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Up-and-down season for St. John's clouds success of Shamorie Ponds

Ponds earned back-to-back all-Big East first team selections, but how will he do in NBA Draft?

Shamorie Ponds of the St. John's Red Storm

Shamorie Ponds of the St. John's Red Storm reacts after being called for a foul against the Xavier Musketeersat Carnesecca Arena on Thursday. Photo Credit: Steven Ryan

There is no arguing about the numbers. All have been outstanding. Still it’s quite difficult to assess Shamorie Ponds’ season thus far as a success or a disappointment. Perhaps the postseason will tip it one way or the other.

St. John’s star junior was anointed this week as an all-Big East first-teamer, making him just the fifth Red Storm player to have accomplished the feat in back-to-back seasons. He joins coach Chris Mullin, Mark Jackson, Malik Sealy and Marcus Hatten on that list.

Ponds ranks third in the conference in scoring with a 19.8-point average and is second in assists (5.2) and first in steals (2.6). The idea that it’s been anything but a success may be because he performed his artistry on the canvas of a St. John’s season that has been disappointing by many measures.

“I am very happy for Shamorie. He’s been very consistent,” Mullin said Monday. “He is probably the best player ever at St. John’s, statistically. He has just been a very incredible performer. So I am very happy and proud of him.”

Ponds almost certainly will declare for the NBA Draft when the Storm’s season ends. He flirted with the idea of entering it a year ago, worked out for teams and then ultimately decided to return for this season.

The only returning player from last season’s all-conference first team, he was tabbed the preseason Player of the Year in a poll by coaches.

Ponds explained in October that NBA teams communicated that, while his scoring was outstanding, they wanted to see more prototypical point guard qualities. He has been better at creating opportunities for the rest of his teammates this season and has reduced his turnovers by about 25 percent with better decision-making.

His scoring average is down from 21.6 points, however. The second- and third-leading scorers — Mustapha Heron and LJ Figueroa — joined the team this season. His shooting percentage from the floor is up from 42 percent to 46 percent and his three-point shooting is up from 25 percent to 35 percent.

Ponds was captivating last season during a February hot streak when he had five 30-point performances. He has four 30-point games this season, though none since the 37 when the Storm won at Georgetown on Jan. 5. His health may have contributed to that. He missed the Jan. 12 game (a loss) against DePaul because of a lower back strain. And he’s had discomfort in both knees that he has played through the past month.

When asked about it last month he answered, “I’m not blaming anything. Everybody goes through something, but I’m not putting all the blame on that. I’ve just got to go out there and hoop.” He followed that with 27 points in a Feb. 23 win against Seton Hall — the Storm’s last victory.

There are outlets that try to project the 2019 NBA Draft and the preponderance have Ponds as a second-round pick; some have him going undrafted. However, a lot can change once players begin pre-draft training and teams get to do in-person workouts.

If Ponds has an excellent postseason with St. John’s — likely in the bright spotlight of the NCAA Tournament — that should help too.

n Big East honors

Marquette’s Markus Howard was named Player of the Year as the Big East gave out its annual awards before the start of the conference tournament. Villanova’s Jay Wright was tabbed Coach of the Year and Georgetown guard James Akinjo is Freshman of the Year.

n O’Connell media award

The Big East is honoring Elmont’s Jim O’Connell by naming its annual media award for him and by bestowing it this year on his family — his widow Annie and sons Andrew and James. O’Connell was the longtime national college basketball writer for The Associated Press who passed away last July. The award will be given to an individual or individuals for distinguished coverage of college basketball and the Big East Conference.

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