"I feel as excited about this team as I did about last year," said St. John's head basketball coach Mike Jarvis before a contingent of reporters in the press room at Alumni Hall Friday night. "The kids believe they can compete and beat anybody."
In the early morning hours of Saturday night, the St. John's men's basketball took the floor for the club's first official "practice" of the 1999-2000 season as part of the University's Roc-A-Fella Madness celebration, a take-off on Midnight Madness with the help of Roc-a-Fella Records.
The evening was more a party than a sporting event, with rappers Dr. Dre, Jay-Z and D.J. Clue on hand before a packed house at the Jamaica campus.
Proceeds from the event will benefit the Team Roc Foundation, an outreach program for New York City youth, and create a scholarship fund at St. John's.
But all the music, games and comedy that took place Friday night were only a prelude to the introduction of the school's men's and women's hoop teams, two squads hoping to build on the success each team saw last season.
The men's sojourn through the 1998-99 campaign is well documented; a surprising run through the regular season, culminating with an appearance in the Elite Eight before bowing out to Ohio State. The women's program also had its share of successes, improving on seasons of sub-par play to a level of respectability.
Both Jarvis and new women's coach Darcel Estep are hoping to continue the trend set last year.
"These kids know how to win," Jarvis said of his 10-man roster, which can certainly prove dangerous if the team gets bitten by the injury bug or gets into frequent foul trouble. I'm excited that these kids are here. We could've filled positions. We could have put people in uniform, but that's not how you build a program. You play the guys you want."
Jarvis' roster this season is without three key players from last year, Tyrone Grant, Ron Artest and Collin Charles. Grant graduated, Artest opted for the NBA and Charles, the team's back-up point guard, transfered. Forward/center Albert Richardson is also gone, losing his bid for another year of eligibility.
In their place will be former Rice High School star Anthony Glover, 6-foot-11 swingman Jack Wolfinger and long-range shooting sensation Heath Orvis. They will join returnees Barkley, Donald Emanuel, Chudney Gray, Reggie Jessie, Lavor Postell, Kareem Syed and Bootsy Thornton.
Though the team seems lean on interior players, Jarvis and his players seem confident that they can succeed against the best teams in the Big East.
"We have a lot of guys who can score a lot," said Thornton. "I'd be more than happy to take on the responsibility. I just want to win."
"We may not be better, but we'll be good," said Barkley. " It's going to take a lot of hard work."
Barkley tried his best to quell speculation about his status next year. The media has long wondered if Barkley, a sophomore, will follow Artest's lead and forgo his final two seasons at St. John's.
"I'm staying in school to get my degree," he said is response to the first question asked of him by a reporter. He later added , "It's possible, but I'm concentrating on academics and this year [with the team]."
Of the new players on the team, Glover is expected to make the most impact. Though not exceedingly tall at 6-foot-6, the hulking forward is being touted at as the best rebounder on the club. His ferocious inside play is already familiar to his teammates.
"He's an ox," Thornton said. "It's a struggle just trying to screen him. There's not a muscle on his body that's not cut. I don't know how anyone wouldn't be intimidated by him."
Wolfinger reminds Barkley of former Rhode Island star and Queens native Lamar Odom, the fourth overall selection in the most recent NBA draft, in that he is a tall and lanky ball handler who plays his best basketball on the perimeter.
"He's not Lamar yet," Barkley said. "But he can take you down low or take you outside."
The men's team will makes its competitive debut on Tuesday, Nov. 2 in an exhibition match-up against Marathon Basketball.
"I won't know what I have until we have a couple of tough losses," Jarvis said. Health is the key. If we're healthy we will compete with anyone."
The women's team is also aiming high. In recent years, the team has had to fight to stay out of the basement in the Big East, but last year the team finished 7-11 in conference games, including four losses of less than 10 points.
Gone is leading scorer Ebony Dickinson and coach Charlene Thomas-Swinson, but back are a quartet of key players
©1999 Community News Group
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