Following an up-and-down start to the season that saw St. John’s secure wins over Utah, West Virginia, and local rivals Hofstra and Stony Brook, the Red Storm sit with a 12-7 record and are 4-4 in the Big East.
After finishing just 7-13 in-conference last season, much of this early development has been due to the offseason hiring of head coach Rick Pitino who hates losing so much it ruins him.
“When we lose, I feel like I want to kill myself, jump into the cold and die of frostbite” pic.twitter.com/I687zHeUie
— The Field of 68 (@TheFieldOf68) January 20, 2024
To restructure this St. John’s program before the season, Pitino went out with the old and in with the new, hitting the transfer portal hard to recruit some talent to join him in Queens, NY.
While Joel Soriano and Drissa Traore were quite literally the only players retained from last season’s roster, Pitino acquired ten transfers who’ve all found varying degrees of success throughout the 2023-24 campaign.
Most influential of those has been Daniss Jenkins who started his career at Pacific, but spent last season at Iona playing under Pitino before following him to St. John’s this offseason. Averaging 13.3 PPG and a career-high 5.7 APG, Jenkins has handled the jump from the MAAC to the Big East with ease where he’s stepped up to lead this Red Storm backcourt.
After that win over Hofstra last month, Pitino raved about the aggressiveness and versatility Jenkins has been able to provide for a program still looking to generate chemistry.
“[In addition to 21 points], had nine rebounds, eight assists, zero turnovers, and he carried us on his back to win this game,” said Pitino. “Every time we needed to have a score so Hofstra didn’t take the lead, [Jenkins] did it. He’s a great guard, a great competitor, fouls too much but he carried us on his back tonight.”
Now into Big East play, Jenkins has continued to be an effective contributor and ball handler with double-digit scoring performances through all eight of the Johnnies in-conference contests.
Despite battling some early season injuries, UMass transfer RJ Luis has already stepped up as St. John’s third-leading scorer averaging 11.0 PPG and 5.1 RPG through nine appearances.
Earning his first career start for the Red Storm after returning from injury just a week prior, Luis contributed his first ever double-double with 12 points and 10 boards to stave off Hofstra.
As a young sophomore, Pitino said that while all the intangibles and athleticism are there, Luis still has a lot to learn as he looks to one day lead this program.
“RJ did a lot of things that would drive a coach crazy tonight,” said Pitino. “But he’s as good a talent as I’ve had and that includes at Kentucky and Louisville. We haven’t been able to work with him and play and develop him at all because of [his injuries], he’s just practicing 20% of the time [but] I thought he did great and you all can see the talent.”
While Harvard transfer Chris Ledlum was also banged up during that same Hofstra matchup, he’s been a consistent double-double candidate on the court averaging 10.0 PPG and 7.9 RPG with five double-doubles.
After opening the season with 16 points and 13 boards over Stony Brook, Ledlum has continued his production into Big East play, recently leading a win over Butler with 13 points and 11 rebounds.
More recently, in spite of a tightly contested 73-72 loss to Marquette at Madison Square Garden, Ledlum’s 13 points, 11 boards, and four assists helped to keep the Red Storm close into the waning minutes.
— FOX College Hoops (@CBBonFOX) January 20, 2024
Arriving from Penn this past offseason, expectations were high for Jordan Dingle after a season in which he was the nation’s second-highest scorer averaging a career-best 23.4 PPG.
While he hasn’t quite reached those lofty expectations given the physicality and intensity of the Big East, Dingle’s still proven a vital contributor averaging 10.5 PPG, 1.9 APG, and 1.2 STLPG.
Lately, he’s been battling a bout with COVID, but in the non-conference he was as effective as anybody in the backcourt with six consecutive double-digit scoring efforts starting against Dayton and ending with a loss to Boston College.
However, while Dingle’s missed the last two of St. John’s scheduled games, he’s expected to make his return tonight against a familiar Philadelphia rival in Villanova.
Offering some veteran and Big East experience for this fairly youthful roster has been former Virginia Tech and UConn guard Nahiem Alleyne, who joined the Red Storm after winning a national championship with the Huskies in 2023.
For Pitino, Alleyne’s experience has been invaluable throughout the Big East campaign.
“The only one who really knows the conference is [Alleyne], he’s been through [the Big East],” said Pitino. “He won a national championship out of it, [he] knows the [challenge].
For Alleyne, understanding the rigors and difficulties of this conference has allowed him to better prepare this team for the battles ahead.
“We’ve got to stay tough and stay ready because anybody can come out and beat us,” said Alleyne. “This conference is tough and we have to be willing to accept that [other teams] are going to go on runs and we just have to battle out, keep out heads straight, and go on our runs. From Marquette, to Connecticut, to DePaul, every team is a tough team.”
Providing some key production in different roles while maintaining multiple years of eligibility has been a pair of power-6 transfers in Glenn Taylor Jr. from Oregon State and former top-100 prospect Zuby Ejiofor formerly of Kansas.
Both are averaging under 5.0 PPG and 3.5 RPG despite being listed as forwards, but have still been able to pick their individual movements for the Red Storm this season.
Against Dayton, Taylor managed 11 points, six boards, and three assists, returning just days later against Boston College with another double-digit effort of 10 points, 3 rebounds, and 3 assists.
In a loss to Seton Hall last week, Ejiofor finished as St. John’s second-leading scorer with 13 points, four rebounds, two assists and a career-high five blocked shots.
Currently just sixth in the Big East after three straight losses, Pitino and St. John’s will have an opportunity to bounce back and sweep Villanova for the first time since 1992-93 with a matchup tonight at MSG.