Welcome, Guest
Username: Password: Remember me
  • Page:
  • 1

TOPIC:

Mike Anderson Looks to Kick Into High Gear / The ATHLETIC 2 weeks 3 days ago #394284

  • jerseyshorejohnny
  • jerseyshorejohnny's Avatar Topic Author
  • Offline
  • Posts: 4663
  • Thank you received: 1938
After a fast start at St. John’s, Mike Anderson looks to kick it into high gear

By Eamonn Brennan / The ATHLETIC / July 24, 2020

Editor’s note: This offseason The Athletic is again exploring the college basketball landscape with in-depth examinations of 75 key programs. This story is a part of that continuing series
.
On the morning of April 17, 2019, Mike Repole, a St. John’s booster and the founder of Vitaminwater, called into Mike Francesca’s show on WFAN and went all the way in on his alma mater. Calling the St. John’s culture “toxic” and blaming university brass for failing to land various men’s basketball coaches in recent years, Repole said the Red Storm’s search for a replacement for Chris Mullin was “not just a New York laughingstock anymore” but a “national embarrassment.”

“If you thought Chris Mullin’s 1-17 year was bad,” Repole said, “next year’s going to be 0-18. We may not suit up next year. Maybe take a pass.”

It was, in the classic New York fashion, extremely good radio, a sun-hot scorcher of a take. It was also indicative of maybe not the easiest media environment in which to become the coach of a St. John’s men’s basketball team that would lose six players in the offseason — especially for a coach who had been let go at the end of the previous season by another school.

Mike Anderson stepped into the breach anyway. A year later, it turns out things weren’t quite so bad after all.
Just the opposite, actually: The inexperienced, mostly new-look Red Storm opened the season 11-2, a start that included wins over highly rated West Virginia and Arizona. Almost immediately, Anderson’s trademark Nolan Richardson-derived “40 Minutes of Hell” style took hold, and St. John’s was playing some of the fastest, most turnover-gobbling basketball in the country. At this point in their careers, Anderson and his staff are hardly newbies in the trade of getting teams up and running in short order. “Our staff did a great job of getting our guys prepared,” Anderson says. “You start out you want to keep things simple, but I thought our guys bought into it. They were playing for each other, with each other, playing with that intensity you have to play with. That was the product of us having done it before.”

Water eventually found its level in a tough Big East, but St. John’s was competitive more often than not, and appeared to be trending in the right direction at the end of the season. The Red Storm had put together a 23-0 second-half run to beat Georgetown in the first round of the Big East tournament a night before they took a lead into halftime against Creighton — which would be the last basketball anyone played in the 2019-20 season. “For a first year under a new coach with new players and new teammates, all getting used to each other, I feel like we did well,” guard Rasheem Dunn says. “And we ended on a high note. Everything was just getting put together. We were going somewhere.” Having roundly proved it was not the impending disaster some high-profile fans once feared, the question now is: What comes next?

The big question

OK, two questions. The second: Can St. John’s make shots?

This is as simple as college hoops offseason prospectus questions get, but that doesn’t make it any less important, unfortunately, or any less pressing for St. John’s to sort out. Indeed, the answer to the question of shooting accuracy will have the largest impact on the broader questions of where this team is headed in Anderson’s second season.
True to their somewhat surprising nature, the Red Storm of a year ago did many things right. They got up to speed with Anderson’s style right away, not only pushing the pace — they reached top-20 levels in both adjusted tempo and average possession length — but also forcing turnovers at a 22.7 percent rate. These are the two pillars of Anderson’s system, and he got his players to do them right away. Meanwhile, on offense, St. John’s was arguably even better at not making mistakes; its 15.1 percent turnover rate was the ninth-best in Division I. The makings of a team that limited opponents’ shots, and got tons of its own, was very much there.

