Men’s preview

Throughout the 2007-08 basketball season, St. John’s will look back and honor 100 years of basketball history. Fans will remember their all-time greats – Chris Mullin, Joe Lapchick, Lou Carnesecca, and many others.

While the past will be celebrated, though, nothing is more important to today’s fans than today’s team. And this present squad are already working hard to ensure that Johnnies fans do not have to feel too nostalgic.

Head coach Norm Roberts enters his third full season at St. John’s and again, he is bringing a promising group of freshmen with him. The recruiting class features forwards Dele Coker and Justin Burrell, guards D.J. Kennedy and Paris Horne, and some local flavor with Malik Boothe (Christ the King H.S.) and Mike Cavataio (St. Francis Prep H.S.).

“As young guys go, they’ve all stepped up at different times,” Roberts said about the group. “They’ve all played well at different times and given us different things. You’re gonna’ see them all out there.”

Standing at 6-foot-10, Coker gives the Red Storm a big man up front, potentially replacing some of the production Lamont Hamilton provided over the past four seasons. Bronx-born Burrell is a promising forward expected to bring toughness and energy to the St. John’s attack.

Kennedy brings athleticism to an increasingly athletic squad. Cavataio has been described by Roberts as “knowing how to play the game.” Horne provides the Storm with backcourt depth behind the likes of captain Eugene Lawrence and fellow freshman Boothe.

With impact freshmen in positions all over the court, the veterans have stepped up to become leaders.

“[Anthony] Mason and myself will have big roles this year, probably bigger than we ever had,” Lawrence said. “Guys will look to us to step up and I think we’re ready for the challenge.”

Mason agrees and thinks the transition to working with this new group will be smooth. “The freshmen are young but they have heart,” he said. “They played hard in the off-season and worked hard in the summer. They’re not coming in as freshman. They’re coming in as NCAA players.”

The leaders also realize they have their own games to work on. Lawrence lost weight over the offseason, while Mason put some on by working out.

“I think losing weight helped me more with my explosiveness,” Lawrence said.

“…The older guys have done a great job over the summer getting stronger – some losing weight, some gaining weight,” Roberts said. “They’re all working on their games to improve.”

Along with Lawrence and Mason, impact returnees include sophomore Larry Wright, who upped his game as the season progressed last year, and junior center Tomas Jasiulionis.

The Storm may get a mid-season boost with the addition of Rob Thomas, a redshirt freshman, who has been sidelined by a knee injury.

The highly touted 2006-07 recruiting class turned out to be a relative dud for St. John’s.

Derwin Kitchen was academically ineligible, Qa’rraan Calhoun and Avery Patterson both transferred during the off-season despite productive seasons, and Thomas did not play. This year’s similarly promising class will have to be more productive as a whole for St. John’s to build on the progress made over the past years.

With the help of the veterans on the team, Mason is confident they can do it.

“We’ve worked hard in the off-season,” he said. “In practice we’re more aware of ourselves. I expect us to be a contender in the Big East. I expect us to play as well as we can play and go further than we did last year.