St. John’s Rides Transfers to Renewed Relevance

After Shamorie Ponds of the St. John’s Red Storm fed Mustapha Heron for a rim-rattling dunk earlier than a capability crowd at Carnesecca Arena in Queens on Tuesday night time, Marvin Clark II walked to the middle of the court docket and stood in the course of the workforce’s pink brand.

He confronted a crowd of greater than 5,000 individuals, together with the tennis legend John McEnroe, and waved his arms to stoke the cheers.

Like lots of the St. John’s males’s basketball gamers this season, the 6-foot-7 Clark had seen this form of factor executed earlier than — in different places. He performed in a Final Four for Michigan State and Coach Tom Izzo in 2015, notching 10 minutes as a freshman when the Spartans misplaced to Duke. After his sophomore yr, he transferred to St. John’s, the place he believed he may play a bigger function.

Mission achieved. On Tuesday night time, Clark scored 22 factors and grabbed 7 rebounds in an 89-69 win over No. 16 Marquette, probably the most spectacular victory this season for Coach Chris Mullin’s resurgent workforce, which is 13-1 over all getting into an early Big East matchup with Georgetown (11-3) on Saturday in Washington.

“Coming here, leaving a storied program like Michigan State University, a Hall of Fame coach like Coach Izzo, that’s a big risk, a big gamble,” Clark stated of his switch. “I felt like I could do what I’m doing now. I felt like I had the ability to do it, I just needed a coaching staff to believe in me.”

Relying on transfers isn’t distinctive in at this time’s faculty basketball world. Kansas and Nevada, who’re ranked within the prime 10, depend on transfers for key roles. But St. John’s has taken the switch pattern to an excessive. Eight of the 13 gamers on scholarship this season, together with Clark, are transfers from different Division I universities or from a junior faculty. Four of them are starters: Clark and L.J. Figueroa at ahead and Heron and Justin Simon at guard. Against Marquette, the 4 mixed for 61 factors.

Ponds, a former New York City prep star who scored 26 factors in opposition to Marquette, is the lone homegrown starter.

The Red Storm even added one other switch final week and subtracted one this week. The former North Carolina State massive man Ian Steere joined this system on the semester break, and Mikey Dixon, who transferred in from Quinnipiac after the 2016-17 season, stated on Thursday that he could be transferring out. St. John’s can also be anticipating two junior faculty transfers, level guard Cameron Mack and ahead Valdir Manuel, for the 2019-20 season.

“We’ve brought in players who were at great programs playing for some great coaches, so I believe that’s an advantage,” Mullin stated. “Our transfers are a little more locked in, open-minded and accountable.”

Transfers from different Division I establishments should sit out a yr, except they obtain a waiver, just like the one Heron, a former Auburn taking pictures guard, obtained. Heron, whose hometown is Waterbury, Conn., was granted a aid waiver to play instantly this season after arguing that he was transferring nearer to house to be close to his ailing mom. Junior faculty transfers are eligible instantly.

Transfers deliver maturity and expertise, and might shortly flip a nasty program into a great one. At St. John’s, the current emphasis represents a cultural shift from when Mullin starred at St. John’s within the 1980s. The 1984-85 workforce he led to the Final Four consisted nearly totally of gamers from New York and New Jersey who started as freshmen.

The N.C.A.A. reported final month that about 40 % of males’s basketball gamers who enter Division I immediately out of highschool depart their preliminary faculty by the top of their sophomore yr.

At St. John’s, the assistant coach Matt Abdelmassih receives credit score for constructing a lot of the present roster by means of transfers. Abdelmassih was an assistant at Iowa State underneath its onetime coach Fred Hoiberg. That workforce reached the spherical of 16 of the N.C.A.A. event in 2015 with a roster that included half a dozen transfers. Several went on to play professionally. Abdelmassih makes use of that as a recruiting instrument. He tried recruiting Clark to Iowa State, and had Hoiberg not left for the Chicago Bulls, Clark might need landed there. When Clark opted to depart Michigan State, Abdelmassih focused him for St. John’s.

“I wouldn’t say we were the first team to take transfers because that’s been going on forever,” Abdelmassih stated. “But I think we were definitely one of the first at building almost an entire roster with the makeup of taking transfers. And it put us on a national stage.”

Abdelmassih, who landed at St. John’s in 2015, stated he likes the angle that transfers deliver, and it additionally helps him keep away from a few of the drama that may typically encompass high-level highschool prospects. He stated the transfers typically are available with a chip on their shoulder and extra humility than freshmen.

Entering this season, Mullin was 40-60 at his alma mater by means of three years, and his groups had by no means completed higher than eighth within the Big East. This yr, the Red Storm had been picked fourth, and plenty of anticipate them to be an N.C.A.A. event workforce.

“The fact that Marvin Clark and Justin Simon are guys who played at really good programs before and now have gone to play for another good program, I think it’s the reason they’re 13-1 and their shooting percentages are off the charts and they’re as good as they are,” Seton Hall Coach Kevin Willard stated.

Villanova Coach Jay Wright famous that Mullin was displaying he may usher in older gamers from elsewhere and meld them right into a cohesive unit heading into a very powerful months of the season.

“You’ve got veteran college basketball players who have had success together starting conference play,” Wright stated. “It’s a really well done job on Chris’s part of being patient and getting these guys ready for the season.”

Now Clark is dreaming of a return to the Final Four. “It would immortalize this team forever in New York folklore and it would definitely get this program back to where it needs to be,” he stated.

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