The only problem? The Red Storm’s shots didn’t go in. Like, ever. They shot 32.1 percent from 3, which was bad enough, but their 44.9 percent mark from inside the arc (ranked 332nd in the country) was especially rough. There were more than a few easy misses in that mix, points that should have resulted from a turnover, the kinds of ostensibly easy transition shots that Anderson’s offenses should feast on. “We missed a lot of layups,” Anderson says. There was also, in the view of Anderson and his players, a kind of lurking discomfort with the offensive flow that arises when new players are playing together for a new coach with a new offensive system. “Down the stretch, when we started putting the ball in the hole, we started trusting the right guys to get the right shots,” Anderson says. “We started making them.”

For a while there, St. John’s struggled to find that ineffable know-it-when-you-see-it zone where everyone on the floor knows where everyone else is going to be, and where the best looks will come from, and where the ball should go next. Anderson looks to facilitate that flow as much as possible; he doesn’t fuss over missed shots or want his players looking too much to the bench for guidance. “It gives us freedom to play,” Dunn says. “And that freedom also comes from everyone being able to play in their own style together. It’s a very comfortable way of playing. It’s just trusting each other.” Everyone is hoping everyone becomes a better shooter, of course, and that new arrivals add a different dimension. But the core hope for St. John’s — and specifically the offense — is that greater understanding will be the key to better shots, more makes and more wins.

Roster analysis

Guards
For all the hopes of progress, the search for elevated offensive efficiency took a not-inconsiderable hit this spring, when 6-foot-6 guard L.J. Figueroa returned from testing the NBA Draft waters just in time to announce his intention to enter the transfer portal. Figueroa, who landed at Oregon, led the Red Storm in scoring, with 14.5 points per game, and led the Big East in steals, at 1.9 per, and his transfer came late enough in this totally up-in-the-air offseason calendar that Anderson’s ability to add another player to its mix was at least partially hampered. Figueroa was by far the Red Storm’s most reliable shot-maker; he made 30 more 3s (72) than the next highest number on the team. Which, coincidentally, belonged to guard Mustapha Heron, who graduated.

Anderson’s belief is that his next team won’t need to rely on one scorer quite so much as last season’s version; Rasheem Dunn will key to making it so. Anderson wants Dunn to be this team’s bonafide leader, not only to lubricate the offense but also to be an extension of accountability among his peers. “Just building with my teammates and making them feel comfortable, as much as I can, in telling them what they’re doing wrong,” Dunn says. “And they can feel comfortable telling me when I’m messing up as well.” The senior guard won’t be alone in trying to run the team. Junior Greg Williams was injured for a chunk of the 2019-20 preseason and thus began the year behind on the systemic integration side, but Anderson believes he could quietly breakthrough. “It wouldn’t surprise me if he ended up being one of those guys where you look up at the end of the year and he’s one of the better guards,” Anderson says.

This experience is good news, because the rest of the backcourt — in terms of “true” guards, and not some of the hybrid players Anderson likes to employ — is an open question. John McGriff redshirted as a freshman last season. The staff seems excited about both incoming freshmen, Posh Alexander and Dylan Wusu, natives of the Bronx and high school teammates at Our Savior Lutheran. Both players have a bit of New York to their game; both are confident, enjoy a challenge and relish defending. “But now let’s see,” Anderson says, “whether they can make that next step.”

Wings
At least a couple of players who might reasonably be considered wings you’ll find listed under “bigs.” Such is the flexibility Anderson likes his players to have. St. John’s wants to open the floor, swing the ball and stretch defenses on basically every possession. No player offers as much ability to do so, and is more in line for a bigger season, than sophomore wing Julian Champagnie, on whom there’s more below.

David Caraher is another of Anderson’s designated leaders and glue-guy candidates. Caraher provided quality depth a season ago, posted one of the team’s better offensive ratings despite shooting just 14-of-56 from 3 — an area the coaching staff is convinced wasn’t representative of his skill. In discussing trust in teammates and giving an example of intuitively knowing where a player is going to be, Dunn cited Caraher sliding to the wing corner on a dribble blow-by; if Caraher can become something more of a knockdown shooter on the wing, the options off the bounce will blossom exponentially. Last but potentially not least is Vince Cole, a 6-foot-6 junior college All-American who averaged 18.7 points and 6.2 rebounds per game at South Carolina-Salkehatchie Community College last season. Cole shot 47 percent from the field and, most promisingly, 44 percent from 3. His ability to add perimeter scoring right away might be crucial. “With L.J. moving on and Mustapha graduating, those are two unique scorers,” Anderson says. “You’ve got to have some guys coming in that are capable of putting the ball in the hole. He’s one of those guys.”

