There weren’t many compliments flying around for the men’s basketball team during their 5-13 trek through Big East play last season.
Unless, of course, you consider Georgetown’s 74-42 Madison Square Garden spanking of the Storm a compliment.
But the Red Storm of 2008-09 have been paid a compliment already this year, and it came from a big name in the Big East.
“Watch out for St. John’s,” said Louisville head coach Rick Pitino to a group of reporters at last week’s Big East media day at the Garden.
I don’t know if Pitino’s words matter, but I do know he’s been named coach of the year by the SEC three times, the NABC once and Conference-USA once. He won the John Wooden National Coach of the Year in 1987 and the NCAA National Championship in 1996.
In total fairness, Pitino was reiterating what he had heard from UConn coach Jim Calhoun, who had himself gotten the news from some pro scouts who had seen the Johnnies practice.
“Pro scouts!!” Pitino and I had the same reaction.
“They said St. John’s isn’t what everyone thinks they are,” Pitino said of the scouts. “They are young, tenacious, they are very gifted and talented.”
The Red Storm have not lost any conference games yet this year so there is no reason not to run with this.
So as an ode to Pitino, his championship ring and trademark hair-do, here is my hypothesis of what those pro scouts could have been talking about. So, slick back, relax and enjoy.
Watch out for Malik Boothe.
Boothe really started coming into his own as a freshman during the second half of last season and fans’ hope in his maturation as a point guard may not be misplaced. He finished last season with 74 assists and 90 points worth of his own buckets. The statistics will undoubtedly improve simply because Boothe will be seeing a lot more floor and his 569 minutes in ’08 will probably come close to doubling. But, with Eugene Lawrence graduated, it is improvement in the intangible statistics of leaders that will lead to the most success for both Boothe and the Johnnies collectively.
Watch out for Mase.
This is Anthony Mason, Jr.’s last shot to prove himself in the red and white. And you know that after missing eight games with an ankle injury last year, he’s got to be raring to go. He will be both the focal point of the offense and the face of the team. His 14 points per game from last season is the best average of his career, but his is a career that has seen the Big East Tournament only one time.
A future in basketball is a definite possibility for the once-Young Mase, but it will be his performance this year that decides the continent he plays it on.
Watch out for Justin Burrell.
Burrell seemed to be the cream at the top of the freshmen crop last year. His team-leading 324 points, 20 blocks and 178 rebounds may have been something only a basketball mind of Pitino’s stature could have predicted. But now, he’s no surprise; not for the Storm’s coaching staff or to those of opponents’. And on a team thats answer for a disappointing European center is just a taller European center, Burrell’s play down low is more important than can even be expressed. Whether or not Pitino and those pro scouts’ prediction pans out or not, one thing is not up for argument: the 2008-09 Red Storm will be something to watch.