Mention St. John's to most casual sports fans around New York City and you'll get a response similar to the one Jake Taylor got when he told a group of people that he played for the Indians in "Major League."
"Oh, I didn't realize we still had a team here in Cleveland."
They did, and St. John's, whose 2009-2010 season tips off against Long Island University on Friday night, has been plugging away year after year, with uniforms and everything, even though no one has been paying them much attention. That's what happens when your program makes more news for off-court malfeasance than tournament appearances and they haven't even been scandalous for most of the last decade. They've just been bad, which makes them all but irrelevant to the New York sports scene.
They may not be bad this season, though. They return their top eight players from last year's 16-18 squad, added four well-regarded newcomers to the mix and got a medical redshirt for Anthony Mason Jr. Mason was supposed to be their best player in 2008-09, but missed all but three games with an injury that forced a young team to take on bigger than expected roles. The results weren't always pretty, but players like Paris Horne and D.J. Kennedy got valuable experience as a result. Two other starters whose years were interuppted by injuries, Malik Boothe and Justin Burrell, are back as well. It all adds up to the deepest and most talented team in Norm Roberts's six years on the job.
If Roberts can turn that into something on the court, the Red Storm could become the trendiest thing to hit the city since harem pants. The Giants and Jets appear headed for disappointing finishes, the Knicks remain a civic embarrassment and a long Rangers playoff run -- a.k.a. the thing that gets the Big Apple into hockey -- is six months away from possibly happening. That opens a window for the Red Storm to kick in.
It's not that farfetched, at least according to basketball prognosticators who see them as a potential tournament team this season. The Blue Ribbon Yearbook regards them as the darkhorse of the Big East, and Roberts needs a strong season to have a chance at seeing a seventh year on the sidelines. It's not Chris Mullin and Walter Berry, but it's a lot more than they've had going for them in recent years.
And that includes the void in the sporting scene that they could potentially fill.