St. John's seemed to address all of its needs with this recruiting class. The perimeter game will be bolstered by Torres, the athleticism was upgraded with Mason and there's an added inside presence with Spears, a junior college transfer. Jasiulionis is an intriguing addition because of his size and versatility. Maybank could help if he is healthy after sitting out as a medical redshirt.
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The end of games, especially at the end of a long season, was when Norm Roberts noticed it most. Forced to work with a shortened roster in his first year as head coach, Roberts saw how the extended minutes took a toll on his players, especially stars Daryll Hill and Lamont Hamilton. Overall, four players averaged 30 minutes or more per game -- and not by choice. It happened out of necessity.
"They were worn down. They had no legs left," Roberts says.
Fatigue shouldn't be as big a problem this year as Roberts continues to separate himself and the Red Storm from a scandal that rocked the program prior to his arrival, plunging it into the darkest chapter in the school's proud basketball history.
The newcomers give Roberts the depth he sorely lacked during a 9-18 season last year.
"We have more flexibility now. We can give some guys a rest if that's what they need," he says. "That's going to help. I think we have a chance to be much better because of that."
The combination of more depth and more experience should help the Red Storm solve its biggest problem from last year -- winning on the road. St. John's finished 0-11 in road games.
Given expanded playing time, Hamilton showed flashes of stardom, averaging 13.3 points and 7.5 rebounds. Now he has some frontcourt help.
Freshman Anthony Mason, who Roberts says is "probably the best athlete on the team," is one of three frontcourt newcomers. Roberts says the 6-foot-6 Mason, the son of the former Knick, "gives us everything we missed last year. He's a slasher, and he gives us length and athleticism. Those are things you can't get by without in this league."
Burly junior post player Aaron Spears, who started at Illinois before a stop in the junior college ranks, will give the Red Storm an added inside presence.
Roberts may take his time bringing along 6-11 freshman center Tomas Jasiulionis, who appears to be just as comfortable on the perimeter as he is under the basket.
The only returning frontcourt player besides Hamilton is 6-5 senior Ryan Williams, although junior college transfer Jermaine Maybank could figure into the small forward mix. He showed promise last preseason before suffering a torn patella tendon that required surgery in November. The 6-5 Maybank missed the entire season as a result.
Despite the added depth, Hill should once again be one of the Big East's leading scorers.
"I don't want him scoring less. I want him scoring more. He's our best player," Roberts says.
Hill, a 6-0 guard, wound up third in the Big East in scoring at 20.7 points per game while averaging 3.5 assists and 3.3 rebounds. He also averaged 38.0 minutes per outing.
"Hopefully, as we develop more scoring options, teams won't be able to key on Daryll as much," says Roberts.
Hill has scored 960 points in 54 career games at St. John's. Last season, he went for 20 points or more 17 times, and he topped the 30-point mark on three occasions.
Three sophomore guards with starting experience give St. John's hope for improvement as well. Eugene Lawrence averaged 7.3 points and was the only freshman to rank among the Big East's top 10 in assists. Classmates Dexter Gray and Cedric Jackson started 26 and 25 games, respectively.
One answer to St. John's perimeter shooting problems is 6-5 freshman Ricky Torres from Bronx high school powerhouse St. Raymond's. Torres' 3-point shooting is a much-needed addition to a team that made the fewest (112) shots from beyond the arc in the Big East last year.
If Roberts could get his kids to work and play as hard as they did during a hopeless season a year ago, how good will St. John's be when he finally has something to work with? The answer won't be known for certain this year, but the Red Storm should move closer to respectability. Hill is one of the Big East's most exciting players, Hamilton is a force inside, and with added depth this year, the NIT is certainly a realistic goal. That would be another major step in Roberts' rebuilding process.