When he took the job, St. John’s head coach Mike Anderson put the onus on returning contributors L.J. Figueroa and Mustapha Heron to provide leadership.
But that doesn’t mean they have to do all the work on the court.
Anderson has spread the playing time around and last Saturday inserted Brooklyn product Rasheem Dunn into the starting lineup.
Starting for the first time, he scored 19 points, grabbed eight rebounds and dished out five assists in a 74-67 win over DePaul at Madison Square Garden.
When it was over, Dunn denied being in the starting lineup even gave him a boost.
“Honestly, it’s no different for me,” he said. “It doesn’t matter about who starts or who finishes. Today, I started and I made that impact right away. My teammates found me and we got the win.”
Dunn was named to the Big East Weekly Honor Roll for his performances in two games against Georgetown and DePaul. He also scored his 1,000th career college point against Georgetown.
It’s been a long road from Brooklyn to Queens for Dunn. It was Dunn and Shamorie Ponds leading Thomas Jefferson High School to the PSAL title at MSG in 2016. Ponds went to St. John’s. Dunn went to St. Francis Brooklyn and played two seasons before transferring to Cleveland State. He sat out a season due to transfer rules but then looked to leave again when the team fired head coach Dennis Felton.
Dunn transferred to St. John’s but the NCAA initially denied his eligibility waiver. Two weeks later, he was granted a legislative relief waiver.
“Every day I just keep reminding myself that I’m in this building and on this team for a reason,” he said about playing at MSG. “I got to continue to work hard and continue to push myself and push my teammates.”
After losing three straight, St. John’s went back in the win column with a team effort, with 23 assists on 25 field goals.
“I think when you look at most teams, when they share the ball, they move the ball and guys get it on time, good things happen,” Anderson said, adding, “We played with a much better rhythm today and trusted one another, didn’t care who shot the ball.”
The faces are different around Utopia Parkway this season. Ponds, Justin Simon and Marvin Clark II are gone from last year’s NCAA Tournament team. The Red Storm were picked to finish ninth in the 10-team conference.
Retooling the Red Storm made Dunn’s eligibility even more vital for a team that has struggled shooting in the early part of the season. The Johnnies have tried to erase the lackluster shooting with transition offense based off a pressing defense.
“They play a style that Mike asks them to play,” DePaul head coach Dave Leitao said of Anderson’s up-tempo, aggressive system. “It hasn’t always worked, but [St. John’s], from a year one standpoint when most coaches would just throw the year away, Mike has got them in a really good place.”