Before St. John’s basketball got on track for a potential NCAA Tournament bid this season, two players arrived looking for a change.
Justin Simon and Marvin Clark made their way to the school’s Queens campus on the same day in April 2016 with hopes of finding a new program to call home. Three years later, the pair has become close friends, leaders and valuable pieces in the Red Storm’s starting lineup.
“I was thinking going into this challenge, that if I’m going to come here, I want to come with somebody that could help me get through the tough times and help me succeed,” said Clark, who played two seasons at Michigan State. “I felt he was the perfect guy.”
Simon was coming off a freshman year Arizona, where he averaged 2.3 points in limited minutes. He saw the same struggles in Clark, who went to the Final Four with the Spartans but played a reserve role as well.
“We went through some similar things,” Simon said. “I instantly felt like he wanted to get better and have a major effect on this program, and so did I.”
The impression has been lasting. Each player has average double digits in points over two seasons. Since they transferred, St. John’s (17-7, 5-6 Big East) has gone from a bottom team in the Big East to sitting between the 7-10 line on weekend bracket projections. The Johnnies face Butler (14-10, 5-6) at Carnesecca Arena on Tuesday.
Getting to this point hasn’t always gone smoothly. Simon, a junior, slumped through most of January while dealing with an illness. He broke out against No. 10 Marquette last week, scoring 19 points in the road win. Clark, a senior, had 22 against the same team Jan. 1, but the pair combined to go 2-for-14 in Saturday’s loss to Providence.
They live together in an off-campus house, where they listen to music, watch TV shows and play out funny situations that they’d imagine finding on Dave Chappelle’s old Comedy Central show, Clark said. They’re keeping each other laughing, and in turn, holding perspective on a season with mounting expectations.
“We never take anything too seriously,” Clark said. “We’re never too high, too low. We’re just always those guys that bring things back to, ‘Hey, it’s basketball.’ "