You can delete the word “underdog” from the St. John’s women’s basketball dictionary.
Picked to finish fifth in the Big East and sporting two preseason all conference selections in Da’Shena Stevens and Shenneika Smith, the Red Storm, fresh off a 25-7 season and a NCAA Tournament appearance, is expected to do big things.
But don’t tell that to coach Kim Barnes Arico. She constantly reminds her squad of the plight of the 2006-07 team. Fresh off a second-round NCAA Tournament appearance, the 2006-07 team, led by Kia Wright, was expected to contend. But a rash of injuries and player defections threw a huge monkey wrench into those plans, resulting in an 8-20 season.
“[In 2006-07] we were picked high, so you can’t go by the preseason stuff,” Barnes Arico said from Big East media day at B.B. Kings in Manhattan. “We still have to prove it on the court every game.”
St. John’s, which figures to begin the season in the AP and USA/Today top 25, won’t sneak up anyone this season. Preseason Big East Player of the Year pick Maya Moore of Connecticut, gave St. John’s credit and said “they gave us a lot of trouble” last season.
That statement, along with a second-round appearance in the NCAA Tournament last year, is likely to prompt the rest of the country to keep a closer eye on the Red Storm. Both the Red Storm’s tournament games were broadcast nationally on ESPN.
“It was unbelievable for Moore to speak about us like that,” Barnes Arico said.
But Barnes Arico, in her eighth year on the Red Storm bench, issues a word of caution.
“As fast as you can go up, is as fast as you can go down in this league,” she said.
Her players have gotten the message. “Coach Arico has really kept us humble,” Stevens said. “We’re still not where we want to be.”
Stevens said Barnes Arico constantly reminds the team about what happened in 2006-2007. St. John’s rise on the national scene notwithstanding, Stevens is still convinced the rest of the country understands how good her team can be.
“That’s great that [Moore] gave us a shout out,” Stevens said. “Everyone wants to get a little recognition. But we still think we’re an underdog.”
As for the rest of the Big East, Connecticut is the favorite to capture the regular season title. Although the Huskies expect at least five freshman to play a key role, Geno Auriemma's crew is still expected to be a force.
Former North Babylon star Bria Hartley was the preseason freshman of the year pick.
After Connecticut, West Virginia, Georgetown and Notre Dame were picked second through fourth.