St. John’s 65, Columbia 59

Is it possible for a game to play out almost exactly as expected and not answer any questions? The answer to that riddle is apparently yes. Columbia hung tough with St. John’s, but ultimately the Red Storm prevailed 65-59 on Saturday afternoon at Barclays. Continue reading “St. John’s 65, Columbia 59”

Big Apple Buckets Weekly Awards – Dec. 23

The end of finals seems to have unburdened many of the area’s college basketball teams as Manhattan, Stony Brook, St. John’s and others put together impressive performances this week in a number of venues. Continue reading “Big Apple Buckets Weekly Awards – Dec. 23”

From Harvard’s Bench to SJU’s Shooting Savior

Max Hooper’s contribution to the 2011-12 Harvard squad lasted about twelve seconds. While Hooper’s stat line from his freshman season indicates the 6’6″ wing played four minutes — two in a preseason game against MIT and another two versus Utah — that sixth of a minute was the only moment Hooper did something other than run up and down the court, taking a baseline pass at the top of the key and missing on the only field goal attempt in his Harvard career. But that contribution belies how important Hooper is to his newest team, St. John’s, this season; the wing transferred to the Big East school following his freshman year and is a major reason why the Johnnies are seen as a potential conference title contender.

“My job is to get shots on the court,” said Hooper recently at Dribble for the Cure, an annual event hosted by the school and the Pediatric Cancer Research Foundation that has raised more than $50,000 this year. “But I bring more to the table than shooting. I am a very cerebral player so I feel I can use that to make plays for my teammates.”

The wing took the long route to Queens. A transfer during his high school career brought Hooper to the storied Mater Dei program, and while various recruiting articles linked Hooper to Notre Dame and Stanford, it wasn’t until he spent a year at Brewster Academy (in an effort to boost his profile) that he committed to Harvard, the one program that reportedly showed consistent interest. However, it proved difficult for Hooper to find playing time in the Crimson’s crowded backcourt, and he settled on St. John’s a few weeks after announcing decision to leave Cambridge.

Why did he chose the Red Storm, a team similarly stacked with guards? The presence of JaKarr Sampson, the highly-ranked forward who recommitted to St. John’s last spring who was Hooper’s roommate at Brewster. “When we roomed at Brewster, it was the first time I met a true, knock-down shooter,” claims Sampson. “You don’t think a shooter like Max can get better, but his shot has gotten better over the years.” Hooper had also played with, and against, current Johnnies at iS8, an annual summer tournament held in a tiny middle school gym in Queens — Hooper was placed on the same team with Sampson and D’Angelo Harrison. “Moe Harkless had a team,” said Hooper, “and he told JaKarr to come down and play and bring a teammate. It was an invaluable experience.”

There have always been concerns that Hooper did not possess the athleticism to compete at the high-major level, but as his mentor Miles Simon, the former Arizona star who now doubles as a skills’ trainer and college basketball analyst at ESPN, told the NY Post this spring, Hooper has transformed his body and become a better athlete. Hooper agrees with Simon, saying, “Last year was a good opportunity to take advantage of sitting out. When the team was on a road trip, the strength coach would keep working me out, and I could concentrate on getting extra lifts on game days.”

Hooper has always possessed the reputation as a long-range threat — during the team’s overseas trip this August, Hooper connected on 10 (of 13) threes in a win, and as John detailed, Hooper’s offensive rating in Europe (147.6) led the squad — so it will be interesting how coach Steve Lavin uses the wing. Even if he struggles defending potential quicker wings, his shooting touch is a sorely needed asset, one that essentially ensures he sees quality playing time. The Red Storm made nearly 25% of their threes a season ago, and the lack of outside shooting hampered the team’s offensive efficiency, clogging the paint and negating SJU’s overall athleticism.

Hooper foresees himself used in a variety of scenarios, including both in transition and in the half-court, and believes the ability of Jamal Branch and Rysheed Jordan to break defenders off the bounce will be integral to his game. “Both Rysheed and Jamal are always able to get into the lane, draw my man, and then kick to me for a spot-up. Regardless of who is on the court with me, my teammates do a good job setting me up.” Hooper is also skilled enough as a ball-handler that Lavin may also depend more frequently on having Sampson or Orlando Sanchez set a pick for the sophomore — both bigs can roll and then catch and finish and traffic, or give Hooper a fraction of daylight needed for an attempt.

The potential pairing of Hooper and Marco Bourgault also cannot be understated; though Bourgault only averaged ten or so minutes per game, he did convert 40% of his threes in a span of five games, and is another option to provide interior spacing. “Hoop is such a good shooter that teams are going to have to chase him off the line,” said Sampson, “But his shooting will open up our offense a lot this season.”

