St. John's players aren't cloistered in an ivy tower, so, they're fully aware of coach Norm Roberts' uncertain job status heading into their first-round game against Connecticut in the Big East tournament today at 2:30 p.m. They read the papers and the internet, so, they know the pressure he's under.

But Roberts and the players alike insist the coach's job has not been their focus toward the end of this season. Roberts hasn't tried to use his situation as a motivational tool. They're all sticking to the business at hand of trying to win basketball games.

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Following an emotional outburst yesterday by point guard Malik Boothe, Roberts was asked if it was related to his players' concern about his job. " No, I don't have that feel at all," Roberts said. "I think what they want to do is we played well last year when we beat Georgetown [in the first round]. They know that it's possible that we can do this again and go further. I think they just want to play their best ball and finish the season as strong as possible.

"They know some games have gotten away from us. Now is a chance to recoup that. That's what we talked about. We can recoup it right now because everybody is 0-0."

Progress this season by the Red Storm hasn't really been reflected by the bottom line in that they finished 6-12 in conference to get the 13th seed in the tournament, same as last season. But they've had good road wins at Notre Dame and South Florida, a big comeback at DePaul and a good home win against Louisville. The real indicator of progress is that they've held double-digit leads against some of the top teams in the conference, such as West Virginia. The sticking point is that they've often failed to close the deal. That's what they're hoping to correct in the tournament.

As for the determination about his job status that will be made when the season is over, Roberts shrugged and said, "It is what it is. That's how I look at it. What's meant to be is meant to be. All we can do is do the things we control, which is our energy, our effort, our focus. We're going to give the kids 100 percent, and I expect them to give us 100 percent every time. Life is life. Sometimes, things go your way, and sometimes, they don't That's part of it. We're all big boys, and we'll deal with whatever situation happens."