While St. John’s basketball has won only a handful of Big East games over Chris Mullin’s head coaching tenure, a lot of losing has brought the team closer together and on the verge of a breakthrough.
At least that’s the way Amar Alibegovic sees it. The senior is the last holdover from before Mullin’s arrival who has experienced both the NCAA Tournament and the bottom of the Big East. But for him, these now-seasoned players and key additions are the closest group he’s been a part of.
“I’ve been to the tournament once, and I want everyone on this team to be able to experience that,” Alibegovic said. “It’s the best feeling in the world, and I think with this kind of team and the additions we have, we have the talent and the right mindset.”
Shamorie Ponds and Marcus LoVett took their knocks in the backcourt last year, but they played well together and learned from each other as each finished as top 10 scorers in the Big East. Forward Tariq Owens, at 6-11, returns as the conference’s leading shot blocker, and 6-7 forward Kassoum Yakwe will be leaned on as a physical presence on defense.
A couple transfers will suit up for the first time, providing much needed depth. Marvin Clark, a 6-7 forward, and Justin Simon, a 6-5 guard, sat out last season and will give the team versatility beyond relying on the starting backcourt.
“We had two really dynamic guards, but two on the smaller side of stature, so it’s nice to fill in a guy you didn’t have,” said Mullin of Simon.
The Red Storm finished 314th in Division I in rebound margin. Their hope is the added depth and size up front, coupled with the maturity of Ponds and LoVett, can be enough to put them over the top. The versatile Bashir Ahmed can be a factor if he channels an aggressive approach from last season into a controlled scoring threat.
He’s been watching tape from his first season with the team and seeing how he can improve. He’s also noticed something else.
“I feel like our team chemistry has gotten a lot better in the locker room,” he said.