Thursday, October 25, 2018

St. John's In Top Half Of Big East Preseason Coaches' Poll

Big East coaches, including SJU's Chris Mullin, (3rd from l.). Photo by Jason Schott.

The Big East Conference coaches picked St. John’s to finish fourth in their preseason poll, which was released on Thursday morning, and it marked the first time in four years that the Red Storm was selected in the top half of the ten-team conference.

Villanova, the defending national champion, was predicted to repeat as the Big East’s champion. Marquette and Providence, respectively, were also picked to finish ahead of St. John’s. A pair of NCAA Tournament teams from last year, Butler and Xavier, immediately follows St. John’s in the conference prognostications. Next up were longtime Big East rivals Georgetown and Seton Hall, while Creighton and DePaul rounded out the poll.

The ranking is the highest for St. John’s in a preseason poll since the 2014-15 squad was slotted to finish third. That year, the Red Storm would go to win 21 games and make the NCAA Tournament field for the 28th time in program history behind the efforts of a loaded senior class that featured two All-Big East honorees in D’Angelo Harrison and Sir’Dominic Pointer.

At  Big East Media Day on Thursday morning at The Garden, St. John's Head Coach Chris Mullin said of dealing with the high expectations this season, “We just have to stay focused and continue to work hard every day. At the end of the day expectations don’t mean anything. Our performance on the court is what really matters. I’ve never paid any attention to what’s being said on social media and as a player I never paid any attention to outside criticism. We just have to practice hard, prepare, and go compete each time we step on the court.”

Mullin said that "experience" is the biggest difference for St. John's this year from last season. “We’ve had rough seasons in the past and our guys have worked hard. The difference now is that we have guys coming back who have played together and adding guys like Mustapha Heron, Sedee Keita, and Mikey Dixon will be a tremendous help. We have a few freshmen and a junior college transfer coming in as well who will make a difference as offensive threats.”

St. John's also got good news on Thursday when their dynamic guard Shamorie Ponds was named the Big East Preseason Player of the Year.

Ponds is the first St. John's player to earn the honor since Malik Sealy shared the award with Alonzo Mourning prior to the 1991-92 season.

Ponds said of entering this season with high expectations, “There’s a lot of hype coming into this season and we know that. We kind of feel like we have a bullseye on all of our backs. All of the other teams in the Big East know that we have a hungry and talented roster this season. Despite all of this, it’s important that we stay focused and level-headed. If we do that, we can be one of the better teams in the league this season.”

Justin Simon earned a spot on the Preseason All-Big East Second Team. Simon, one of the league’s most versatile talents, was the only player in the conference to finish top-five in rebounding, assists and steals in 2017-18.

In addition to their preseason individual award winners, the Red Storm will also welcome back another starter in redshirt senior Marvin Clark II, who finished second on the team in scoring last year and ranked inside the top 10 in the conference in three-point shooting percentage.

“I think this season is the missing piece to the puzzle of a big picture that Coach Mullin and the guys have laid out for this program," Clark said Thursday morning. "This is the team that will revamp and revitalize the program as a whole. It’s even more special to me to have a great season, being that I’m a senior.”

Clark said of what he’s most looking forward to this season, “I have a lot of experience under my belt and my confidence is at an all-time high. Taking my game to the next step and maximizing my potential is important, but winning this season is the main thing I look forward to the most this season. Me and the guys have worked extremely hard up to this point and with a season of Big East Basketball behind me, I know we’re on the right path to do well this season.”

Simon said of what Clark brings to the table, “Since day one, when I met Marvin has been nothing but great things. He’s been that big brother, a leader, and he’s helped me. Our relationship as a whole has been wonderful. Leading [our teammates] and just seeing the development of the program as a whole, sharing those moments with him is huge.”

The Red Storm will also feature a sizable group of talented newcomers, led by junior transfer Mustapha Heron. A selection to the preseason watch list for the Jerry West Award, Heron tallied more than 1,000 points in two seasons at Auburn before transferring to Queens. The Waterbury, Conn., native will be immediately eligible to play this season thanks to a Legislative Relief Waiver from the NCAA.

Heron said of what he has seen from this team, “I think we all bring something to the table and we’ve got guys who can rebound, create plays, and if everyone is playing their role and position to the best of their ability no matter how long they are out there. I think that’s what winners are.”

Clark said of what the Red Storm need to do to produce wins,  “I think we got a great addition in Mustapha [Heron]. Since the day he first arrived on campus, it’s felt like he’s been here for as long as we have. He’s going to come right in a make a difference for this team. … We’ve grown as a group and we’re ready to get this team to the next level, which hopefully is the NCAA Tournament.”

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