What St. John’s Learned In Europe

St. John’s just returned from what sounds like an awesome European trip. The Red Storm went out and played five games against professional competition and gave almost every one of them a run. Through Facebook posts and tweeted photos we got our hands on three full box scores. What can we learn about the Red Storm’s new look on offense? Let’s dive in. Continue reading “What St. John’s Learned In Europe”

Top NYC Players: 15-11

This post is a continuation of the Top 25 NYC Players series. Read up on 21-25 and 16-20 first.

15. Rakim Sanders, Fairfield — Sanders played the first three seasons of his career at Boston College, so when he got the chance to play with the Stags in the MAAC this season it was a sight. The 6’5″ swingman averaged 16.6 points and 8.2 rebounds per game. He could’ve done even better, but he shot just 64% from the free throw line. Sanders played especially well against Iona, dropping 24, 22 and 26 points in three matches against the Gaels, two of which Fairfield won. The Stags lost in the semifinals of the CIT, but Sydney Johnson’s first season there was a success partially because of the consistent offensive support that Sanders was able to provide. It’s worth noting that Sanders had just one terrible game all season, a two-point effort on January 6, 2012 in a 73-60 loss to Siena.

14. Chris Gaston, Fordham — A double-double machine, you could make an argument that Gaston should be higher on this list. What holds him back in my mind is his lack of efficiency on offense. Yes, he scored 17.1 points per game, but he needed 15.2 shots per game to do it. Gaston though was trying to carry a pretty bad Rams offense through much of the season. Being the main focal point of every Atlantic 10 team’s defensive game plan certainly took its toll. Still, he had 16 double-doubles during the season, including 35 points and 16 rebounds in a 67-62 win late in the season over La Salle. The junior forward also had 18 points and 10 boards in Fordham’s win over then #21 Harvard and 23 and 17 in the Rams’ win over Georgia Tech.

13. D’Angelo Harrison, St. John’s — Mike Dunlap seemed to be playing against loaded dice at times this season. The Red Storm’s cast of freshmen were certainly talented, but playing in the Big East with all those new players is never easy. One of the things that made it easier was the play of Harrison. A member of the All-Big East Rookie Team Harrison scored 16.8 points per game for St. John’s while shooting 36% from three and 80% from the free throw line. That’s impressive because the 6’3″ freshman shooting guard from Missouri City, Texas averaged 35.4 minutes per game. Harrison scored 20 plus points 12 times this season, including 25 points on 12 shots in a late December game against Providence. He also scored 21 at Duke, 23 versus Syracuse and 22 in a win over UCLA. Another player later on this list isn’t returning next season, but Harrison gives the Red Storm an excellent building block for the future.

12. Herb Pope, Seton Hall — Banging in the Big East isn’t easy, but Pope still managed to average a double-double this season for the Pirates with 15.1 points and 10.4 rebounds per game. Like Gaston, Pope struggled a bit in his offensive efficiency, but he was even stronger on the boards. Pope did manage to shoot 47% from the field overall and he improved his free throw shooting to 62% during his senior season. For his efforts Pope was named the All-Big East Third Team. SHU will certainly miss his strength around the basket.

11. Shane Gibson, Sacred Heart — Every night the scouting report had in bold at the top “Stop Shane Gibson” as the No. 1 priority in the NEC. No one really managed to do it as the redshirt junior scored 22 points per game with the sick shooting line of 51%/43%/86% (FG%/3PT%/FT%). Those are the numbers of an elite scorer and that’s exactly what Gibson was in 2011-12. The Pioneers’ go-to guy he used 29% of his team’s possessions while on the court and still managed a 112.7 offensive rating. Gibson was named to the NEC First Team thanks to his efforts. Even the presence of Gibson though wasn’t enough to pull out a number of close games for the Pioneers this season. Sacred Heart was 4-8 in games decided by three points or less or in overtime. Then again, if not for Gibson the Pioneers probably wouldn’t have even been in such a spot. He scored 30 or more points four times this season, including a 41-point outburst in a one-point double-overtime loss to Mount St. Mary’s. Gibson was a special player that made every opponent nervous when he had the ball. He’ll be back with a vengeance in 2012-13.

Tomorrow kicks off the Top 10, which includes a number of Ivy Leaguers and a potential NBA Draft pick.

Quick thoughts from St. John’s vs. St. Francis (NY)

The battle of the boroughs was a pretty one-sided affair for the boys from Queens. St. John’s ran out to an early lead and had a comfortable working margin for the entire game against St. Francis (NY) before capturing the 63-48 victory. Below is the shot chart from the second half and some thoughts about the game in general.

Continue reading “Quick thoughts from St. John’s vs. St. Francis (NY)”