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

‘Now or Never.’

It was Feb. 4, 2004.

St. John’s had lost its coach (Mike Jarvis was fired in December), its best player (Willie Shaw was expelled before the season started after being caught smoking marijuana with former St. John’s star Marcus Hatten), and thus, its identity.
And then on Feb. 5, it got one.

A 38-year-old Queens woman accused six St. John’s basketball players of reneging on a money-for-sex agreement and then raping her in a Pittsburgh strip club on Feb. 4. The incident lead to Grady Reynolds’ expulsion, Elijah Ingraham’s transfer, Abe Keita’s suspension and eventual accusation that a St. John’s basketball affiliate slipped him some extra cash (one that left St. John’s suspended from playoff eligibility for two years), and multiple-game suspensions for three others.

The St. John’s basketball program and St. John’s University got itself an identity: as a fledgling institution with a damaged moral fiber.

Remaining from those dark days are the new identifying elements of the men’s basketball program, an All-Big-East scoring tandem that had to learn quickly what it meant to be leaders.

“We don’t talk about that,” said senior forward Lamont Hamilton, who was suspended three games after the incident. “We leave that in the past and just look forward.”

Hamilton and Daryll Hill, both budding freshmen in 2004, came to be the faces of St. John’s basketball soon after one of the University’s worst seasons in school history. The 6-21 club improved to 9-18 in 2004-05, as Kevin Clark (Jarvis’ interim replacement) was replaced by current head coach Norm Roberts.

“I think both guys have matured quite a bit,” Roberts said of the then young co-captains. “Their approach to practice, their approach to doing things, their approach to being leaders with the team-those things. I think they both have improved on those things. A lot of that has to do with what St. John’s does, the foundation they build.”

And that very foundation that Roberts speaks of is reflective of Hill and Hamilton’s cohesiveness, leadership, and transformation from budding young guns to crafty, experienced veterans.

“We’ve been really close. Every year we’ve gotten closer and closer. We’re like brothers,” Hamilton said. “This is our last year, so we have to leave it all on the court. It’s now or never.”

For Hill, who missed much of 2005-06 with knee injuries, the road back to now has been long and hard and has transformed him into a different, more team oriented player.

“Personally, I don’t need to score that much. Less scoring, more assists, less turnovers, more winning,” Hill said of his expectations for this season. “We have a lot of shooters, more scorers, so now I can show my point guard role instead scoring as much.”

This is a different Daryll than the one that St. John’s banked its future on just two years ago. This is a different Daryll than the one that would break ankles en route to dropping 20 a night, leading the Big East in scoring in 2004-05. This is a different Daryll because this is a different team with different players.

While Hill, perhaps still the most recognizable face in St. John’s basketball, works on getting back to where he once was, Hamilton will be working to justify the accolades (All- Big East selection and preseason Wooden Award top 50 candidate) he has already received going into this season.

In the last year of their four-year journey through St. John’s, both Hill and Hamilton hope to right the ship that they now steer and are doing what they can to avoid another Feb. 4, 2004.

“We definitely make sure that the young guys are going in the right direction and focus on basketball,” Hamilton said.

Their leadership has not gone unnoticed.

“They do a very good job at what they do,” said junior transfer Avery Patterson. “They make everyone feel at home, feel comfortable. They make us feel like we’re all a family. Nothing comes before the team and I think they do a good job with that.

We can’t have better guys than those two. They’re like big brothers for the team.”

For these two brothers, it is obviously imperative to return to a scene that was once the Red Storm’s home: the Big East tournament.

“I can’t leave St. John’s with a sports management degree without playing in the Big East tournament,” Hamilton said.

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