RECAP: I did something today that I rarely do: stayed sober. Just kidding, I’m faced. I didn’t watch St John’s lose to Villanova by a million or whatever it ended up being in the second round of the BET at MSG Thursday afternoon all the way through to the bitter end. In fact, I didn’t watch all the way through the first half. Because I saw what was coming and just wasn’t in the mood. I have it DVR’ed and maybe I’ll get to it some lazy afternoon but given the choice between watching that and watching the Georgetown game again, I’m watching the Georgetown game again. Because that was fun. Not having watched it I can’t really comment but let me ask my readers one question: is it really possible that Villanova committed seven fucking fouls the entire game? That they played an entire half without committing a single foul, without a single stray hand grazing a shooter’s or a body meeting a body coming through the rye? Because that’s loaves and fishes territory right there; that’s the baby Jesus casting demons into swine. I realize that Jay Wright is a classy fashion icon who runs his championship basketball program the right way and without a whisper of scandal and everybody loves him – I don’t love him, I think he’s a fucking cunt – but has He really transmogrified into a living god right before our eyes like fucking Caligula? Seven personal fouls? Dick Vitale would call more fouls than that if he refereed a dook game and he only has one eye and besides which he’d be hard pressed to blow the whistle, what with Shrewshrensky’s cock and balls buried in his throat. I watched 15 minutes this afternoon and saw Bashir Ahmed get fouled seven times on one drive to the basket. Seven fouls in the entire game? Give me a fucking break … And fuck Georgetown too while we’re at it, but at least Wednesday night we finally got the satisfaction of seeing Chris Mullin bounce a John Thompson team out of a tournament, even if it was 30 years too late and in a play in game in the BET and the wrong John Thompson was coaching. There’s your silver lining right there: St John’s won its first BET game since 2011, when they beat Rutgers in a game they should have lost, in a game that was so poorly officiated that Jim Burr and that stupid drunk Tim Higgins – the two worst referees in the history of college basketball – whose routine incompetence was the stuff of legend – were suspended for being complete and utter shitbrains without the vaguest understanding of the rules of basketball. So there’s that: we’re off the BET schneid. Onward and upward … I know what you’re thinking, you’re thinking fun, what’s with all the angst, you’re usually so even tempered and fair minded, the season didn’t end as well as it might have but things could have been much worse, so why do you seem so angry. And the answer is I don’t know. Frankly I’m ecstatic that I don’t have to write any more of these stupid things, because I’m sick of it; and the end of the basketball season means that spring is in the air, which might not mean a lot to you pussies who live on Long Island but for manly men like me who live upstate and chop their own wood that’s a big fucking deal; and now that this stupid basketball season is over not only am I one season closer to the sweet relief that death will bring but I’m one year closer to St John’s possibly not sucking as much as they’ve sucked my entire adult life. So I don’t know. As the kid’s say, it is what it is.
PLAYERS: Seeing that this is the last recap of the year – and perhaps forever – rather than rehashing the box score I thought I’d hand out some season grades. These are on a true curve: someone gets an A and someone gets and F and most of them cluster around the mean.
Ponds A / Lovett A minus: really a toss up as to whether Ponds or Lovett gets the full A because there’s no significant difference between them statistically. The tipping point for me is Ponds’ age, because he’s a true freshman. And what a freshmen: as good as any I have ever seen at St John’s and that includes the current head coach, who might not have been quite as Mullinesque as he was had he had to play with these stiffs as opposed to David Russell, Billy Goodwin and Kevin Williams. But I wouldn’t argue with anyone who flipped them. They already comprise one of the more memorable back courts in Saint John’s history – joining Utley and Williams; Moses and Mullin; Harvey and Porter; Barkley and Bootsy; Hardy and Kennedy – and have a chance over the next year or two to be one of the more memorable back courts in college basketball. Because they can both handle and they can both shoot and they both have wonderful court instincts. If I were a praying man and thought that the baby Jesus cared about sports I’d pray for their health and well being. Rumors circulating on St John’s fan boards – where rumors circulate with more regularity and velocity than around the knitting circle at Del Boca Vista – have Lovett leaving after this year to play somewhere for money. That wouldn’t be the best thing that ever happened to the program but it’s not an insurmountable setback. And Lovett doesn’t look like someone who’s going to take a step forward, at least on the offensive end, where he’s pretty much fully formed, so to that extent he has no reason to return.
A lot of people have questioned the pair’s effort and especially their defensive effort or more precisely their lack thereof. One fan board genius went so far for example as to complain that despite his having led the Big East in steals – as a freshmen – Ponds was not as good a defender as Gary Payton. Note to that genius: almost no one was as good a defender as Gary Payton, who was perhaps the greatest two way guard in the history of organized basketball. Among the players who were not as good as former NBA defensive player of the year Gary Payton was a freshmen at the University of Oregon who coincidentally was also called Gary Payton. Ponds isn’t even as good a defender as Gene Lawrence, much less Shariff Fordham, who was about as lock down a defender as I can remember.
