Red Storm Tip-Off Kicks Off New Era

QUEENS, N.Y.- The St. John's basketball season kicked off in high gear on Friday, as the Red Storm Tip-Off 2010 featured scrimmages from both the men's and women's teams. The night also entailed lively music courtesy of D.J. S&S and the St. John's pep band, a dunk contest and some impromptu entertainment from a dancing referee.
Both squads were pumped from the energized crowd, gaining a very enthusiastic welcome behind individual player and coaching staff introductions.
On hand for the revitalized school spirit, were St. John's men's basketball's recent 2011 four-star commitments Jakarr Sampson, D'Angelo Harrison and Maurice Harkless. Still, with several scholarships to give, the Red Storm also had players on the radar in attendance, including Jevon Thomas and JUCO standout Nurideen Lindsey.
"[Harkless] had a lot of fun," said Nate Blue, an advisor to four-star recruit and future Johnnie Harkless. "It was different than last year. Moving it from Taffner Field House to Carnesecca Arena was a good idea and it worked out very well."
"The energy is a little different than in years past and since they have such a great class coming in with already a couple of recruits already committed, it looks like the celebration will get bigger and bigger every year," Blue added.
However, before looking into the future of St. John's basketball, head coach Steve Lavin sparked the crowd even more with talks about moving the squad onto the next level of the journey to the NCAA Tournament -- a feat that has not been accomplished since 2002.
In his speech, he also underscored the importance of fan support in order to accomplish that post-season goal.
"We need all hands on deck if we're going to make the climb in the rugged BIG EAST," Lavin said to a cheering crowd.
After the event, Lavin also mentioned that it is a "great opportunity" to get the seniors in position to continue that upward climb so that they can reach their long-awaited NCAA Tournament goal in the last year of their collegiate careers, not only sending them out with "a college degree, but also some post-season success."
"They're a unique group because they've been through a lot," Lavin told about the veterans, referring to the coaching change earlier this year. "So, what we hope to do is take that baton from [former] coach [Norm] Roberts and continue to make the climb and finish on a high note . . ."
The newest and sole addition to the St. John's family for the 2010-11 season, Dwayne Polee, took the bold step of competing against redshirt sophomore guard Quincy Roberts and senior guard Paris Horne in a post-scrimmage dunk contest. The dunking spree was judged by three members of the women's team - Da'Shena Stevens, Sky Lindsay and Centhya "Coco" Hart. Though Horne took all the beans, Polee still put on a show of his promising upside and vertical.
However, don't expect the high octane play of Polee at the Tip-Off to disperse when conference season comes blowing into the schedule. Lavin feels that Polee, the first recruit under the Steve Lavin Era, could make an immediate impact on the squad this athletic year.
"I think his sense and his feel for the game [and] his skill-set is more polished than a lot of people realize," said Lavin.
"But he's going to naturally hit the wall like every freshman and he's going to have some highs and lows, but we hope by February, he's playing like a sophomore," Lavin continued, "and, by next year, that he can be one of the leaders with that team coming behind him."
With all the pieces slowly coming together and, now, with the crowd seemingly behind them full throttle, the St. John's men's program seems prepared to take New York City by Storm . . . Red Storm, that is!
"I feel like, if we hear any motivation after tonight then we should be fine," said senior swingman D.J. Kennedy. "The fans came out and supported us and that's what we always asked for. So, I definitely feel like this is going to be a great year."