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August 20, 2013

New Pieces in Europe: Hooper & Sanchez

St. John's may not have the extreme makeover it had two years ago, but it will definitely have some additions to the squad that will give it an enhanced look.

The Red Storm, which are preparing for matchups with professional teams in France, Italy and Spain, will have three-out-of-four of its new pieces available in sophomore swingman Max Hooper, senior forward Orlando Sanchez and senior forward God'sGift Achiuwa.

"The way we play, we all share the ball," said junior guard D'Angelo Harrison. "We have a new system and we're looking forward to it. Practice has been really good. Our chemistry is up. This Europe trip definitely will make it better for us."

Sole newcomer, freshman guard Rysheed Jordan will not be available because of back spasms - a condition that head coach Steve Lavin attributes to getting adjusted to the rigors of college basketball workout, weight room and practice demands. And Lavin thinks it is better for him to rest his body and not compete so early in the preseason.

"Obviously, I want to be able to play," said Jordan, who will be wearing jersey number 23 during the upcoming season, in a statement, "but as Coach and the staff told me it's my job to get healthy right now and ready for our season."

So, that leaves the Johnnies with new additions Hooper and Sanchez, and not-so-new Achiuwa.

"Practice has been a lot of fun," said sophomore forward JaKarr Sampson. "The competition has been crazy with everybody back - we have 'Gift, Orlando and Max. The competition is making us all better players."

The situation that makes Sanchez and Hooper so interesting is that neither of them has played with the Johnnies in realtime. Instead, the pair has made their presences felt only in practice sessions. However, in Europe, there will be a definite coming out party for Sanchez and Hooper, who each had to sit out a season because of their respective eligibility and transfer situations and have never played a contest with their teammates.

"[Sanchez] is my partner right now. We compete with each other in practice. We always matchup against each other," said Sampson. "He's been doing really good. I'm excited for Orlando. I tell Orlando and Max Hooper that, right now, they're the best kept secret in college basketball. Nobody knows about them but, after this year, you're going to know about them."

The 6-foot-9, 232-pound Sanchez, who will add more depth to the Red Storm frontcourt, is expected to make an immediate impact on the floor in a multiplicity of ways. Described more as a point-forward by practice buddy Sampson, in a number of rotations, Sanchez will complement 2013 NCAA blocks leader, sophomore center Chris Obekpa down low.

"He brings a lot to the table," said Sampson. "He does a little bit of everything. He brings defense to the team. He brings his shot-blocking. He can handle the ball on the perimeter. He has a nice 3-point shot. He finds people in transition - he rebounds the ball, pushes it in the break, he finds people and gets people involved. He is a high-energy type of player. Right now, he's kind of quiet but, on the court, he's not quiet at all."

Harvard transfer, 6-foot-6, 206-pound Hooper is said to be a player with hot hands. As a 3-guard, he will be useful, like teammate senior swingman Marco Bourgualt, in seeing over the top of a zone and being able to get the ball in motion or catch-and-shoot it from deep. Having another jump-shooter on the squad will dissuade opposing teams from settling for the zone against a more improved perimeter scoring team.

"Max doesn't miss when he's open," junior guard Phil Greene said. "You always have to have a hand on Max. Otherwise, he's going to embarrass you. He's a sniper."

With the relatively unknown capabilities of Sanchez and Hooper at their disposal overseas, the Johnnies' coaching staff will be able to evaluate the endless possibilities of their squad.

"We are now at a situation where I look at our roster and having a more seasoned team, and more depth, and the pieces in terms of balance of size and strength, skill and quickness, inside outside attack," said Lavin, "that we are on equal footing with other teams in the BIG EAST and nationally."

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