Five burning basketball questions

The 2009-10 basketball season at St. John’s University begins Friday, when the men’s team opens its
season against LIU, and Sunday, when the women’s team takes on Stony Brook on the road.

Both teams have some very intriguing storylines heading into another historic year of basketball at St. John’s. Here are five of them:

1) Is the 2007-08 recruiting class ready to return the men’s program to past glory?

This group of seven juniors – Malik Boothe, Justin Burrell, Dele Coker, Sean Evans, Paris Horne, D.J. Kennedy and Rob Thomas – is a year older, and these guys are now upperclassmen. They’ve been through two years of Big East
conference play, and coaches and
players around the league have raved about the talent they possess. Is this team ready – and capable – of getting the men’s basketball team back into the top 10 in the conference standings? This season, particularly non-conference games against St. Bonaventure, Siena, Temple and Duke, will provide a good litmus test for just how far this group can carry the program.

2) Is the women’s team NCAA Tournament-ready?

Four starters return to the team, including Da’Shena Stevens, the 2008-09 Big East Player of the Year;
senior-co-captains Joy McCorvey and Kelly McManmon; and junior point guard Sky Lindsay. Combine that with a
talented freshman class that was ranked No. 7 nationally by ESPN, and this team might be the best team that Head Coach Kim Barnes Arico has had in her tenure at St. John’s. The expectations for this team are the highest they’ve ever been, and rightly so. Without a few stumbles midway through last season, the team played well enough to reach the NCAA Tournament. With even more talent, and a chip on its shoulder from the NCAA snub, this team could be a very dangerous contender in the
Big East conference.

3) How will the up-tempo-style offense impact the men’s team?
This new style of offense the men’s basketball team looks to implement this year will constantly keep fresh legs on the court so the team can score quickly by pushing the ball up the floor. Think Villanova, circa 2008-09. However, it is still a very new system to implement to a team in the few months that the team had to practice, and though it has been a fairly simple transition, only time will tell as to how successful it will be once the Red Storm take on teams wearing
different uniforms.

4) How does Mase fit?
He’s battled two season-ending
injuries and will now be out until at least mid-December nursing a re-injured
hamstring, according to men’s Head Coach Norm Roberts (see Stormcast).
Anthony Mason Jr. wants to leave a
positive legacy at St. John’s and move on to bigger and better things in his
basketball career, but has the men’s
program passed him by? Mason Jr. will have to adjust to the new offense once he
returns. In addition, Mason Jr. hasn’t played significant basketball in over
two years; how will he be able to
handle the rigors of a full conference
season within the top conference in
college basketball?

5) What do Da’Shena Stevens and Paris Horne do for encores?
Stevens was second on the women’s team in scoring and led the team in
rebounds per game (6.6) and blocks (35), en route to winning the Big East Freshman of the Year award – something a St. John’s player had not done in 26 years. Horne stepped in for an injured Mason Jr. off the bench to lead the men’s team in scoring (14.6 points per game) and bring an electrifying quality to an anemic offense (13th in scoring offense, Big East).

Stevens was invited to the U-19 Team USA trials in April, and Horne bulked up, adding eleven pounds to his frame. With the return of familiar faces, in
addition to the talented new ones, what is to be expected of Stevens? In a new style of offense, albeit one where he may not always be on the floor, how does Horne build upon past success?