We are less than two months away from the start of year two of the Chris Mullin era at St. John’s. The rebuilding process began in 2015-16 with an 8-24 overall record and a last place finish in the Big East Conference.
The Red Storm were competitive throughout the season, but didn’t have the experience, consistency or continuity to earn victories in one of college basketball’s top conferences.
On the surface, the 2016-17 season seems to be a whole different ball game.
While the Johnnies still lack true college basketball veterans, the talented overflowing on the roster is impressive and promising. Four-star guard Shamorie Ponds will join now-eligible Marcus LoVett in the backcourt, alongside Federico Mussini and Malik Ellison. Yankuba Sima and Kassoum Yakwe are expected to make leaps this season, while Mullin and his staff added one of the top junior college prospects in the nation Bashir Ahmed.
Add in Tennessee transfer Tariq Owens (who is now eligible), German forward Richard Freudenberg, and returnees Amar Alibegovic and Darien Williams, and the Johnnies possess a deep, versatile and athletic roster.
Regardless of the increased talent level, the Johnnies are still in the midst of rebuilding a program that was a perennial NCAA Tournament team in the 80s and a team that hasn’t won a game in the Big Dance since 2000.
In other words, expectations need to be tempered in 2016-17.
The Johnnies are unlikely to reach the NCAA Tournament this season, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t moving in the right direction.
The Red Storm don’t have a single senior on their roster. They have Michigan State transfer Marvin Clark Jr. and Arizona transfer Justin Simon waiting in the wings. Also, the Johnnies had a remarkable summer on the recruiting circuit.
Mullin and company landed a four-star, ESPN top 100 center from Miami, FL, Zach Brown. The 7’0” has had off-court issues, but this is an excellent risk-reward pick up. Brown had offers from Florida, Kansas, Miami and UCLA, amongst others, and probably would have had even more high major offers if it wasn’t for a couple of incidents.
The Red Storm also hosted an Elite Camp for numerous high school prospects who are serious about playing competitive basketball at the next level. 2018 top-10 prospect Naz Reid, 2018 forward Sidney Wilson, 2017 big man Nick Richards and 2017 point guard Isaiah Washington were just some of the top prospects who were in attendance.
The Johnnies also remain in the mix for the top point guard in the class of 2017, Trevon Duval. However, with no scholarships currently available, the Johnnies have shifted their focus to 2018. They extended numerous offers out to some of the top prospects in New York and the country (big men Moses Brown and Bol Bol) to potentially join already committed Boubacar Diakite.
The combination of talent already on the roster and hard work on the recruiting trail bodes well for the St. John’s program.
They may not break out into the national conversation in 2016-17, but with improvements and developments of their current core pieces, the experience of potentially competing for a postseason tournament bid (NIT) this year and more summers like they had in 2016, the Johnnies will be a legitimate force in the Big East in no time.