The Freshmen Sensations

After Erick Barkley, Lavor Postell, Bootsy Thornton and Chudney Gray left St. John’s last season, many experts said that the Red Storm would have to suffer the pains of a rebuilding season. They looked favorably upon Mike Jarvis’ recruiting efforts, which brought in Omar Cook, Willie Shaw, Kyle Cuffe and Darius Miles, who decided to jump to the NBA when he found out he wouldn’t have been academically eligible.

Even though the team is struggling, with a strong finish it could make a postseason tourney. The squad will be led by Cook, Shaw, and Cuffe. Each has brought a special dimension to the team. Cook was lauded as the best passer in the history of New York City high school basketball. Shaw’s ability to consistently hit the outside shot has opened the inside for the big men and Cook. Cuffe’s offense in the low post has helped to take the offensive burden off Anthony Glover.

With each passing game, Cook demonstrates why he is mentioned in the same breath as Cousy, Anderson, Jackson, Archibald and other great New York City point guards. His dazzling ball-handling skills foreshadow a jaw-dropping pass that often leads to an assist. Currently, Cook is second in the nation in assists with 8.9, and has a chance to be the first freshman to lead the nation in assists.

Cook is the poster boy for this edition of the Red Storm, and right or wrong, he receives the praise when it does well and the criticism when it struggles. When the Red Storm was going through its December funk, many in the local media criticized Cook for shooting too much and not passing enough, a criticism some deemed unfair. “People were putting a lot of pressure on us and we had to take time and be patient,” Cook said.

Shaw came to St. John’s from John F. Kennedy High in the Bronx. He was expected to come off the bench and replace Alpha Bangura at shooting guard. But, spectacular performances in practices and in games found Bangura coming off the bench to replace Shaw. One of the questions about this team was who would replace the outside shooting of Thorton. Shaw’s ability to consistently connect from long distance has quieted those questions. He is in the Top 10 in the Big East in scoring and three-point shooting.
The basketball adages for shooters, “let shooters shoot” and “the next one will fall in,” lives in Shaw. “I just came out and played as hard as I can, and a lot of people didn’t expect that I would do the things that I was going to do,” Shaw said.

Of the three freshmen who came to St. John’s this season, Cuffe arrived with the least amount of media attention. He may turn out to be the most important. With Reggie Jessie graduating this year and Glover next year, Cuffe will become Mike Jarvis’ offensive threat on the low post.

Defensively, Cuffe has been inconsistent, and it forced Jarvis to say so after the win against Miami, “When that kid learns how to play or really starts to enjoy defense a bit more, he is going to be awfully good.”

Cuffe recognizes that he needs to improve his defense. “I know that I’m not the best defensive player in the world, but I’m making an attempt to learn to play defense. I’m just giving him [Jarvis] what he wants. He wants more defense, I’m giving more defense,” said Cuffe.

Cook, Shaw, and Cuffe have come in as freshmen and meshed with the veterans to create an exciting team. They are the present and future rolled into one.