You could forgive the Red Storm if the wind was let out of their sails last Friday night. That’s because that’s when St. John’s learned that leading scorer Anthony Mason Jr. would need season-ending surgery to repair a torn peroneal tendon in his right foot.
Suddenly, the Red Storm, which entered the season with immense optimism, must solider on without their leader.
The New York sports landscape is littered with teams that lost their star player. The Jets lost Vinny Tesaverde in week one in 1999. The Yankees lost Chien-Ming Wang just last season. Those teams recoiled, shell-shocked, and didn’t regain their composure until it was far too late.
This St. Johns team cannot afford to follow those examples. Not this early in the season. Instead, they should look to the other men’s basketball team that calls the Garden home.
The Knicks seemingly had their dreams of a conference finals upset derailed when they lost Patrick Ewing against Indiana in 1999. The Knicks could’ve given up, and they probably should’ve. After all, the Pacers had made them look silly the previous year.
But something was different about those Knicks. They were determined to win. They had had enough of Reggie Miller’s daggers. So Allan Houston, Latrell Sprewell, and the rest of the Knicks dragged themselves off the mat and delivered one of the most inspiring performances New York has ever seen.
No one is asking St. Johns to win the Big East now. That was a stretch even before Mason went down. However, it is not too much to ask the team to come together, to decide that they are sick and tired of being the Big East’s punching bags.
Prior to the start of the season, Norm Roberts described this team as the most talented team he’s had here at St. Johns. If that’s the case, then he needs to look at his players and tell them “Don’t panic.”
The Red Storm can still be competitive. They showed as much by destroying Howard, 79-44. Connecticut, Georgetown, Duke, and Pittsburgh won’t be pushed around so easily. But that doesn’t mean that the Johnnies shouldn’t try.
It will be difficult, but that just means that everyone will have to step up. That means that Sean Evans will have to continue to pull down double-doubles. It means that Justin Burrell will have to shoulder a larger part of the scoring load. It means that Malik Boothe will have to orchestrate the offense a little closer to perfection. It means everyone will have to shoot the ball better.
The season is still very early. Unlike those 1999 Jets, who had to deal with some very tough teams immediately after Testaverde went down, St. Johns has time to fatten up on non-conference opponents.
So maybe they dismantle NJIT and Marist. Maybe they gain some confidence heading into Big East play. Maybe they learn that life without Mason might not be so bad.
The Red Storm might struggle to win this year. But without their leader, they still have the chance to write the most inspiring story the Garden has seen since Houston and Sprewell.
And maybe that wouldn’t be so bad.