Shamorie Ponds took a hard look at entering the NBA Draft before deciding to return to St. John’s for his junior season. That looked like a very good move Thursday when the 6-1 guard was tabbed the Big East’s Preaseason Player of the Year in a poll of conference coaches.
“I was surprised,” Ponds said as the conference held its media day at Madison Square Garden. “I consider it a blessing, but it’s not something to be satisfied. Knowing who came through this league, it would be a blessing to come out as Player of the Year.”
Ponds led the Big East with a 21.7-point average, reaching 30 six times, and averaged 5.0 rebounds and 4.7 assists.
The last time a St. John’s player opened the season with this accolade was in 1991. Malik Sealy shared it with Georgetown’s Alonzo Mourning.
“He’s earned it. He’s had two incredible seasons. It’s nice people respect him that much,” Red Storm coach Chris Mullin said. “It’s a good accomplishment. Still, preseason doesn’t mean a whole lot . . . There are other great players returning, so it’s a great accomplishment. After this is focusing on how you can be the postseason Player of the Year.”
The NBA evaluations of Ponds suggested that he continue working on his playmaking skills, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t going to keep scoring.
“I talked to all those NBA guys about him and I watch Shamorie every day: It’s efficiency,” Mullin said. “He was a heck of a playmaker last year with [4.7] assists . . . I think his efficiency level will go up. He won’t have to take as many tough shots. I think you’ll see his playmaking have a bigger impact on the game.”
St. John’s was picked to finish fourth in the conference. If the Big East performs as it has, that could mean an NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2015. “I feel good about our team,” Ponds said. “I think we can go pretty far.”
Villanova, which opens the season at No. 9 in the AP poll and is the only Big East school in the Top 25, is favored to win again as it returns forward Eric Paschall and guard Phil Booth. The Wildcats got eight of 10 first-place votes. Marquette got one and was picked second and Providence was third. Butler is behind St. John’s in fifth and also got a first-place vote.
Bailey top freshman
St. John’s freshman Kadaja Bailey was named the Big East Preseason Freshman of the Year in women’s basketball. Bailey, from Long Beach, was a Newsday All-Long Island selection last season from St. Mary’s after averaging 28.6 points.
The Red Storm was tabbed to finish sixth in the poll. DePaul and Marquette were anointed co-favorites, garnering five first-place votes apiece.
Big East vs. Big 12
The Big East has inked a deal with the Big 12 for a men’s basketball challenge. For four seasons beginning in 2019, there will be 10 games played between schools from the two conferences and each conference will get five home games. When the Big East team is hosting, the games will be on FS1. When the Big 12 team is hosting, ESPN will carry the broadcasts.
With many conferences going to 20-game league schedules to boost their metrics for the NCAA Tournament selection committee, this could be a way for the Big East and Big 12 to keep up.