COURTSIDE: A Star is Born

Akina Wellere is the unquestioned leader for a playoff-hungry Red Storm squad


Torch Photo/Amanda Negretti

Nick McCreven, Staff Writer

The St. John’s women’s basketball team has been very successful over the past half-decade. Making two Big East championship games, five Big East semifinal games, three NCAA tournament appearances and two WNIT tournament appearances in the past five years has truly been a testament to both Head Coach Joe Tartamella’s coaching and the skill level of the players in the program.

In Tartamella’s tenure, he’s seen four players move up to the professional level and be drafted by the WNBA. Nadirah McKenith and Shenneika Smith were drafted in 2013 while Aliyyah Handford and Danaejah Grant were selected in 2016. The talent level of players who have called Carnesecca Arena and Madison Square Garden home over the past few years has been tremendous for this team.

Last season, highly skilled seniors Aaliyah Lewis and Jade Walker dominated in the Big East, averaging 11.1 and 13.5 points per game, respectively. While a lot of the attention was on the speedy point guard and versatile forward, another player was growing into the next 5-foot-11 star of the team in the meantime.

Akina Wellere, the guard/forward from Chicago, enters her junior year as the focal point of the offense and the expected star player for the Red Storm.

“Wellere is going to really have to step into that role [of Jade Walker’s offensive replacement] and become a consistent scorer,” Tartamella said at St. John’s Media Day.

After a freshman year where she played more of a minor role in the offense, averaging only 5.0 points per game on 37.7 percent shooting, Wellere had a very impactful year last season. She started all 33 games, ranked second on the team in scoring with 11.3 points per game on 43 percent shooting, grabbed 3.6 boards per game and knocked down 49 three pointers on the year at a scorching hot 45.8 percent three point shooting clip which led the Big East.

While the two seniors were the focal points last season, Wellere was growing into a highly potent
offensive threat. Although she was named to the Big East Weekly Honor Roll three times last year, she was not given All-Big East honors at the end of the season.

Now, with Lewis and Walker gone, Wellere has already been recognized as a preseason All-Big East player. The team takes pride in its strong three point shooting, spreading the offense and allowing the forwards to bully their way to the rim.

It’s difficult to imagine that Wellere is not the biggest part of the Red Storm’s offensive mindset. She will be one of the toughest guards on the perimeter in the entire country for defenders this coming season and Tartamella and the rest of the Johnnies know that and will be able to use it to
their advantage.

Her skillset will make it much easier for her teammates to score. Wellere also has become a vocal leader for the team as she becomes one of the more experienced members of the squad.

“Right now we just have to take it in practice day by day. My role is going to be the same as it has been throughout all my time being here, so the only thing I would see my teammates expecting from me, my coaches expecting from me, is me growing as a leader,” Wellere said at St. John’s Media Day. “So I feel like everyday in practice, we’re put in situations where we’re going to do what’s expected of us when the season comes, so I feel like it’ll come easier when the season arrives.”  

This group will look to their rising star for leadership as well as offensive production this year. The Red Storm have high expectations and some of the most vital aspects of their success will be their defense, outside shooting and also leadership, which along with seniors Maya Singleton and Imani Littleton starts and ends with Akina Wellere.