The new look St. John’s Red Storm men’s basketball team kicked off their highly anticipated hoops season last Friday, losing to the Wisconsin Badgers 86-75.
While the loss might not sit well in the stomachs of the currently unranked Johnnies, there were many positive signs to come out of the defeat; signs that the Red Storm may live up to the hype of being arguably the most talented team in the Big East.
In the season opener, played at a neutral site in Sioux Falls, SD, junior guard D’Angelo Harrison and sophomore forward JaKarr Sampson both had no problem scoring points. The unquestionable leaders of the St. John’s offense scored a game-high 27 and 21 points respectively.
The Johnnies were down by 18 points at halftime, but they pulled to within four points of the 20th-ranked Badgers with eight minutes to play in the game. Wisconsin was able to pull away and hold on for the win, but fourth-year coach Steve Lavin sees the loss as a chance to grow.
“This challenge presented an opportunity for our team to grow,” Lavin said in the postgame press conference. “We are disappointed with the loss, but now have a checklist of deficiencies that we will take home with us as we head into a week of practice.”
Harrison, a preseason All-Big East First Team selection, also snared four rebounds and hit all eight of his free throw attempts.
Sampson, last year’s Big East Rookie of the Year, and an All-Big East Second Team selection this year, grabbed a team-high seven rebounds as well, as he continues to prove that he is one of the most well-rounded players in the conference.
“I put a lot of pressure on myself to get better every year and get better every game,” Sampson said about his work ethic before the game. “I hold myself to higher expectations than other people would because I want to get better.”
The duo will continue to be the key cogs in the St. John’s offense, but Harrison’s maturity will be something to watch. He was suspended on March 1st last season for poor conduct, and his negative attitude was often times visible on the court.
Harrison attended anger-management classes during the offseason and is said to have changed his ways, and if that stays true, the three-point threat could be primed for a huge year.
Supplementing the St. John’s stars are two new additions to the roster who could help turn the Red Storm from the Big East bottom dweller into a true tournament team.
In a year filled with impact freshman like consensus 2014 first overall NBA Draft pick Andrew Wiggins of Kansas to star youngster Jabari Parker of Duke, the Red Storm have their own impressive teenager in Philadelphia product Rysheed Jordan.
The young guard scored six points and threw three assists against Wisconsin, but the preseason Big East Rookie of the Year has plenty of time to blossom in coach Steve Lavin’s pass-happy system. Look for a strong season from the big-time recruit.
“The nice thing about Rysheed is that he has so many veterans around him,” Lavin said before the Red Storm took on Wisconsin. “His game by nature is not to force; he brings poise and patience which is something that some young players don’t all exhibit at this stage of their careers.”
In one of the more heartwarming college basketball stories of the year, Dominican Republic-born center Orlando Sanchez made his debut for the Red Storm, tallying five points.
The 24-year-old grew up in extreme poverty in the Caribbean nation, but he eventually played junior college ball in America and professionally overseas in Spain, resulting in the loss of three years of college basketball eligibility.
He then landed a spot on the Dominican Republic national team, and after playing in one game, the NCAA, by rule, took away his final year of eligibility.
After a long appeals process, Sanchez was granted one more year, and St. John’s hopes that the big man will have the season of his life.
St. John’s returns to Queens for their home opener on Friday, as they battle Wagner at 6 p.m. at Carnesecca Arena.