Expectations are perhaps higher than ever for the newcomers to this year’s men’s basketball team, and for good reason. A recruiting class ranked No. 5 overall in the nation by HoopScoop.com will do that.
Being surrounded by such high hopes and speculation, however, has not intimidated Derwin Kitchen, Avery Patterson, Larry Wright, Qa’rraan Calhoun and Rob Thomas. The new players (all except for Patterson in their first year of college) have embraced the fact that they could be the beginning of a new era in St. John’s basketball lore, and coach Norm Roberts seems equally confident.
“I think our talent level is better [than in previous years],” Roberts said of the team’s newcomers. “We’ve got more creative guys.”
Creativity is one of the traits that stands out in freshman guard Larry Wright, Roberts said.
“He’s a guy that can score off the bounce,” he said. “He’s very athletic.”
Wright, who came to St. John’s from Saginaw, Mich., said that he hopes to bring “a lot of energy” to the team, using his shooting ability to help the team immediately.
When asked how he chose St. John’s after being recruited by such college basketball powerhouses as Kentucky and George Washington, Wright explained that Roberts was largely the difference maker.
“Norm is the type of guy I can go to when I have an issue… I interact well with him,” he said. He also noted the team itself as a large factor in his choice.
“When I visited, they treated me like I was already a part of the team, like family,” Wright said.
This sentiment was echoed by Qa’rraan Calhoun, a forward originally from Hazlet, NJ, who said his visit to St. John’s made a much greater impression on him than did his trips to schools like Connecticut and Arizona.
“The players made me feel like I was one of them,” he said.Roberts called Calhoun “a big, big part of what we’re doing,” explaining that his ability to play away from the basket and shoot from three-point range make him an important part of the team even at this young age. “[He] has a big upside,” he said.
Calhoun was more modest about what he hopes to bring to the team, describing his role as “just getting in there when coach wants me to, doing what needs to be done.”
Calhoun’s modesty was contrasted, however, by the confidence of guard Derwin Kitchen.
“I’m versatile,” said Kitchen, who was recruited by Roberts out of Jacksonville, Fla. “They recruited me to play all three positions, so I’m going to play it all.”
Indeed, Roberts confirmed that Kitchen’s versatility will be an asset to the Red Storm.
“He’s a creator… he can play the one, two or thee,” Roberts said. “He can really handle the basketball.”
He added that although Kitchen may not lead the team in points, he believes that he will more than make up for it with his ability to rebound and pass. “He’s the type of guy that can have a total impact on the whole game,” Roberts said.
One of the most intriguing new parts of the Red Storm may be junior transfer Avery Patterson. Patterson, a shooting guard, played two years at Iowa Western Community College, where he earned a reputation for his ability to shoot three-pointers. Although he was one of the most highly sought-after junior college transfers in the nation, Patterson said that he chose St. John’s because, “I wanted to feel like I’m at home, comfortable,” a quality that he said he found more with Norm Roberts and the Johnnies than anywhere else.
He was also impressed by the resiliency that he saw in last year’s squad.
“They fought hard every night,” Patterson said.
When asked about what he will bring to the team, Patterson said that he will bring a workman’s mentality to games, similar to that of Calhoun.
“I’m going to play hard every night, that’s what we need,” he said. “If everyone plays their role, we’re going to be alright.”
As Patterson was speaking, Director of Athletic Communications Mark Fratto walked by, displaying an Atlantic Coast Conference Championship ring that he got while working for the University of Maryland.
“Don’t worry,” Patterson responded, “we’ll get ours.”
This type of confidence seems to pervade the young group of players
“We’re going to be very sneaky this year,” Calhoun said, while Wright asserted that he believes the Red Storm can be “more the ‘team to beat.'”
This confidence probably stems largely from the good chemistry that the players say they have already built up. All four of the players said that they are benefiting from the leadership of veterans like Lamont Hamilton, Darryl Hill and Eugene Lawrence, and Roberts said that there is a good amount of healthy competition among the young players.
“Guys are being challenged, which I think is very important,” Roberts said.
According to Patterson, however, the real competition is not between the newcomers.
“We’re trying to push the starters,” Patterson said, “get them going.”
Roberts was reluctant to pick a favorite from the young crop of players, or predict who will log the most playing time, saying they all have an equal chance. However, his mood when discussing them was indisputably a positive one.
“I feel good about the future of St. John’s basketball,” Roberts said.