When he failed to qualify academically for St. John's in the fall, Amir Garrett easily could have called a half to his basketball career to focus on a baseball career that earned him a $1 million signing bonus after he was drafted in the first round as a left-handed pitcher. But Garrett has shown that playing basketball for the Red Storm matters to him, and his 18-point, nine-rebound effort was critical in a 79-72 win over DePaul Monday night at Carnesecca Arena.
"The coaches told me to be aggressive," Garrett said. "I haven’t really been aggressive as much as I could have been with getting to be the basket. They basically told to play my game."
Garrett (pictured) admitted he was scared to shoot when he joined the team after the Christmas holidays, but the beauty of having a six-man rotation is that it affords young players plenty of time to learn from their mistakes in the heat of battle. Garrett's previous highs were 12 points and six rebounds, and he not only surpassed those numbers but played well enough to earn a season-high 37 minutes of playing time from assistant coach Mike Dunlap, who is in charge while head coach Steve Lavin recovers from prostate cancer surgery.
Asked how Garrett has grown, Dunlap said, "He knows our calls now." That recalled Garrett's debut 18 games ago when he basically was freelancing because he hadn't practiced yet.
"He's getting comfortable because he's accumulating time in the gym with really good players," Dunlap said of Garrett. "Now, he's taking the initiative. There's a little more ownership. His arrow is pointing forward."
The same could be said for the team as a whole. Saturday's nationally televised win over UCLA turned into a nice showcase for St. John's freshmen on CBS, and the win over DePaul also was a national telecast on ESPNU. "That game with UCLA did nothing but help us," Dunlap said. "It helped our credibility with recruits. Our sell to our guys is that help is on the way, and we play a great brand of basketball."
When the next recruiting class arrives at St. John's, it will be able to lean heavily on the core six, who had the opportunity to learn more in one season than some players do in four because it has been a matter of survival.