Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
St. John’s Ponds Talks U19 Camp, Says It’s a ‘Failure’ if Red Storm Miss NCAA Tournament
St. John’s guard Shamorie Ponds is one of 27 players in Colorado Springs, Colo., trying out for the USA U19 team coached by Kentucky’s John Calipari, but as he looks ahead to his sophomore season he says it will be a “failure” if the Red Storm don’t make the NCAA Tournament.
“Personally, I believe it’s a failure [if we don’t],” he said Monday night by phone.
Ponds believes St. John’s is developing and should contend for a spot in the Big Dance in 2018.
“I think Chris Mullin’s first year was a bad year,” he said. “This year was a better improvement and we see what we can do when we play together and the teams we could beat like Syracuse, Butler, Marquette, Seton Hall. So I just believe that if we just stick to what Chris Mullin and the coaching staff is doing, it’s no doubt in my mind we should have a spot in the NCAA Tournament.”
The Red Storm last appeared in the Big Dance in 2015 during Steve Lavin’s last year as coach. Since taking over, Mullin is 22-43, 8-28 in the Big East.
It has been an eventful offseason for the Red Storm. They kept their core of Ponds, Marcus LoVett and Bashir Ahmed together while adding 2017 recruits Bryan Trimble and Sidney Wilson, as well as transfers Sedee Keita and Mikey Dixon, both of whom will sit out the 2017-18 season. Meantime, Malik Ellison transferred to Pitt and Federico Mussini returned to Italy to play professionally.
“I mean, that’s big for the program, that’s big for the program,” Ponds said. “Mikey’s a good guard. He’s gotta sit out.
“Sidney, I think he should come in and impact. His athleticism. He can shoot it so he can space the floor. He could dribble it too, so he’s just another option for us.”
On losing Mussini, Ponds said, “Federico was out best three-point percentage shooter so we’re going to miss that a lot, his ability to shoot the ball. I mean, pretty much we had good pieces but I think now with the additions we got, we should improve.”
As for the U19 trials, Ponds arrived on Sunday and is still adjusting to the altitude while battling point guards like Peyton Prichard (Oregon), Charlie Moore (Kansas) and Immanuel Quickley (John Carroll/MD).
“Cal is a cool dude, but when it’s that time to put that work in, he basically said, ‘If you ain’t in shape, this ain’t the team for you’ because he likes up and down,” Ponds said.
The team will cut its roster down this week as it heads toward a final 12, and Ponds believes he has as good a shot as anybody.
Among the 27 are three Kentucky players in Queens native Hamidou Diallo, Kevin Knox and P.J. Washington, as well as five rising high school seniors, four of whom have Kentucky offers.
“I mean I’m confident in myself,” Ponds said. “I wouldn’t sit hear and tell you I don’t have a chance. I’m going to see how it plays out but I feel like I should make the team. That’s just my point of view.”
Whatever happens, he believes this experience will help him with the Red Storm in 2017-18 as they bid for the Dance.
“It’s helping my body because this altitude out here is different so it’s getting me in shape, trying to push myself,” he said, “so when I come back to New York I [will] have high stamina and I won’t be as tired as much.”
**For the latest on the big recruiting week ahead for St. John’s, click here.
Photo: USA Basketball
Adam Zagoria is a New York Times contributor and Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide. He also won an Emmy award for his work on the SNY mini-documentary on Syracuse guard Tyus Battle.
A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013.
He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.