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St. John’s basketball team holds first open practice

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Mike Jarvis was holding court again Monday.

The head coach of the St. John’s University men’s basketball team was surrounded by a horde of media members at the first open workout of the 2002-2003 Red Storm and it seemed like the fifth-year coach would not have wanted it any other way.

St. John’s is coming off a respectable season, going 20-12 with a berth — and early exit — from the NCAA Tournament, but Jarvis and Co. are expecting bigger things this year, thanks mainly to the return of the team’s leading scorer and three newcomers to the fold.

“I think it’s going to be a fun year for anyone who is following the St. John’s Red Storm,” Jarvis said. “I think we got a great group of guys.”

Marcus Hatten, who averaged 20.1 points per game last season — 22.1 in Big East play — returns to the fold as a pre-season All-American candidate and co-captain of the team, along with graduate student Anthony Glover. Hatten was called upon to carry the team a year ago, playing both the point and shooting guard positions. This year, however, he has some help.

One of the three newcomers is the versatile Elijah Ingram, a McDonald’s High School All-American freshman out of St. Anthony’s (N.J.). Jarvis said that both he and Hatten will share the backcourt duties, with both taking turns at the point guard slot whenever they are both on the court.

Ingram, however, is nursing a torn radial collateral ligament of the left thumb, which was operated on Monday. The injury, however, is considered minor and he should be ready to play when the season opens.

“Two of the players on the floor at all times are going to be interchang­eable,” Jarvis said. “We’re not going to rely on any one player at any one time on the court as far as being the only guy who is going to run the team, run the break, run the offense. We should have a minimum of two.

“To take the ball out of [Hatten’s] hands would be a huge mistake,” the coach added. “We want him to have the ball in his hands as much as possible, but not all the time, like it was a year ago. He’s so good with the basketball and so unselfish that you want the ball in his hands, a lot.”

‘“I think it’s going to benefit both of us,” Hatten said. “I don’t think we’ll have problems with it. To me it’s not a different position. You’re just playing the guard.”

Ingram echoed Hatten’s sentiment.

“I think it’s going to work out well,” the freshman said. “I think we complement each other. I think we’re going to be a hard team to guard this year. He’s a great player and a great shooter and he makes you better. I think we’ll make each other better.”

The result of this strategy, Jarvis said, will take some of the considerable load Hatten carried last year off his shoulders.

But that is also true of the entire team, which, with Ingram and fellow newcomers Tim Doyle (St. Dominic’s, L.I.) and Grady Reynolds (South Union State College), adds to an already deep bench.

With the emergence of walk-on Andre Stanley a year ago, as well as the return of Willie Shaw and Tristan Smith, at least six players on the team can play in the backcourt, no less than four at the one-guard slot.

The same is true up front, with Glover leading the charge, including Reynolds, the swingman Doyle, Kyle Cuffe, Eric King and big men Abe Keita and Curtis Johnson. Mohammed Diakite, who is also returning, will miss a considerable part of the season in recovery from back surgery and might be red-shirted.

“We are deeper,” Jarvis said. “We got a lot of people who play a lot of positions. Everyone, with the exception of Curtis Johnson, can play two positions, at least. When you add all that up that’s where you get your depth.”

Glover, who spent his summer playing the college Rucker league, said he is looking at himself not just as a player this year.

“I consider myself being sort of like an assistant, not like a coaching assistant, but an assistant to the players to let them know when times get rough not to get down on yourself and just keep your head up,” he said. “This team knows what it’s capable of doing. This team has a lot of weapons and we just got to use them the right way.”

The added players will also give Jarvis the ability to create multiple line-ups and completely change the look and tempo of his team at any moment. Because so many players may play more than one position, the coach has also simplified his offense.

“There will be times this year when we will be small and quick,” he said. “Our objective is going to be to try and create match-up problems, whether we go big or go small.”

Johnson is the lone player who is not versatile, but may also be the most improved. Coming off a season when he saw limited duty, the 7-foot-2 soft-spoken center out of Norfolk, Va. has shed 30 pounds and said he is ready to contribute on a regular basis.

“I feel great,” Johnson said. “I’m quicker, I don’t have as much knee pain, I don’t have foot problems, I don’t get winded as much. My confidence level is up and I’m stronger than I’ve ever been in my life, so I feel really good about everything.”

The team will have its hands full this year, as a difficult schedule lays ahead.

“I don’t know how many teams in the country have a tougher schedule,” Jarvis said. “When you talk about playing in the Big East ... there’s probably 10 teams, at least 10 teams, that are good enough to play in the NCAA tournament. Then you add on top of that Duke, UCLA, Wake Forest, possibly North Carolina and the most dangerous teams, all the local teams, Manhattan, Hofstra, Fordham. It’s as tough a schedule, probably as tough as St. John’s has ever had. I don’t know if I’ll ever be this crazy again.”

Reach Sports Editor Anthony Bosco by e-mail at TimesLedger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 130.

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