St. John’s basketball culture change unfolding in real time

St. John's basketball (Photo by Porter Binks/Getty Images)
St. John's basketball (Photo by Porter Binks/Getty Images) /

St. John’s basketball is in the midst of a culture change unfolding in real time. 

The biggest phrase in sports now seems to be culture; What’s the culture around the team? The culture needs to be changed. Well, the culture around the St. John’s basketball team is changing and it’s happening in real time.

Head coach Mike Anderson won the press conference when he was introduced as the head coach of the St. John’s Red Storm (13-7, 7-6 Big East) on April 19, 2019.

He brought Mustapha Heron and LJ Figueroa on stage with him and he talked about how he was going to care for his players and create an energy and culture that was a hard-working, gritty, and blue-collar team.

Fast forward and less than two years later and that’s exactly what is happening with the Johnnies.

“This team fits the City of New York, it is blue-collar, we play hard and fast and it is fun. We just have to continue doing what we are doing and hopefully, at some point in time, our fans get to come and see us,” Anderson said after its latest win over Providence.

But they aren’t just winning games, they are doing it in the right way.

Not to pile on the previous regime, but under head coach Chris Mullin the team barely made one NCAA Tournament and there was no direction to the program.

Were they trying to keep high school prospects in New York? Were they trying to bring ‘one-and-dones’ to Queens? Lower ranked recruits? Transfers? Junior college players?

The answer still doesn’t seem known as it was a mix of everything.

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What was the style of the team? A pro system with no future NBA players on the team?

That’s what it looked to be with two former NBA stars on the coaching staff but they didn’t have the personnel to play that way and it showed.

The culture needed to be changed and it started with the hiring of Athletic Director Mike Cragg.

Cragg brought a winning background to Queens, coming from over 30 years at Duke, one that hadn’t truly been at St. John’s since Lou Carnesecca roamed the sidelines.

Following the departure of Mullin, Cragg created the slogan ‘Expect to Win’ that has become a fixture on social media and posted in several athletic buildings and facilities in Queens.

Enter Mike Anderson and his “40 Minutes of Hell”.

Despite many questions surrounding the hire of Anderson and his lack of New York City roots, he’s been a winner at every other stop he’s made before St. John’s and he’s continued his winning ways with the Red Storm.

Anderson has never had a losing season as a head coach and despite staring down losing seasons in his first two years in Queens, he’s rallied his team to a winning season and now on the cusp of an NCAA Tournament bid in his second year.

That’s a culture change.

St. John’s basketball always kept believing

Last season St. John’s struggled with holding double-digit leads and closing out games in the second half and it looked like those struggles would carry into this season after losses to Georgetown, Xavier, and Marquette.

The team didn’t know how to win. Its roster was young, inexperienced, and full of unproven players in big moments. St. John’s needed its head coach to show them how to win, and he did.

At 1-5 in the Big East Conference, the Red Storm never stopped believing in the potential of its team.

“It was knowing what we have here and just keep believing and keeping the faith. Things aren’t going to always go right,” senior point guard Rasheem Dunn said after the team’s rough start to conference play.

“We came into the season thinking that we would be an NCAA Tournament team,” Julian Champagnie said after the team defeated No. 3 Villanova. “It gives us the extra push to know it’s around the corner and we’re a legit contender.”

St. John’s held double-digit leads against Marquette and Providence, both on the road, and saw the Golden Eagles rally to tie the game and the Friars take a five-point lead.

The Johnnies didn’t fold and won both games, helping spark its NCAA Tournament chase.

How many other Red Storm teams in recent memory would have won both of those games?


ALSO READ: St. John’s victory over Villanova costly for young alumnus

That’s a culture change happening in real time and it’s thanks to the confidence instilled in the players by its head coach and athletic director.

“They hired me to win games and that is what we are trying to do,” Anderson said after the victory against Providence on Saturday afternoon.

Well, St. John’s is doing exactly that, winning games and playing very important basketball in February.

“I have the utmost confidence in my teammates, myself, and my coaching staff,” Champagnie explained.

The Johnnies have won six in a row and will be looking to make it seven straight victories against the Butler Bulldogs (5-8, 6-10 Big East) on Tuesday night inside historic Hinkle Fieldhouse (9:00pm EST, Fox Sports 1).

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