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Tuesday / May 28.
  • Five Things You Need to Know About St. John’s Heading Into The NCAA Tournament

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    NCAA Basketball: Providence at St. John'sCHARLOTTE, N.C. — St. John’s will play its first NCAA Tournament game since 2011 when it meets San Diego State here Friday night at Time Warner Cable Arena.

    The winner will get the Duke/Robert Morris winner on Sunday.

    Thursday was a pretty wild day on the press conference scene, and here are five things you need to know heading into the game.


    Rysheed JordanAfter never speaking once with the media during his two years at St. John’s, sophomore guard Rysheed Jordan finally addressed reporters from the dais with his teammates. He was asked, among other things, if he had decided whether to come back to St. John’s or declare for the NBA Draft after the season.

    “Right now I’m not focused on that right now, I’m focused on today’s practice and tomorrow’s game,” Jordan said.

    How does Jordan feel about finally getting to play in the NCAA Tournament?

    “It’s going to be great,”  he said. “I’ve been waiting since last year. I just want to go out there and play my game, my teammates go out there and play their game, just stick to the game plan, just win a game.”

    Is he motivated to play for his relatives, including his grandmother, who have passed away?

    “It’s real big because those are people that I love and they love me playing this gam
    e,” he said. “So each and every time I step on the court I think of them, and just make me go harder.”

    Is he glad he’s finally able to speak with the media after all this time?

    “Well, I think it’s been a good idea because I’ve been going through a lot, so let my team just do the talking,” he said.



    As we previously reported here, Steve Lavin is in Year 5 of a six-year contract, and the administration has said his situation will be evaluated at the end of the season.

    Does his future hinge on whether he beats San Diego State or loses by 20?

    “The administration has been so supportive from the first day that I was on the job here through today,” he said. “Three presidents, so there’s been transition, but each of them from Father Harrington to Father Levesque to our current president have been great bosses. So there’s never been any acrimony or any sense that it’s an issue. This is the best contract I’ve had in my coaching career, if we’re going to talk about contracts.”

    He added: “If we were to win six games this March, which would be wonderful. If we were able to win four games, that’s wonderful. If we’re not able to win a game, independent of the outcome of the basketball game, this has just been a magic carpet ride, to come to St. John’s, a program with this tradition and heritage, to coach this particular group.”

    So there you go. He answered the question, but he didn’t really answer it.



    NCAA Basketball: St. John at DePaulChris Obekpa, St. John’s lone legitimate big man and one of the top shot-blockers in the nation, has been suspended two weeks for a violation of team rules, with sources saying he failed a drug test after using marijuana.

    What does his absence mean for St. John’s?

    “I should say it’s less than ideal to not have Chris Obekpa’s services for the NCAA Tournament,” Lavin said. “Yet this group over the past three years has had a number of stretches where we’ve had to play without Chris and have been successful. So whether it was through foul trouble or being disqualified from a game or fouling out or a number of injuries that he’s endured, this team has found a way to offset the loss of Chris in games, in stretches of the season and still been successful. With that said, we understand not having Chris at the rim as our goalie, kind of the protecter, the player that provided resistance at the goal, will make it difficult for us. But this group has played a number of styles of play, whether it’s through our full court press or through our trapping, and creating match-up problems for teams that are bigger than us because our speed, our quickness, our skill, you know, presents challenges for opponents.”

    Senior wing Sir’Dominic Pointer, the Big East Defensive Co-Player of the Year, will have to have a big game defensively.

    “My responsibilities don’t change at all,” he said. “I’m going to go out there and do what I do. Blocked shots, rebounds, what I do, it doesn’t change.”



    St. John'sSt. John’s senior D’Angelo Harrison and San Diego State junior forward Winston Shepard go back to their days as AAU teammates in Houston.

    They became close when Harrison’s grandmother would drive Shepard to and from AAU tournaments because Shepard’s mother was unable to drive him.

    “My mother had to work long nights, so his grandmother would come pick me up and take me to the gym with him, and we worked out and practiced,” the 6-8 Shepard said. “He would take us on AAU tournament trips. Him and his older brother, they showed me a lot, and I love him, that’s my brother.”

    The two stay in touch via text messaging with other friends several times a week.

    “Me and Winston go back, we’ve always been going at it ever since we met,” Harrison said.

    Lavin also recruited Shepard to St. John’s to team him with Harrison, but the Findlay Prep product said he was never coming to the East Coast over a West Coast school.

    “I don’t really remember it, but I could tell you I could never go to New York,” he said. “I hate the cold, so it wasn’t even something that got that serious.”

    As for the game, they both will have to put their friendship aside to advance in the NCAA Tournament.

    “Honestly I just want to beat him,” Harrison said. “Especially when we go to back home, we go back to Houston workouts. When I see him in Houston, you’re going to want to have that edge, yeah, I beat him. That’s my mindset going in, I don’t want to lose to him.”



    10440768The only player in this game with NCAA Tournament experience as a member of St. John’s won’t be in a Red Storm uniform on Friday.

    Dwayne Polee was Lavin’s first recruit at St. John’s and went for 12 points when the Red Storm lost to Gonzaga in Denver in 2011.

    He transferred after the season to be closer to his ill mother in California.

    “It was a hard decision to make but I had to do what I had to do, so it’s no bad blood between me and St. John’s and anything, I left on good terms,” he said.

    Things haven’t been smooth at San Diego State, either.

    After he collapsed in a game against UC-Riverside Dec. 22, he was diagnosed with an irregular heartbeat and a heart monitor was surgically implanted into his chest.

    “When it happened, it was just a lot of confusion because you kind of feel — I felt, like, kind of dizzy and the next thing you know I wake up with my family, my mom, my dad, my girlfriend, my teammates, my coaches, the ambulance people, the trainers, everybody just over me and, like, it’s just a lot of confusion at the time,” Polee said. “And then moving forward, prior to the operation, it was just a matter of my closest people to me just keeping me real positive because it would have been easy to get down on myself and be ready to quit the game, but they just kept me really positive and my doctors did a great job.”

    Polee didn’t play again until Feb. 21, but is averaging 7.6 points and 2.5 rebounds.

    Aztecs coach Steve Fisher said there are no restrictions on his playing time.

    “He’s had tremendous care from multiple doctors, and he’s being monitored daily,” he said. “We have a doctor with us, doctors have traveled with us on road trips since, and we feel as if Dwayne is good to go. There are no restrictions on him. We’ve got a medical team and a trainer in Tom Abdenour that has done a magnificent job. He’s going to play and our hope is he’ll play and play well.”

    Poles said he never considered giving up the game he loves.

    “I just love the game so I wasn’t going to let my situation stop me from playing,” he said. “I just have positive people around me that would just tell me, you know, just stay positive and keep your head up. The love of my teammates, the coaches, the whole San Diego, my family, it just uplifted me.”

    Written by

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    Adam Zagoria is a Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. A contributor to The New York Times and SportsNet New York (SNY), he is also the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker. His articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, 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.

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