Bigs
As exciting as, say, the possibilities for Champagnie are, it is hard not to wonder whether Josh Roberts might continue the trajectory he enjoyed from his first to second seasons in Queens — and, if he does, just what kind of player he might become. Perhaps no player improved as much as Roberts did from the start of Anderson’s time on campus. By the end of 2019-20, Roberts was the stalwart conventional big man on a roster without many other options, the team’s best two-way rebounder by a wide margin, an elite shot-blocker and easily the most efficient (albeit with a low volume of shots) offensive piece. With more polish in his game and plenty more shots to go around, Roberts could be an even bigger factor in Anderson’s minute-to-minute plans on the floor this season.
As a big, the 6-foot-6 (or so listed, ahem) Marcellus Earlington is far less conventional, not that Anderson likes him any less. “He gives us that grit, that tough, physical basketball player,” the coach says. “He may be 6-foot-6 or 6-foot-5, but he plays so much bigger.” Earlington had a breakout sophomore year in his own right, taking as many of the shots while on the floor (27.2 percent) as Heron, just behind usage king Figueroa. His 19 points, 10 rebounds and two steals (in 26 minutes!) were key to a comeback win against Georgetown, emblematic of the kind of productivity heights Earlington sometimes reached (if he didn’t always maintain).

Arnaldo Toro, a graduate transfer from George Washington, is Anderson’s designated “enforcer.” He started just 10 games last season, and a starting role likely isn’t on offer, but as a backup forward who can effectively perform a function — Toro averaged seven rebounds per game (and huge rebounding rates on both ends) in fairly limited minutes — he’s a nice option to have. And Isaih Moore, another junior college standout from South Carolina, is skilled at 6-foot-10. “I call him a ‘quick forward’ because he can do a lot of different things,” Anderson says. “Hopefully he can be a matchup problem.” The staff is looking to put some more strength into Moore’s frame, but they’re excited about his skill set and where it might fit in right away.


Spotlight on: Julian Champagnie

Champagnie knows he surprised people. Actually, he sort of surprised himself.
The Brooklyn native was nowhere near the RSCI consensus rankings when he arrived at St. John’s last summer; 247 Sports listed his recruiting ranking as “N/A.” Rivals had him as a three-star player. But it’s not like St. John’s handed a scholarship — and then significant playing time — to a player with absolutely no profile. He did have offers from a few schools. But all-Big East rookie team? Ten points, 6.5 rebounds, 1.2 steals per game as a freshman? “I felt like I did a lot more than a lot of people expected me to,” he says.

OK, fine, but that’s other people. What about him? Is he one of those guys who always knew? Did he see this coming? Or did he exceed his own expectations too?

“Hmm,” Champagnie says, after a long pause. “Yes and no. Well, yeah. Yes and no. I thought it would take me a little bit longer. I’m a late bloomer, I’ve always been a late bloomer. I thought it would take me a little longer to get into the game, to really get the feel for college basketball. Then, the first couple games I felt like I did really good for a freshman. I felt like I exceeded my expectations, and a lot of other people’s. Even though I hit a freshman wall toward the middle of the year, I still felt like I brought a lot of things to the table that weren’t necessarily expected of me.”
If Champagnie really is a late bloomer, that’s fantastic news for St. John’s, because he was already pretty good a season ago. A 6-foot-8 wing with a self-professed love of up-tempo basketball and open floor play, Champagnie turned out to be an ideal fit for Anderson’s system, and took to it almost immediately. Meanwhile, there were genuine signs of more to come, including a 31.2 percent 3-point shooting figure that everyone expects to rise, given his 51.1 percent shooting from inside the arc that Champagnie generated in his first season. He also offered up a rare combination of steals and blocks. Anderson gushes about Champagnie, about his versatility and ability to guard basically any position. “He just needs to get better at what he’s already doing,” Anderson says.

