NCAA BK

St. John's has a lot of new faces

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NEW YORK (AP)

Returning starters? St. John's has one returning player.

Percentage of points and rebounds returning? To find the Red Storm's numbers you better have a magnifying glass.

The 2011-12 St. John's team has 3.3 points, 0.9 rebounds, 0.9 assists and 12.2 minutes back from last season, which ended with the Red Storm's first NCAA tournament appearance since 2002.

Those stats are all from one player: Malik Stith is the lone returnee.

And that incredible nine-man recruiting class second-year coach Steve Lavin put together turned out to be a six-man group when three standout players didn't qualify for the fall semester.

That means St. John's has four freshmen, one sophomore junior college transfer, one junior junior college transfer and Stith.

Suddenly the Big East looks even more daunting than the conference that sent a record 11 teams to the NCAA tournament last season.

Suddenly Stith had to do something few juniors who averaged 3.3 points, 0.9 rebounds, 0.9 assists in 12.2 minutes are expected to do.

''I knew I had to take that leadership role,'' the 5-foot-11 point guard said. ''I was looking forward to it. It would be a challenge for me to put my ego aside and just be a leader, so I was looking forward to it and so far it's going well.''

The inexperienced Red Storm - as different as possible from last season's team that featured 10 seniors - also have had to do without Lavin, who underwent prostate cancer surgery on Oct. 6.

Just what a young team needs.

Assistant Mike Dunlap has been in charge while Lavin recovers but there are daily phone calls about what the next practice should cover and how the players are doing. Lavin's presence is felt because the coaching staff makes sure it is.

''There are attitude things that he absolutely loves,'' Dunlap, who won a Division II national championship at Metro State in 2002, said of Lavin. ''He doesn't like guys going to their shorts, for example, and grabbing their shorts. We're going to do it periodically, but we can hearken to his voice and highlight his voice and say, `When the chief comes through the door that's not going to be acceptable.' We're trying to stave off some potential running and corporal punishment by tipping them on what is important to our boss.''

Recruiting was important last season and Lavin's nine-man class was rated among the best in the country.

Even with the loss of Amir Garrett, Norvel Pelle and JaKarr Sampson for at least the fall semester, the class includes freshmen Moe Harkless, Phil Greene, D'Angelo Harrison and Sir'Dominic Porter, sophomore Nurideen Lindsey and junior God'sgift Achiuwa.

''They've been great. They really have. They've been really, really great,'' assistant coach Rico Hines said. ''They have gotten better since they set foot on this court. We demand a lot of them. There are only seven of them so we ask a lot of those guys and they have responded to it. They are tough-minded guys. They have their up-and-down days because they're young but for the most part they have been consistent, really consistent, surprisingly consistent.''

The Red Storm, who open the season Monday night against William & Mary in the 2K Sports Classic, played two exhibition games, one a 30-point win over Division II C.W. Post, the other a down-to-the-wire seven-point win over Division III St. Mary's of Maryland.

Only seven players saw time in the two games and there were times against St. Mary's that the Red Storm looked like a team of inexperienced players who haven't spent a lot of time on the court with each other.

Harrison made only 1 of 7 from beyond the arc against St. Mary's. He was asked where he thought the team stood with the opener less than a week away.

''Honestly, I think we're ahead of where people think we were going to be,'' the Missouri City, Texas, native said.

Harkless, one of the best high school players in New York, wasn't going to be rattled even by the close game against St. Mary's during which the Red Storm went 1 of 12 from 3-point range and 22 of 42 at the free-throw line.

''We know we have to get better,'' said the 6-8 Harkless, who is versatile enough to play several positions. ''It's a long season. Just continue to get better. That's what we have to do.''

Hall of Fame coach Lou Carnesecca, who led St. John's to 526 wins overs 24 seasons, sat in the stands for both exhibition games.

''They're quick. They are athletic,'' he said. ''They are also very, very young. Patience can be hard to come by. They just need time. They'll be fine.''

Lavin is expected to return to the bench some time in November, but he hasn't been far away from his team.

''We all check on coach Lavin every day to see how he's doing,'' Lindsey said. ''He's still with us and we work extremely hard for him. He's our leader so we make sure that we text him every day to see how he's doing.''

The leader among the players is Stith and he's enjoying the job.

''I have some little tricks I do but I always eat first,'' Stith said with a laugh. ''They treat me like an old man on the team so it's cool.''

He was asked about his nickname from the new guys. He looked down at the floor and a smile crossed his face.

''They call me `Pops,' but that's all part of it,'' he said. ''It's been fun.''

When the games start for real the fun will be over - the Red Storm will play three teams in the top five of the AP's preseason Top 25, six against the top 10, eight against the top 20 and 11 against the top 25. All the new guys will have to step in and be factors right away.

''There's no one voice with us,'' Lindsey said. ''We all learn from each other. When one sees something we all see something. We all notice the same thing collectively. We are able to lock in on what we need to do.''

Tagged: St. John's (NY), Malik Stith

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