The fact is that few freshmen are good defenders, because those freshmen who receive high Division One scholarships are so far advanced beyond their high school counterparts that they don’t have to be be good or even adequate defenders to be successful; and even when they play against players who are as advanced as they are in all star games and the like noone cares if they play defense or not. The biggest thing that freshmen players have to learn is that they need to bring it every night – on both sides of the ball. That’s why continuity of personnel and a balanced roster are so important: because upperclassmen who presumably have already learned that lesson can reinforce that message by word and deed. That’s not to excuse their lapses – I have been recently accused of being a Mullin sycophant, although not by someone who knows what the word sycophant means – which are often and obvious. Rather it’s to offer an explanation as to why what you see happening on the court is happening. There’s an old saw of which musicians are fond: How do you get to Carnegie Hall? You practice, because musical greatness is 99 percent perspiration and one percent inspiration. Personally I don’t think that’s true, I think it’s about eighty twenty, but the point holds. The entire foundation of pedagogy is that students learn and improve through repetitive exposure to accumulated wisdom. Yes there are prodigies – like for example Mozart or Chris Mullin – who are launched from the womb with gifts from their creator, but the majority of the population that achieves excellence achieves it through hard work and experience. Beyond all the difficulties that leaving the nest includes, college freshmen have not had the opportunity for exposure to accumulated wisdom. We none of us had that opportunity when we were freshmen lo those many years ago. Which is why patience is in order, because if there was video of you doing homework in your dorm freshmen year, it wouldn’t be flattering.
Ahmed – B minus: certainly Ahmed has some shortcomings in his game but 13 and 6 is pretty solid production from a first year player or for that matter anyone. Assuming a normal progression if next year he has a couple more makes versus a couple fewer misses and has a few more assists and a few fewer turnovers, he’s a second or third team all BE player. There’s certainly precedent for second year improvement among JUCOs – James Scott, Dwight Hardy, and Justin Brownlee off the top of my head – although that’s not a guarantee of success. But the one thing you cannot fault BA for – and you can fault him for a bunch of things – is his effort: he often is the only player on the court who looks like it bothers him that his team is getting its brain kicked in when his team is getting its brain kicked in. And let me tell you one more thing that gnaws at me: the niggling [sic] suspicion that if he was a white kid from Palermo the Red and White crowd would already have started a Kickstarter campaign to build him a staute in front of Carnesecca Arena.
Owens – C plus: If he had even a little bit of an offensive game he’d be a solid B, but he doesn’t: his jump shot is haphazard, his handle is suspect and those other things he throws at the basket are risible. (My suggestion? Sky hook baby!) And considering that he doesn’t his other production (5 rebounds, 2 blocks) is underwhelming. He does bring it every night though, at least until he fouls out, which he does on the reg. And let us be frank: he needs food. Make this guy a sandwich. Give him a milk shake. If you see him on campus give him some of your french fries. If Olive Oyl was this skinny even Bluto wouldn’t want to fuck her and he spent his entire life on a ship surrounded by beguiling cabin boys.
Williams – C plus: If he were being graded versus expectations he’d have gotten an A plus, because no one expected anything from him and he played some big minutes to the extent that there are big minutes on a 13 win team. Good rebounder, solid defender, and a deft touch around the basket – he and Owens were the only players with shooting percentages > 50 percent. I don’t know anything about his eligibility but if he has any then I’d welcome him back despite the fact that he’s seemingly made of tissue paper.
Mussini – C: Probably deserved a C plus but I reduced his grade because I’m racists aginst Italians. In his last half dozen games or so he seem to have found his niche a bit – emphasis on a bit – as an offensive spark off the bench. No one will ever confuse him for Vinnie
Barbarino Johnson but he is what he is. Still can’t guard anyone and is limited by his stature and his lack of athleticism but at least looks like he’s trying. Speaking of upperclassmen he will next year be a junior and to the extent that he has absorbed the atmosphere and the culture for that reason alone I hope he returns.
Yakwe – C: This might be generous considering how he played at the begnning of the year when he looked like a wasted scholarship but he seems to have recently turned a bit of a corner, even if its not evident in the box score. By which I mean that he has for the past month or so has been catching the ball and sometimes finishing, which is a welcome change from the beginning of the season when he spent most of his time fumbling the ball out of bounds. Not a bad defender, especially considering that he’s playing the five with a three’s body, but he needs to learn to rebound. One of the Jucos I didn’t mention earlier was Walter Berry; when you watch Walter Berry rebound in traffic you could superimpose a bubble over his head saying “This is mine.” I don’t mean to compare Yakwe to Berry – because that would be as stupid as comparing Shamorie Ponds to Gary Payton – but if with his athleticism Yakwe had Berry’s greed he’d be immeasurably better off. Yakwe is kind of behind the eight ball having not played basketball until relatively recently, but it’s hard to question those who question the effort of someone who can touch the basket with his nose who has won three jump balls in two years: either he doesn’t undertand the importanmce of jump balls or he doesn’t care about the outcome of the jump. Neither conclusion is flattering. Still, if he were a stock I’d be buying: he can only get better.