For Champagnie, that process will be as much about self-belief, and the sustaining thereof, as any specific skill or development. “I feel like my biggest problem was my confidence,” he says. “I feel like when things don’t get right, the way I think they should, I get down on myself. For me, having more of a level head, now in Year 2 of college, that could be one of my biggest improvements this year. Not being down on myself. Just continuing to play.” It’s a battle for any player. For Champagnie, who spent most of last year proving to himself (and everyone else) that he belonged, it might not be just a little bit easier.

Recruiting
Every college basketball program is at least somewhat parochial. Every fan base wants to see local kids come good. Still, as in most things, New York can take this to the next level. What St. John’s fan wouldn’t be thrilled to see a roster full of NYC’s own running the Big East?

In any case, it behooves St. John’s to recruit its own backyard. Even if New York is no longer as fertile a basketball vineyard as it once was, it remains a very big, very basketball-obsessed place, and Anderson, in his limited time at the program, has gone about plucking talent from the five boroughs wherever possible. That began with hiring two assistants (Van Macon and Steve DeMeo) with close ties to the area and then utilizing their connections to open doors to the endless web of coaches and important grassroots figures in the city. It has already paid off. Champagnie came from Brooklyn. Dunn who transferred into the program after sojourns elsewhere (including St. Francis Brooklyn), is Brooklyn through and through. The two true freshmen in the 2020 class, Alexander and Wusu, were high school teammates in the Bronx.

Anderson’s first year in New York was characterized by his presence in local gyms, talking to high school coaches. That all halted this spring and summer, when the city was for weeks the U.S. epicenter of the pandemic. But there is a sense of optimism that St. John’s can build a team that doesn’t merely entertain its fans stylistically, but in many ways also mirrors those fans with the players it puts on the court. Meanwhile, the next big thing may be arriving soon: The potential commitment (as early as this weekend) of Brentwood, N.Y., native Jordan Riley has those same fans buzzing online. It’s a start, at least.

St. John's 2020 recruiting class

Posh Alexander
High school
Guard
5-11, 170
3-star, No. 245
Picked Red Storm over Seton Hall, Pitt, Dayton, Illinois

Dylan Wusu
High school
Guard
6-3, 180
3-star, No. 370
Tough, physical shooting guard

Isaih Moore
JuCo
Forward
6-10, 205
Should provide help on the inside

Vince Cole
JuCo
Guard
6-6, 195
18.7 ppg, 6.2 rpg last season

Arnoldo Toro
Grad transfer
Big
6-9, 240
6.5 ppg, 7.0 rpg last season at George Washington

Schedule analysis
The Big East, like the ACC and the Big Ten before it, is adding two conference games to its schedule this season, albeit this time to accommodate the arrival of an 11th team, UConn, and not just because conference commissioners are on a constant mission to secure the bag. That (and, you know, other stuff) has thrown everyone’s nonconference schedule into a bit of flux. Speaking of flux, the Gavitt Games schedule remains undecided, but will get St. John’s at least one more quality home nonconference game at the open of the season. Meanwhile, Nov. 25 marks the NIT Season Tip-Off, wherein St. John’s will play two of Arizona, Texas Tech and Cincinnati in a semifinal format at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. All three promise to be quality opponents, with potentially massive nonconference credit on the cards if St. John’s can get a win, let alone two. (Even having those opponents on the docket, if not life-changing, could at least help the NET numbers considerably.) Meanwhile, in December is another game against Texas Tech — a road game in the Big 12/Big East Challenge — plus confirmed games against La Salle and Sacred Heat later in that month.

The Gavitt Games opponent could tip this schedule from “solid” to “really good,” but either way Anderson’s team should have the opportunity to prove itself again early in the year.

