As the country’s best teams touted their freshmen class for the NCAA Tournament, the St. John’s men’s basketball team was doing the same without national tournament action. Larry Wright and Qa’rraan Calhoun, two promising out-of-state freshmen, have become the new faces of St. John’s basketball.
“I think both of them are very important to our future and development as players and leaders over the next couple of years,” coach Norm Roberts said. “I think their talent level is very high.”
In the midst of the March Madness season, it is worth taking a look at St. John’s recent post-season history. Before this season, the team had not made a post-season appearance in the Big East tournament or NIT since 2003, an NCAA appearance since 2002, had not been a Sweet Sixteen or Elite Eight team since 1999, or made a Final Four appearance since 1985. The changes will not come overnight, but one item was knocked off the postseason “to-do” list after the Johnnies appeared in the Big East tournament this season.
With the presence of Wright and Calhoun, St. John’s made some groundbreaking feats: aside from making the post-season, they defeated Providence, breaking a 10-game losing streak to the Friars, and improved the overall quality of the team by adding depth to positions that would have been deficient with the loss of standout players during the course of the season. Now the young Johnnies have tasted that unfamiliar fruit and want more.
When asked about what he wants his legacy to be over the next four years at St. John’s, Wright answered with a smile, “to win the NCAA.”
Wright, the newest point guard on the scene, has developed into a key player for St. John’s. Known for his ability to shoot from long range and his scorer’s mentality, Wright has come through in tight situations during the season for the St. John’s team, most notably hitting a game winning three with 9.9 seconds left in regulation to clinch the win against No. 22/21 Notre Dame on Jan. 23. Wright also scored his career-high 11 points in the Big East tournament first round game against No. 18/19 Marquette.
“I felt Larry got much better defensively [and] I think he did a better job being ready to shoot and being more aggressive,” Roberts said. “I feel he has that ability to score off the dribble as well.”
Freshmen forward Calhoun saw some big time minutes in the second half of the season. He is most commonly known for his dynamic ability with his inside-outside game and explosiveness in the paint on both sides of the floor. His strength off the offensive glass aided the Johnnies in a department where they lacked in years prior. Calhoun often led the team in offensive rebounds, giving the Johnnies second chance points to help win games.
“I thought Qa’rraan was much more aggressive at picking and popping and getting to the offensive glass; we always knew he could run the floor,” Roberts said. “I think he did a much better job at defending and rebounding as the year went on.”
The 6-foot-8 combo forward, who also had a good eye for three-pointers at the top of the key, maintained a strong presence inside when senior teammates were unable to play. He held his own down low after losing Lamont Hamilton in the frontcourt to a knee injury in the first half of the Providence game, becoming the go-to-guy in the paint and scoring a career-high 21 points.
One day, Calhoun wants to be remembered for his scrappy play in every game and that he “played hard and did whatever it (took) to get a victory.”
Both freshmen have proven themselves to be threats on the hardwood in both non-conference and Big East play. They never hesitated to step up, even in their rookie seasons, and be leaders on the court. Although nervous at times when playing high end schools, they quickly overcame those fears to do whatever their team needed them to do on the court.
“I think both took very, very good steps later on in the year, being much more aggressive,” Roberts said.
Looking on to the next season, one could imagine the talent these two will be amassing over the summer workouts. With this just being their freshmen year, one could imagine what kind of impact they could have on the future of St. John’s basketball.
Added Wright: “We’re young, we’re making big things happen at St. John’s and we’ll continue.”