Recap of 2018 St. John's Red Storm Media Day
The Media Day began with head coach Joe Tartamella, who is entering his sixth season at the helm of the women’s basketball program. Speaking about his upcoming team without the likes of Imani Littleton and Maya Singleton, who have gone on to graduate. “We’re excited about the year. We will be led by Akina [Wellere]. We lost Maya [Singleton] and Imani [Littleton], so looking into the year, we have Cureeona Brelove and Kayla Charles.
Coming off of another WNIT postseason appearance, the St. John’s Red Storm played their hearts out till they eventually hit a brick wall in the West Virginia Mountaineers in the quarterfinals with a 76-62 crushing defeat on the road that ended the careers of Tamesha Alexander, Maya Singleton, and Imani Littleton. This playoff appearance was the 11th straight dating back to the previous head coach in Kim Barnes Arico. (now coaching at University of Michigan)
The women’s team will be led by senior forward Akina Wellere, who was the second leading scorer behind Singleton with 10.6 points-per-game, and 326 total points on the season. Four star recruit Kadaja Bailey will me making her long awaited debut in Queens. Bailey, a freshman out of St. Mary’s High and four star recruit (#32 overall), will look to play multiple positions on the floor this season and be the team’s sixth player/woman coming off the bench. Bailey is in prime position to become this year’s freshman of the year after teammate Qadashah Hoppie won it in her inaugural season in Queens.
Newcomers to Joe Tartamella’s squad include graduate student guard Jasmine Sina, who played all four years at Binghamton. Redshirt senior Curteeona Breelove a.k.a. “meemo”, who sat out last season due to NCAA transfer regulations, and transferred a year prior from V.C.U. Finally, Ole Miss guard Alissa Alston, who will need to sit out this season due to transfer rules, will be eligible to play in the 2019-20 season for the Johnnies. Also, returning to the Johnnies as a graduate assistant is former player Tamesha Alexander, who graduated in the class of 2018 with Singleton, and Littleton.
Coming from Binghamton, Sina, spoke to the media on her decision as to why she chose St. John’s. “The coaching staff, players, and just the opportunity to play at this level, it is something I have always dreamed of.” Joe Tartamella’s staff now includes Shenneika Smith, who replaces former Red Storm player and assistant coach Dashena Stevens, Smith, back at her alma mater after graduating in 2013, was previously the assistant director of basketball operations underneath current director Matt Bernstein.
The Red Storm head into the season with nine players eligible for games this season. Alissa Alston will not be eligible due to redshirt transfer regulations from Ole Miss.
Red Storm Women’s Potential Starting Lineup
G- Tiana England
G- Qadashah Hoppie
G- Alisha Kebbe
G/F- Akina Wellere
F- Curteeona Breelove
Bench- Kadaja Bailey, Kayla Charles, Jasmine Sina, Shamachya Duncan
“As Coach Tartamella said, we have less people this year, so chemistry is going to have to play a big part, as well as our speed, tempo, energy, and work.” Big East Freshman of the Year in Qadashah Hoppie.
Expectations are sky high in Queens for the St. John’s Red Storm this season, as Auburn transfer Mustapha Heron, reigning All-Big East first teamer Shamorie Ponds, and Justin Simon enter this season with one of the best backcourts on paper, in the nation.
“We’ve got a lot of offensive players, we do. Guys that have scored pretty big in college basketball. Five guys on the court that have to share the ball, gotta set screens, be unselfish.” Chris Mullin told the media today.
The formal Q&A session began with Chris Mullin answering questions about the pressure he may have on himself with the incoming hiring of athletics director Mike Cragg, along with being in his fourth season and having proved nothing. “I don’t see it as pressure. We have our own expectations as a team. All these guys came here to play on a big stage in college basketball. Thats why were here.”
Continuing questions about the program and the steps that Mullin has been taking in terms of recruiting, and scheduling. The non-conference schedule this year is sub-par at best, with the Johnnies opening up at Carnesecca Arena against Loyola-Maryland, and playing their hardest competition (on paper) against Georgia Tech and VCU in the Hoophall Miami Invitational.
The NBA and Shamorie Ponds were featured in the same sentence just a few months ago, as the Brooklyn native tested the professional drafting waters by going to a few workouts with the Los Angeles Lakers, and the Cleveland Cavaliers to name a couple. Mullin, and the team are ready to welcome Ponds back with open arms, as the junior’s numbers do not grow on trees. “I’m so happy, I love Shamorie. He’s one of those low-maintenance, easy-going kids. I see a lot of myself in him as far as the attitude.” Chris Mullin told the New York Post. Shamorie, was a bit disappointed about not entering the draft, “The decision was a hard one to come back, but I’m glad about coming back here.” The Red Storm’s best player and head coach isn’t kidding as Ponds broke the sophomore scoring record by scoring his 1,000th point midway through the season against Xavier on January 30th in front of a raucous campus crowd.
Biggest Takeaway from Media Day: Shamorie Ponds and Mustapha Heron have had history together as friends, and on the basketball court in AAU. "When Mustapha came to a workout, I was trying to get him to come here [to St. John’s], we’re good friends. He definitely told me he was going to come here during the workout." Braziller from the NYP asked if Ponds believed Heron. “Yeah, I believed him.”
The remainder of the team was pretty quiet, as this could be the familiar case of “quiet confidence”. Mustapha Heron told the media, “We’re confident and were working everyday.”
After coming off of a season with high aspirations and expectations, the Red Storm are back in the same boat, this time without Tariq Owens, as he has graduated and moved on to Texas Tech as a graduate student. The leading shot blocker leaves the Johnnies without a defensive blocking threat this season, and puts the Johnnies in a uniquely small situation, This has former South Carolina Gamecock Sedee Keita looking towards the top of the world for himself, and as a veteran of this team here in New York. “I want to bring a sense of seriousness in practice, and be an anchor on the defensive side of the ball.”
I asked Keita how he’ll be able to handle playing a big role in Queens, along with the expectations and the short fuse of the fans and media here in year 4 of the Mullin era. “I see myself staying level-headed, and staying focused. This is New York. People are going to say what they are going to say. We just need to stay focused.”
Some of the newcomers for the Johnnies include NJCAA First Team All-American L.J. Figueroa, freshman Josh Roberts, Greg Williams Jr., and Marcellus Earlington. Redshirts this season include sophomore David Caraher from Houston Baptist, and junior guard Eli Wright, who transferred from Mississippi State.
Potential Starting Lineup for the St. John’s Red Storm
G- Shamorie Ponds
G- Mustapha Heron
G- Justin Simon
F- L.J. Figueroa
F- Marvin Clark II
Shamorie Ponds told Zach Braziller, “We know we haven’t accomplished anything, yet.”