Ellison – C minus: Malik Ellison is one of the dumbest players I’ve ever seen who’s had the privilege of donning a St John’s uniform and I’m old enough to have suffered through Kyle Cuffe and Donald Emmanuel. That’s the bad news. The good news is that I was thinking the other day about other dumb St John’s players (no I don’t think I’m wasting my life thanks for asking) and one of them sort of reminded me of Ellison: he was athletic and had good size and looked like he should have been better than he was and was clueless for three years: Dom Pointer. Yes, Pointer was more gifted physically than Ellison and was more highly regarded coming out of high school but the point is that they were both dumb as rocks and sometimes the light just goes on, no matter how dim the bulb. Like Missini he’s an upperclassmen and if my theory about upperclassmen holds his scholarship is better spent on him than on some dopey freshmen who’ll need two years to learn the lessons Ellison might have learned in three. The bottom line is that no one coming into this program is going to be better than Ellison is having been in it for two years, because this is not Kentucky and the worst thing that can happen is that we’ll have to sufffer through another couple of years of him stinking off the bench. Because the two transfers have to be better than him and if they aren’t St John’s is screwed anyway. As an aside one thing I notice is that Pervis is never in attendance, so to the extent that this is the son of a former number one wasted draft pick it’s not doing anyone any favors.
Alibegovic – D: If I were grading his last two games he’d get a C minus but it’s a long semester and attendance counts. For those of you scoring at home, Chris Jones who might have had his minutes otherwise averaged 10 and seven at UNLV. That would probably not have made any difference in any of the games recently but there were a couple of preseason games where an inside presence might have mattered and instead of an inside presence we had Alibeogwitz. All of which being said he better come back next year because otherwise we’ll have wasted three years on this moron and all we’d have gotten from Lavin’s recruiting trips to the Riviera is an extra Lavin chin.
Freudenberg – F: Probably an incomplete would be fairer but if I were fairer you couldn’t be reading this. Also, if not his grandfather some other of his progenitors were probably Nazis and the Nazis were even worse than Donald Trump.
Mullin- C plus: no less an authoirty than Ed Cooley’s diseased head said that Mullin should be the BE coach of the year. I think that’s a bit of a stretch – Doug McDermott’s father should always be the BE coach of the year, because he’s the best coach in the league – but there’s no denying the strides St John’s has made in two years. Mullin has collected the most talented roster since Norm Roberts juniors – Kennedy, Horne, Burrell, Hardy, Brownlee, plus NCAA scoring leader Quincy Roberts and former #1 NYC player Malik Boothe – and has a couple of highly regarded transfers in the wings; he won eight games in one of the better basketball conferences in college basketball – which the haters might poo poo, but the haters were in December wondering whether St John’s was going to win three more games all year; he has transformed himself from a seemingly disinterested observer sitting on the scorer’s table to an active and engaged head coach firmly in control of his team and his program and who seems willing to kick John Thompson three’s ass if it come to it; and his in game decisions while not always what they might have been were for the most part understandable. Certainly there are things on the negative side: the final record is not what anyone might have wished due mainly to some early season disasters; there were times when the team came out flat or didn’t show up at all; and the defense is a real problem. But on the whole, in what is essentially year one of a five year rebuild – because only the delusional think last year counts – with a team comprising six first year players, things might have been much much worse.
But there is no question that next year is the big year. Last year was a step forward: St John’s rid itself of that fraud Steve Lavin, hired the greatest player in its history as head coach and brought in a stellar recruiting class. This year was a step forward: the team nearly doubled its win in total and outperformed expectations in conference. But next year is where the rubber meets the road: barring some catastrophic personnel defections St John’s is poised to improve on its record and to do so they must demonstrate that their coach is imparting to them wisdom in a way that they are able to absorb. Essentially they must be at a minimum a bubble team: they have to win 18 games plus or minus and they have to be midpack in the BE at around 10 wins plus or minus and they must be an NCAA caliber team, even if they end up in the NIT. The last several coaches have faltered at this point in their tenures: Norm failed to take the next step in his year four, as did Lavin; Jarhead’s wheels came off after Fran’s recruits graduated and if not for the fact that Marcus Hatten was a supernatural being he would have been exposed much earlier than he was. They won’t fire Mullin next year if he shits the bed – and I am such a fan that I wouldn’t be surprised that if he shits the bed he does so elegantly and that his ordure smells delightful – but next year is the year he has to show results. Because the honeymoon is over. There’s blood on the sheets: now is the time for my bride to make me a sandwich. And it better be fucking delicious.
NOTES: So that’s that. All in all it wasn’t a bad year but it wasn’t a good one either. To the extent that I didn’t think it would be, I’m vindicated. To the extent that I hoped it might be, I’m disappointed. To the extent that I expect to live until next fall, I’m hopeful. (I told my dentist at my last bi-annual cleaning that according to actuarial tables every time we meet I’m two percent closer to the grave than I was the last time we did. If he had not laughed I would have found a new dentist.) Anyway, basketball’s over, the Derby trail looms and after that the great sports desert, because fuck baseball. Perhaps we’ll see each other next year. Perhaps we won’t. Que sera sera.