The ceiling
It is impossible to dig into the stats from a season ago and not be at least somewhat impressed. The Red Storm didn’t just speed teams up and force turnovers; they also took care of the ball. It is not hard to see that same formula, with significantly improved shooting, a sophomore breakout from Champagnie, Anderson’s systemic improvements and the rest of a balanced roster taking an outfit that beat Arizona and West Virginia a year ago (and Creighton, Marquette and Providence) and making it one that will expect to be in the NCAA Tournament, and then some, from the start.

The floor
It is not an overstatement to note that Figueroa and Heron were massive pieces of last season’s configuration. They were not only the two leading scorers, but also guards who accounted for huge chunks of the team’s usage and shots while turning the ball over at admirably low rates. Neither might have been the world’s most efficient shooter, but still, recreating that dynamic could prove difficult. Or maybe the shots still don’t fall. Either way, St. John’s was 5-13 in the Big East last season. Expecting a tournament bid already might be asking for too much.

Final report
Anderson was ahead of schedule a season ago. That was true by the standards of any rebuild, let alone by the vastly doomy prognostications of certain high-profile supporters. In the end, the Red Storm were a pleasant surprise — fun to watch, chaotically good, figuring it out on the fly. Expectations will be different, and far less prone to talk-radio hilarity. Let’s see if St. John’s can exceed them again.
The following user(s) said Thank You: gonzalo, capmaker, panther2, TX Redman, richard A Steinfeld, Chicago Days, RedStormNC, NCJohnnie, James Ray Lamb

Please Log in or Create an account to join the conversation.

Mike Anderson Looks to Kick Into High Gear / The ATHLETIC 2 weeks 3 days ago #394294

  • MainMan
  • MainMan's Avatar
  • Offline
  • Posts: 2491
  • Thank you received: 556
Reporter: Hey chief, I hear Mike Anderson is going to get a huge commitment on Friday.

Editor: What a news hook! Let's publish this piece on Friday to coincide with that Riley kid!

Please Log in or Create an account to join the conversation.

Mike Anderson Looks to Kick Into High Gear / The ATHLETIC 2 weeks 3 days ago #394307

  • SJU85
  • SJU85's Avatar
  • Offline
  • Posts: 3009
  • Thank you received: 743
Jerseyshorejohnny, you beat me to it.

MainMan wrote: Reporter: Hey chief, I hear Mike Anderson is going to get a huge commitment on Friday.

Editor: What a news hook! Let's publish this piece on Friday to coincide with that Riley kid!


Yep, timing is everything.

Please Log in or Create an account to join the conversation.

Mike Anderson Looks to Kick Into High Gear / The ATHLETIC 2 weeks 3 days ago #394355

  • Chicago Days
  • Chicago Days's Avatar
  • Offline
  • Posts: 5365
  • Thank you received: 3143

MainMan wrote: Reporter: Hey chief, I hear Mike Anderson is going to get a huge commitment on Friday.

Editor: What a news hook! Let's publish this piece on Friday to coincide with that Riley kid!


Solid piece. Guessing the NIT Season Tipoff and those Non-conference games are doubtful?
But a nice run-through of the roster. Thanks.

Please Log in or Create an account to join the conversation.

Mike Anderson Looks to Kick Into High Gear / The ATHLETIC 2 weeks 2 days ago #394416

  • usguard
  • usguard's Avatar
  • Offline
  • Posts: 5074
  • Thank you received: 327
What does huge mean,rather they do not put something out that’s not verified

Please Log in or Create an account to join the conversation.

Mike Anderson Looks to Kick Into High Gear / The ATHLETIC 2 weeks 2 days ago #394421

  • Moose
  • Moose's Avatar
  • Away
  • Posts: 10713
  • Thank you received: 4015

usguard wrote: What does huge mean,rather they do not put something out that’s not verified


Huh

Please Log in or Create an account to join the conversation.

  • Page:
  • 1
Moderators: mkras99SJUFAN2espkengmanlawmanfankranmarsOhioFanotisredmannorthKnight