St. John's basketball players embracing underdog mentality during stretch run

The St. John's basketball players are hoping to be overlooked as the regular season comes to a close

Jan 6, 2024; Villanova, Pennsylvania, USA; St. John's Red Storm head coach Rick Pitino talks with
Jan 6, 2024; Villanova, Pennsylvania, USA; St. John's Red Storm head coach Rick Pitino talks with / Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
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Players have their own forms of motivation that they seek on a regular basis. For the St. John's basketball team it's simple; being overlooked.

The Johnnies (14-9, 6-6 Big East) enter the most critical part of its season on Saturday evening (6:00 p.m. ET, FS1) against No. 7 Marquette (17-5, 8-3 Big East), embarking on a brutal two game road trip that could determine its NCAA Tournament fate.

Not many are expecting victories from the Red Storm in either of its games against the Golden Eagles or Providence Friars (15-8, 6-6 Big East) and the players wouldn't have it any other way.

"I've almost been a nobody until I played for Coach [Pitino]," Daniss Jenkins explained.

"That's what we are made of. Outside of Sim [Wilcher] and Brady [Dunlap], we weren't highly recruited out of high school. None of us and we are okay with that."

Sometimes that motivation even comes from Pitino, who has said publicly that this team isn't the most talented group of players, but rather a combination of good basketball players that work extremely hard.

"We never worry about coach talking about us not being highly talented or we aren't a great team. We work hard because that's what it is. That's what wins games. That's what wins championships," Jenkins continued.

"That's who we are. That's who we want to be. We don't want to be the guys who had everything handed to us. We like to work hard."

Although Jenkins is from Dallas, Texas, his mindset is like a vintage New Yorker.

Nahiem Alleyne, a National Champion at UConn a season ago, thinks it's a good thing that Pitino doesn't openly gush about the team in order to keep them humble and hungry.

"Sometimes he'll get on you, just to get on you," he said. "To get you mad and make you play harder."

St. John's players certainly won't have anything handed to them if they are given a berth into the NCAA Tournament on March 17 because it means they either finished the regular season very strong or won the Big East Tournament.

Right now, the Johnnies are bordering the cut line of most bracket projections after losing five of its last seven games following a 4-1 start in league play.

Adversity "builds character," according to Jenkins and the Red Storm are facing it right now.

"We love it. We love that mindset and now we have to take it into these games and do it for 40 minutes."

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