Every college basketball coach covets a player who can create her own shot. It’s one of the most-valued commodities in the game and St. John’s Joe Tartamella has reason to feel good because he has that in freshman Kadaja Bailey.
The 6-foot guard has some other ideas. “I don’t look for my own shot,” she said. “With my speed, I’m going to get you in the air and go by for a layup. I can finish and I’d rather do that than just shoot.”
Bailey is the Red Storm’s newest big threat and should be a familiar name to basketball Long Island fans. She hails from Long Beach and starred at St. Mary’s High, twice being named to Newsday’s All-Long Island team. She averaged 28.6 points last season after averaging 19.6 as a junior.
And though she will probably begin the season as the Storm’s sixth player, it’s a team that will need a scoring lift. St. John’s went 19-15 last season and reached the WNIT quarterfinals, its sixth straight postseason appearance, but graduated leading scorer Maya Singleton.
“(Bailey) has an unbelievable handle for her height, she can always get her own shot and she’s one of the best players I’ve seen at finishing in transition,” Tartamella said. “Watching her in the summer and in high school, she made more great plays coast-to-coast than I’ve seen kids make. It was still high school, but she is gifted offensively.”
The Red Storm returns a pair of double-digit scorers in guard Qadashah Hoppie (10.1-point average) and swing player Akina Wellere (10.5) as well as assist leader Tiana England (5.0 per game) and opens Nov. 9 at Iona. St. John’s was picked sixth of 10 in the preaseason poll of Big East coaches.
Bailey gives the Red Storm a real chance at a rare double: back-to-back seasons producing the Big East’s Freshman of the Year.
Last season the 5-7 Hoppie played well early, cracked the starting lineup in her seventh game and ended up leading all conference freshman with a 10.1-point average. Asked 10 days ago whether he believes he is looking at another Freshman of the Year in Bailey, Tartamella replied “we could — I really believe that.”
It turns out he’s not the only one. At the Big East’s media day on Thursday at Madison Square Garden, Bailey was tabbed Preseason Freshman of the Year in the poll.
“I want to be somebody who adds chemistry to the team and helps it get more wins,” Bailey said. “Hopefully I’ll be the Big East Freshman of the Year — that’s what I’d want to bring to this team. It happened last year so it can happen, but I have to work hard and win my opportunities.”
“The game changes from high school to college, but it’s all about the mindset,” Hoppie said of Bailey. “If you come in with Division I mindset instead of a freshman mindset, you can be as a successful as you want to be. Kadaja could be like that.”
Bailey’s arrival is actually four years in the making. She began attending Tartamella’s St. John’s summer camp in seventh grade because, she said "I want to see a college program and how they train.” When she was a freshman, Tartamella asked her about joining the Red Storm and she committed.
Her star rose at St. Mary’s and other colleges — notably Syracuse and Villanova — sought to recruit her but Bailey said, “I just knew I’d be able to fit in here and didn’t want to go to any other schools.”
“This almost never plays out.,” Tartamella said. “You hope they’ll be really good and they’ll want to be a part of what we have. She did.”
Hoppie described earning Freshman of the Year last season “as a great accomplishment” and was asked what she sees in Bailey. She replied “we have a good future — that’s what I see.”
OTHERS TO WATCH
Qadashah Hoppie, 5-7 Soph.
The 2017-18 Big East Freshman of the Year led all first-years in scoring with a 10.1-point average. The shooting guard finished in double figures 17 times and led the team in scoring nine times. “I didn’t think of myself as a freshman because that introduces what you can’t do,” she said. “I was just a basketball player and put my all into the game.”
Akina Wellere, 5-11 Sr.
The team’s veteran leader also is the Red Storm’s top returning scorer, having average 10.5 points to go with 2.7 rebounds. She has been named to watch list for the Ann Meyeters Drysdale Award, given annually to nation’s best shooting guard.
Tiana England, 5-7 Soph.
After missing what was to be her freshman season with a torn ACL, the point guard made the most of her first college season by averaging 9.4 points, 5.0 assists and 3.1 rebounds while starting 32 games in 2017-18. She was a unanimous choice for the Big East’s all-Freshman team.