Mike Anderson raising bar for St. John’s: ‘Most talent I’ve had since I’ve been here’


There was conviction in his voice, confidence that this team has the pieces to break through.

A belief that hasn’t been there at this time each of his first three seasons. Less talk about St. John’s needing time to jell and develop cohesion, more talk centered around what it has already exhibited.

Mike Anderson firmly believes he has a contender this season. On Thursday, he set expectations with his optimistic tone.

“[This is] probably the most talent that I’ve had since I’ve been here, more guys that fit what we’re doing,” the St. John’s coach said on media day inside Carnesecca Arena. “This team here has all the components of some of the best teams I’ve had.

“I’m excited by this team. I’m looking forward to this team going out and showing not only this university, but this city — the whole country — what St. John’s is all about.”

Anderson called his three-man freshman class of AJ Storr, Kolby King and Mohamed Keita “underrated.” He praised the maturity of juniors Posh Alexander and Dylan Addae-Wusu. He raved about having up to eight players he sees as capable starters, repeatedly spoke of the comfort of having eight returning players and lauded his program’s depth that is a necessity in the Johnnies’ uptempo, pressing style.

St. John’s coach Mike Anderson
Jason Szenes

Clearly, Anderson is fond of this team, that the mix of upperclassmen and quality newcomers could lead the Johnnies to the NCAA Tournament for the time since his arrival in 2019.

“That’s our expectation, for sure,” center Joel Soriano said. “We have the talent this year. We had the talent when I was here last year.”

But it didn’t equate into results, despite high expectations that weren’t met. The circumstances were very different. A year ago, St. John’s had only three returning contributors. It didn’t have a summer exhibition tour — and the 10 practices that accompany it — to develop chemistry. This team was one of few programs in the country not to lose a single player to the transfer portal, though top scorers Julian Champagnie and Aaron Wheeler leaving for the professional ranks were significant departures. Anderson’s staff added two of the top transfers in the country in Illinois point guard Andre Curbelo and DePaul wing David Jones as projected difference-makers.

“This year we have a special group,” Alexander said.

Last winter, St. John’s couldn’t finish close games, losing 11 contests by single digits. The final one, a one-point heartbreaker in the Big East Tournament quarterfinals to eventual-champion Villanova, was a bitter pill to swallow. But Anderson hopes all those narrow defeats will serve his team well this season.

“All of us, we know what we want to do,” Soriano said. “We know that feeling we had last year, and we don’t want to feel it again.”

Anderson is right there with his players. COVID-19 ended his first season at halftime of the Big East Tournament quarterfinals. St. John’s finished fourth in the league the following year, but stubbed its toe late in the season and fell short of the NCAA Tournament. Last year’s team couldn’t close out games.

“Trust me, I like to win, and I want to win at the highest level,” Anderson said. “Every year I’ve been here has bothered me.”

Maybe this winter will be different. Anderson certainly sees the potential for it to be.

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