The hype for this St. John’s season began when Julian Champagnie announced his decision in early July to return to school for his junior year. As the season nears, it has only intensified.
But, as coach Mike Anderson has alluded to numerous times, there are questions that need to be answered within a roster that features nine new players.
That’s why Wednesday’s exhibition game against Division III Baruch, and Sunday’s closed-door scrimmage with Rhode Island, are significant. Practice can only tell a coach so much. The opener is less than two weeks away.
“I think it’s very important. It gives me a chance to get some [insight into them], in terms of what guys are doing,” Anderson said after St. John’s manhandled Baruch, 107-43, behind 19 points and 13 rebounds from Champagnie and 17 points from newcomer Joel Soriano. “Sometimes I can say it, but now I show it to them. I can show who’s going hard, who’s not. Show who’s the weak link, who’s the guy not rebounding, who’s getting attacked all the time.
“These games here are great barometers to find out who’s ready. There are some guys who are more ready to play than others. Some of these guys are playing for us for just the first time.”
There was a lot to like, even against an overwhelmed opponent. Champagnie’s right wrist, operated on in late July, seemed fine. Soriano showed impressive skill for a 6-foot-11 big man. The other transfers — Montez Mathis, Stef Smith, Aaron Wheeler and Tareq Coburn — all had strong moments. Posh Alexander distributed 10 assists. Freshmen Rafael Pinzon and O’Mar Stanley combined for 18 points.
Anderson got a look at everyone. Less than nine minutes in, he already had gone 10 players deep. The St. John’s coach used those 10 players throughout the lopsided victory. All of them saw at least 14 minutes. Nobody played more than 26 minutes. Every one of them scored.
Soon, an 11th man, sophomore Dylan Addae-Wusu, will join that group. He’s been practicing after undergoing minor ankle surgery.
“I’m basically evaluating them, trying to see what they can do,” Anderson said. “You can do a lot of things in practice. How about when you’re playing somebody other than yourself?
“Guys are going to earn their playing time, through practice and through games.”
Freshman forward Drissa Traore didn’t dress. According to Anderson, St. John’s is considering redshirting the Harlem native who attended high school at Long Island Lutheran.