A right knee injury five games into last season forced North Babylon's Eugeneia McPherson to miss what has become an expected perk for the St. John's women's basketball team: a berth in the NCAA Tournament. The redshirt senior guard plans on being around from start to finish as the Red Storm goes for its fifth straight bid.
"I knew a lot of people who had suffered this [torn ACL] injury, soccer players and basketball players, and they've come back fine," said McPherson, who averaged 8.4 points and had seven 20-plus- point games in her first three years. "This was my first major injury since I've been playing basketball, so my immediate thought was my career won't probably ever be the same after this. It was actually fine. I had the support of my teammates, coaches, family and friends and the physical therapists also became family, so they made it way easier. And I learned a lot from a coaching perspective. I saw things I wouldn't have seen if I was playing. Sitting out will give me an advantage this year."
Coach Joe Tartamella anticipates that McPherson will be ready by conference play, saying, "She had a long road. However, every day I'm starting to see flashes of the kid that we've seen and we've been accustomed to seeing over her three years. She's embraced her role as a leader. The physical pieces are starting to catch up now as she becomes more comfortable on the court on both ends of the floor. That 80 percent number or 75 percent number will get to 100 and she'll get back to who she's been."
McPherson will return to a dramatically different Big East. Connecticut and Notre Dame have departed, removing two significant roadblocks to the conference title but also creating uncertainty regarding multiple bids to the NCAAs. "We're definitely excited for the new conference," McPherson said. "We're trying to keep the Big East one of the top conferences in women's basketball. We want to be the face of the Big East."
Tartamella added, "I think the playing field is leveled a little bit" with the departure of UConn and Notre Dame. "I think we as a group of coaches all understand the responsibility we have to continue to be as competitive as we can be within the conference and outside of it . . . We had felt our goal was always to be a consistent player on the national scene. This year we're a little bit different, younger than we've ever been, but we do return a good group."
McPherson is the last remaining player from what Tartamella identified as St. John's version of the core four, which also included Da'Shena Stevens, Nadirah McKenith and Shenneika Smith. "Returning one of them [McPherson] is really important to us this year," Tartamella said. "I think we've created a standard that we want to maintain by getting to the postseason."
Preseason all-conference sophomore guard Aliyyah Handford (9.4 points, 4.5 rebounds) leads a talented group of returning players. Tartamella called her a "fixture of our program. She can do a lot on both ends. A tremendous defender. She is one of those cornerstones as we move into the future. Without her, when [McPherson] went down last year, I don't know where we would have been."
Tartamella also mentioned post presence Amber Thompson (6.5, 6.5), outside shooter Briana Brown (8.6, 5.1), senior guard Keylantra Langley, sophomore guard Ashley Perez, and two freshmen, guard Aaliyah Lewis and swing player Jade Walker, who recently had minor knee surgery but should be at full strength by December.
McPherson has just one goal, saying, "It would be really awesome if we made it to the NCAA Tournament five years in a row."