Tuesday, October 16, 2018

St. John's Has High Expectations Entering 2018-19 Season

St. John's Head Coach Chris Mullin. Photo by Jason Schott.

The St. John's Red Storm are entering this 2018-19 campaign with the highest expectations they have had in the four years Chris Mullin has been their head coach.

“We’ve got a lot of offensive players, we do," Mullin said at Tuesday's Media Day at Carnesecca Arena. "Guys that have scored pretty big in college basketball ... Five guys on the court that have to share the ball, gotta set screens, be unselfish. I think a big factor for us is going to be on the defensive end. Being able to force turnovers and increase possessions so everyone gets a piece of the pie.”

Mullin's message to the fans for the upcoming season is that he's “Looking forward to a great season. Let’s pack this place out, let’s pack the Garden and give you something to cheer about.”

St. John's is led by junior guard Shamorie Ponds, who returned to the school after testing the NBA Draft waters, become a bona fide superstar last February when he led St. John's to wins over Duke and eventual national champion Villanova.

Ponds was a First Team All-Big East selection, as he led the Big East and ranked 18th nationally in scoring with 21.6 points per game. He set the sophomore scoring record and finished eighth on the program's single-season scoring list with 647 points. He recorded six 30-point performances and poured in 20 or more points 16 times. 
He ranked fifth in the Big East with 4.7 assists per game.

Ponds said that he expects “just to win" this season, while adding, "I feel like I received some accolades [last year], but I feel like I didn’t showcase my winning and that’s what a lot of people want to see. See me lead the team and be a winner.”

Shamorie Ponds at Media Day. Photo by Vincent Dusovic.

Mullin said of having Ponds back, “I’m so happy. I love Shamorie. Shamorie’s one of those low-maintenance, easy-going kids. I see a lot of myself in him as far as the attitude. He’s just a joy to be around. He’s a fun kid. I love having him around. Obviously as a player, yeah, but I just love hanging with him. He’s a really nice guy, his family is great to have around. So yeah from that standpoint, I’m really happy and I want him to fulfill his dream.”

Marvin Clark II, a red-shirt senior forward, started all 33 games last season, and averaged 12.5 points and 4.7 rebounds per game. He ranked 10th in the Big East shooting 41.1 percent (65-158) from three-point range. He scored in double-figures 24 times, including three times when he racked up 20+ points.

Justin Simon, a red-shirt junior guard, also started all 33 games last season, and he averaged 12.2 points per game. He led the team in rebounding, with 7.1 rebounds per game, assists (2.1 apg), and steals (2.5 spg). He ranked second in the Big East in assists, fifth in rebounding, and first in steals.

Last Friday, St. John's got a major lift, as junior transfer Mustapha Heron has been granted a legislative relief waiver by the NCAA and will be immediately eligible for the Red Storm this season.
The NCAA has allowed Heron, who played for Auburn for two seasons, to forego the mandated academic year in residence to be closer to his mother, Talia, who has been suffering from severe health issues.

Heron, already a 1,000-point scorer, will don the red and white following two standout seasons at Auburn, where he earned Associated Press Second Team All-SEC honors last year for the SEC Regular Season Champions.

Heron said of how he felt when he learned that he would be eligible this season, “I didn’t know it was coming. It was definitely a sigh of relief. I’m just ready to get started and go to war with my guys and hopefully this outcome is good.

“I waited the whole summer for it, but we had practice and stuff during the summer so I just went to practice as if I was playing. As if I was cleared already. I didn’t want to get to this point in the season and just be getting ready to learn plays and stuff, so we came in with the idea like I’m playing right away. … I’m ready as if I was told from day one that I was able to play.”

Mullin said of the impact Heron can have, “I think he’s another player that defenses have to really, really account for and pretty much guard him pretty closely. So we can put guys on the court at every position that can really score the ball. We can probably put a lineup out there of five guys that can get off the dribble, make a three. So when you have lineups like that it’s going to open up opportunities, open up the floor to spacing and I think we’ll be better. You know we put guys in the post, I think they’ll have room to operate and make plays for their teammates. From a natural progression over the last few years we’ve gotten better in a lot of those areas, and they’ve gotten better as we’ve gotten better players.”

Simon said of what his reaction was when he heard that Heron would be immediately eligible this season, “Nothing but excitement. I’m really excited for the season. I can’t wait for our first game to get everyone out there. We have a lot of talent, so adding a guy like him, it’s tremendous and I’m just looking forward it.”

Heron, a 6-foot-5 guard, averaged 16.4 points, 5.3 rebounds, 1.2 steals and 0.9 assists per game, helping Auburn compile a record of 26-8 and an appearance in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. 
He shot 43.9 percent from the floor, 33.1 percent from three-point range and 80.3 percent from the free-throw line, finishing sixth in the SEC in scoring and reaching double figures 29 times. The Sacred Heart High School product tallied a pair of double-doubles, eight 20-point efforts and one 30-point showing while averaging 17.1 points per game during conference action. He was twice named the SEC Player of the Week.

Heron said of taking a leadership role with his new team, “I think it’s all in your actions. I try to pride myself on being one of the hardest workers when I step into any type of arena or any type of setting, so I don’t think it’s hard.”

On this St. John's team he just joined, Heron said, “I think we’ve got a lot of talent here. I think we have a chance to go really deep and make deep runs in our conference and in the national tournament. I think basketball is moving more towards a positionless type of game and I think that we fit that mold perfectly.”

Ponds said of adding Heron to this strong nucleus, “I feel like we both have a lot to prove, but we definitely are going to show the world what they want to see. We’re confident and we’re working every day.”

Photo by Jason Schott.

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