CHARLOTTE, N.C. - The traveling circus that is St. John's basketball introduced a new act on the eve of its first NCAA Tournament appearance in four years. Ladies and gentlemen, meet Rysheed Jordan.
You've seen him perform the past two seasons, now hear him talk for the first time on a public stage at an NCAA news conference.
Under NCAA rules, St. John's coach Steve Lavin had to make all of his players available to the media, and for Jordan, that meant his first news conference with the New York and national media Thursday because the coach previously kept him off-limits, ostensibly to focus on basketball and his classwork.
So the novelty of an NCAA appearance for the five seniors on stage with Jordan was overshadowed by the attention paid to the sophomore point guard before St. John's (21-11) faces Mountain West Conference regular-season champion San Diego State (26-8) Friday night.
"It's going to be great," Jordan said of the NCAA opportunity. "I've been waiting since last year. I just want to go out there and play my game, just stick to the game plan, just win a game."
Jordan was asked about a "rocky" two seasons in which he served a one-game suspension and sat out another after the deaths of two family members during his freshman season, and then missed one game for illness this season, took a one-game leave of absence after the death of his grandmother and came off the bench in another as punishment for a homophobic remark on Twitter.
"I wouldn't say 'rocky,' " he said. "I mean, I'm here now, so that's all that matters . . . I learned that, no matter what goes on in my life, just stay on the basketball court and take everything out on the court."
Will he be with St. John's after this season or possibly declare for the NBA draft? "Right now, I'm not focused on that," Jordan said. "I'm focused on today's practice and tomorrow's game."
He said the ban on interviews was a good idea "because I've been going through a lot," but added that it was a good time to finally talk to the media because, well, "we're on a big stage right now."
It's a big stage, and San Diego State, which is making its sixth straight NCAA appearance, is a formidable opponent. The task is complicated for the Red Storm because center Chris Obekpa, the fifth-leading shot-blocker in the country, is serving a two-week suspension for a violation of team rules. Aztecs coach Steve Fisher said, "They're not as good without him, but they're good enough."
Asked about the disappointment of Obekpa letting down his teammates and coaches at such a critical moment, Lavin said, "You really don't allow yourself to spend any energy on what's in the rearview mirror.
"It's less than ideal to not have Chris Obekpa's services for the NCAA Tournament. Yet we've had to play without Chris -- whether through foul trouble or the injuries he's endured -- and still been successful."
If any team is used to handling constant turmoil, it's the Red Storm. As leading scorer D'Angelo Harrison said, "We're old enough to adjust to anything, and that's what we're prepared to do."