From L-R: Kassoum Yakwe, Federico Mussini, Chris Mullin and Bashir Ahmed take in Madison Square Garden atmosphere at Big East media day. (Photo by Vincent Dusovic/St. John's University Athletics)
By Jason Schott (@JESchott19)
The St. John's Red Storm are ready to put last year behind them and start fresh with highly-touted additions Shamorie Ponds and Bashir Ahmed.
St. John's Head Coach Chris Mullin will be entering his second season at the helm.
At Big East Media Day on Tuesday at Madison Square Garden, Mullin said of what he took away from last year, “The whole season was a good learning experience. Obviously, no one likes to lose but when you put the effort in and prepare, you live with the results. I thought our guys did a really good job of that each day and I think that will pay off. When you’re building, it’s not so much about the results. It’s how you handle [the results] and what you do about it.”
Mullin said of what he learned about himself and his team in his first season as a head coach, in which St. John's went 8-24, "I learned I have more patience than I thought I had. Also, I really enjoy the development, not only as players but also passing on things that I was taught on how to deal with adversity how to keep things in perspective, and then keep your focus on what really matters, and that's the day, the moment. When things are going well, it's easy to focus on that moment. When you're dealt with adversity, sometimes you want to avoid it. To really grow, in this case as a player and probably more important as a person, try to really deal with exactly what's going on. If you don't like it, take the right steps to change it."
Sophomore guard Federico Mussini appeared in all 32 games with 24 starts last season, and averaged 10.7 points and had a team-high 56 three-pointers. He scored in double figures 17 times and led the team in scoring 11 times.
Mussini said of how last year’s experience translates over to this season, “Even though we didn’t do well, it was truly helpful because a lot of freshmen got a lot of minutes. Starting my sophomore year, I think we’re more ready because of the minutes we played last season and the work we put in this summer.”
On the biggest takeaway from last season, the Italian native Mussini said, “We need to play for 40 minutes. Even if we play 39 minutes well, it’s still not enough. Last season, there were games where we were down and then made a comeback, but still lost. We need to play hard from the beginning to the end.”
Mullin said of the team’s motivation for the upcoming season, “I think the good thing is that our returning players know what they went through. I don’t think they need any motivation or goals. A lot of the guys coming in watched last year’s team and the reason they came here is to make a difference. We’re really staying focused on the daily approach.”
On the biggest difference between this season and last, Mullin said, “Probably the biggest difference has been having them over the summer. We had a bunch of guys in summer school that were able to be around each other and train in the weight room. That’s something we didn’t have last year. The offseason is really where you become better individuals.”
Sophomore forward Kassoum Yakwe, who averaged 7.5 points, 6.4 rebounds, and 2.8 blocks in Big East play last season, said, “Last year was a learning experience. We were freshmen playing against guys that have been playing in college. We learned from it and we’ve been working [all summer], so I think this year should be fun.”
The Red Storm had a very productive offseason on the recruiting front as they added Shamorie Ponds, who was chosen by the Big East Conference coaches as the Preseason Rookie of the Year.
Ponds is a consensus Top-50 recruit, rated as high as number 32 in the Class of 2016. He was a 2,000-point scorer at Thomas Jefferson High School in Brooklyn, and he averaged 29 points, eight rebounds, and six assists as a senior.
The four-star prospect was named to the 2016 Jordan Brand All-American Team. He competed in the 2015 Under Armour Elite 24 game.
Mullin said of Ponds, “He’s a talented kid. He’s smart on the court, very composed, versatile and has a quiet confidence. You put him out there and he picks things up quickly. He’s got a natural instinct for the game on both ends of the floor.”
Ponds was invited to the USA Men's Basketball U-18 National Team Training Camp.
Mullin, himself a star of the New York City hardwood, said of how Ponds’ success can impact St. John’s ability to recruit local talent, “He is the type of kid we want. A kid who wants to stay home, play in front of his family and friends, and play here at “The World’s Most Famous Arena.”
Yakwe said of the impact freshman Shamorie Ponds will make, “Shamorie is a smart player. [He’s] a point guard who’s not selfish and can make all the important plays in a game. His game is going to help us because basketball is about the team. Shamorie’s defense is good because he’s smart. He knows where the player is going to put the ball on the floor and he reads the game well.”
Mullin plans on playing Ponds with another freshman, Marcus LoVett, and he said of that, “Marcus and Shamorie are both really talented guards with somewhat different skills. It’s only been a week, but they seem to function really well together. Marcus might be a little more of a pure point guard, Shamorie more of a scorer, but he’s also a willing passer. When we’ve used them together, they’ve looked good.”
Mussini said of Ponds, “He’s really talented. I love his game. He can shoot. He’s active on defense with his long arms. He can get easy fast breaks for us and he’s really smart.”
Another big addition to St. John's is Junior guard/forward Bashir Ahmed, who is a junior college transfer from Hutchinson Community College in Kansas.
Ahmed said of why he chose St. John’s, “It’s back home and my family has the chance to come watch and support me. I’ve always been a fan of St. John’s, so I am honored to be here. It’s a dream come true for me.”
The 2016 Jayhawk Conference Player of the Year, Ahmed is a two-time NJCAA All-America honoree. He was a Division I First Team All-American in 2015-16, averaging 20.1 points, 8.1 rebounds, and 2.2 assists.
Ahmed says of his strengths, “I bring a lot of energy on the floor. I play both ends of the floor, defense and offense. I feel like I’m a good team player. I am going to give it my all everyday and work hard.”
In 2014-15, Ahmed was selected Freshman of the Year for the Jayhawk Conference and a NJCAA All American Honorable Mention. He averaged 16.4 points and 7.1 rebounds as a freshman.
Ahmed said of how he can help the team win, “I feel like I bring experience and leadership. I am a hard worker and a good team player [which should help our team this season].”
Yakwe said of the addition of Ahmed, “Bashir is a guy who loves attacking the rim. He’s going to help us get to the free throw line because he’s so strong. He does all the little things. He can pass the ball, his strength is driving and he can rebound. He’s a tough guy and that’s great to have (on our team).”
Ahmed said of how he fits in with the team: “I feel like we’re all on the same page. We’re hungry. Last year, they were rebuilding and had a lot of freshmen with limited experience. With one year under their belt, we have more experience this year and we’re really working hard together.”
On the upcoming season, Ahmed said, “I am very excited. Coming from a JUCO has made me hungrier. So, I am just going to work hard and hopefully help produce some wins.”