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St. John's takes first step in bright future

NEW YORK -- St. John's raised the curtain on its brand-new basketball team Tuesday evening, with a relatively easy 110-80 win over C.W. Post.

But the show before the show was almost as amusing.

Thirty minutes before tip-off, the St. John's players started to emerge from the locker room and mingle in one corner of Carnesecca Arena, seeming rather unsure about what to do. A couple freshmen eventually grabbed basketballs and started shooting on the far rim, before junior guard Malik Stith -- the only holdover from last year's squad -- shouted at them to come back to the other end to begin the team's proper warm-ups.

Then, when the team began a half-court passing drill, several players looked perplexed about where to go, having to be directed by Stith or one of the others.

But once the horn sounded and the ball was hoisted in the air, the players looked much more comfortable, pasting a team that made the Division II NCAA tournament a season ago.

"We were just trying to figure out who we were -- style of play, brand-new team -- and I thought that our guys settled in pretty quickly," said assistant coach Mike Dunlap, who took the reins in place of head coach Steve Lavin, who is still recovering from prostate cancer surgery. "I was pleased with the first outing, and I know that the players feel pretty good about all the work they've put in."

St. John's put four newcomers on the floor to start this exhibition game -- 6-foot-3 guards Nurideen Lindsey and D'Angelo Harrison, 6-foot-8 forward Moe Harkless and 6-foot-9 center God'sgift Achiuwa -- along with the 5-foot-11 Stith. And after a middling start -- C.W. Post actually led 11-10 and 17-16 -- the Red Storm opened up a 51-40 halftime advantage, and ran over the Division II Pioneers after intermission.

"Today's game was obviously an exciting game for us," said Lindsey, a sophomore junior college transfer from Philadelphia. "It's our first game playing together, [and] the chemistry -- just seeing that the chemistry was there, seeing the way that we play with each other, it was fun. It was extremely fun."

Lindsey looked like the most Big East-ready player of the group, scoring 16 points and dishing out a team-high seven assists. He displayed a lightning-quick first step off the dribble, and a crafty ability to finish in the lane.

All six new players scored in double figures -- led by Achiuwa, who posted 21 points and nine rebounds, shooting 10-for-13 from the field. The Nigerian native, who played two years of junior college ball in upstate New York, exhibited a high-octane motor getting up and down the floor, and a nice ability to finish around the rim as well.

"No, I didn't expect it to come so easy, but it's been something that I've been working on with my coaches since the summer," said Achiuwa. "They've been telling me to run, and that's what I did [especially] in the first 10 minutes of the game -- I really ran so hard and I got those baskets."

"Gift, we call him a man-child," said freshman Phil Greene. "He runs up and down the court like a guard."

Greene, the least heralded member of this highly touted recruiting class, was the biggest surprise of the night. The 6-foot-2 guard from Chicago came off the bench to pour in 20 points, burying four of his six 3-point attempts.

"He's a pleasant surprise in a lot of areas," said Dunlap. "He and [fellow freshman] Dom Pointer (12 points) are two guys that as the season unfolds will just continue to ascend because they have a set of skills that are unique."

The two other frosh -- Harkless (14 points, 14 rebounds) and Harrison (20 points) -- came on strong in the second half, when St. John's wore down its outmatched opponent with its quickness and athleticism.

Now remember, this was only an exhibition game. And there remain some serious concerns with this extremely young team, besides its glaring inexperience.

With a relatively small front line, rebounding will be a challenge -- in fact, C.W. Post matched St. John's on the boards, with 36 apiece. "It'll be a liability all year long," Dunlap said.

An even bigger problem is the lack of depth -- the St. John's rotation currently goes only seven deep. "Fatigue will always be an issue," said Dunlap.

But this was a night to celebrate -- a successful first step, with the promise of a bright future.

"We have guys that can score, as you can see," said Dunlap. "What we have to do is take a group of scorers, and really just get better each game in little pieces, and convince them to buy in on the defense and how important it is. And that takes time."

As does learning the pregame warm-up routine.