fitzgerald, Managing Editor
Managing Editor: Kyle is a senior Sports Management major who intends to create the paper to be a source of knowledge that students can rely on as an outlet that celebrates the University's many characteristics.
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