For the first time since 1976, the St. John's men's basketball team (4-2) visits "The Aloha State" to participate in one of college basketball's longest-running tournaments: the 44th Annual Outrigger Hotels Rainbow Classic. The Red Storm takes on the Ohio Bobcats of the Mid-American Conference (MAC) in the first round on Wednesday, Dec. 19, at 5 p.m. HST (10 p.m. EST). Live audio of all STJ games will be available on the "Aloha From Hawaii" page on RedStormSports.com, the official Athletics website of St. John's University.
Eight different conferences are represented in the 2007 version of the Rainbow Classic. In addition to St. John's (BIG EAST) and Ohio (MAC), the tournament features the Georgia Bulldogs of the SEC, the Tulane Green Wave of Conference USA, the St. Mary's Gaels of the WCC, the Louisiana Lafayette Ragin' Cajuns of the Sun Belt, the East Tennesee State Buccaneers of the Atlantic Sun, and host squad Hawaii of the WAC. St. John's has yet to face any teams from those leagues in 2007-08.
St. John's is 3-3 all-time in Rainbow Classic games, having participated in the event in 1969 (1-2) and 1976 (2-1). A win on Wednesday would give St. John's a second round matchup with Louisiana-Lafayette or Hawaii in the championship bracket on Friday, Dec. 21, and a loss would pit the Red Storm against the Ragin' Cajuns or Rainbow Warriors in the consolation bracket. St. John's owns fourth (1969) and fifth (1976) place finishes in the classic.
The Red Storm looks to rebound from two straight losses nearly two weeks apart, having fallen to Niagara, 77-73, on Saturday, Dec. 15. Larry Wright led five St. John's players in double figures with 18 points, but double-double efforts from freshmen Justin Burrell (13 points, 10 rebounds) and D. J. Kennedy (10 points, 11 boards) were not enough to overcome 18 turnovers and 28 fouls in the contest. Wright and rookie Paris Horne each hit four 3-pointers in the game, helping St. John's to a 54.5 percent mark from long range.
St. John's is 3-1 all-time against Ohio, but the teams have not met since a Redmen victory on Nov. 27, 1982. All four meetings have come in either Queens or Madison Square Garden.
The Rainbow Classic may mark the first time in the 2007-08 season that the Red Storm is at full-strength, as Anthony Mason Jr. and Rob Thomas could join their teammates on the floor at the Stan Sheriff Center. Mason Jr. has played only 20 minutes this season while recovering from a high ankle sprain, originally suffered on Nov. 3 during a closed scrimmage, and injured again on Nov. 28 vs. LIU. Thomas, ruled a partial-partial qualifier by the NCAA last September, took the last exam of his NCAA-mandated "year in residence" on Wednesday, Dec. 12, and was therefore allowed to begin practice for the first time as a collegian. Thomas also had to overcome a severe knee injury suffered last March 26, and is now eligible to compete in games since fall grades are in.
One of the youngest teams in NCAA Division I men's basketball, the St. John's roster contains seven scholarship freshman, one redshirt freshman, and one sophomore -- meaning 69.2 percent of Red Storm's scholarship players are underclassmen. St. John's seven-man recruiting class was recognized with a Top 30 national billing by recruiting services.
Two of the Red Storm's top three scoring leaders are freshmen, in Justin Burrell (14.0 points per game) and D.J. Kennedy (12.0 ppg). The rookie duo also paces the squad on the boards, as Burrell is fifth in the BIG EAST (Dec. 17) and the league's top rookie rebounder with 9.5 caroms per game. Kennedy ranks seventh overall and second among league freshman with 9.2 rebounds per outing, giving STJ the best rookie duo on the glass.
Burrell notched his fourth double-double in five games with 13 points and 10 boards against Niagara (Dec. 15), after contributing 19 points and 12 rebounds vs. LIU (Nov. 28), 15 points and 14 boards against FDU (Nov. 25) and a 15-point, 11-board effort against Sacred Heart (Nov. 20).
Kennedy has stepped into a starting role with Mason Jr.'s early-season ankle injury, and has ranked among conference rebounding leaders all season long. Kennedy is third on the St. John's squad in scoring (12.0 ppg) and second in minutes played (31.7 per game).
After five games, the "Magnificent Seven" that make up St. John's freshman class has made its presence felt, accounting for 257-of-428 points (60.0 percent), 161-of-238 rebounds (67.6 percent) and 763-of-1,200 total minutes (63.6 percent).
Eugene Lawrence, the senior floor general, led all BIG EAST players in assists in 2006-07 at 5.6 per game. The fourth-year starter, who has experience at either of the guard positions, is now fifth on St. John's all-time career assists chart with 443, seventh on the all-time steals list with 159, and seventh on the all-time 3-pointers chart with 106. Lawrence needs just seven assists to move into fourth among St. John's all-time assist leaders and pass Chris Mullin, who totaled 449 from 1981-85.
Lawrence has dished 33 assists with only 11 turnovers in the first six games to rank tied for second among all BIG EAST players in assist-to-turnover ratio (Dec. 17), and his 5.5 assist per game average ranks fifth. Lawrence also owns an 11.2 ppg scoring average on the year, good enough for fourth on the Red Storm squad, and his 2.3 steals per game ranks fifth among all league players.
Sophomore guard Larry Wright has packed on 13 lbs. of muscle in the offseason and brings a more aggressive, more confident game to the floor in 2007-08. The sharpshooter who led the Red Storm in 3-point percentage as a freshman last season (.431) has shown an affinity for taking to the hoop one year later, averaging 13.8 points per game. Still a prolific shooter, Wright has drilled 16-of-34 (.471) 3-point attempts, contributing to an 30-of-60 (.500) overall mark from the floor. He is currently fifth in the league in 3-point shooting (Dec. 13) and is tied for seventh with 2.7 made 3-pointers per game (Dec. 13). Wright has led the team in scoring twice this season.
STJ continues in the Rainbow Classic, Dec. 19-22.
Red Storm To Say "Aloha From Hawaii"
When the Red Storm men's basketball team participates in the Rainbow Classic from Dec. 19-22, St. John's fans will almost feel like they are part of the action. RedStormSports.com, the official online home of St. John's Athletics, will provide daily Internet postcards, photo galleries, game recaps, journal entries from the team, and live streaming Internet audio of all of the games.
Each day as St. John's storms through paradise from Dec. 16-22, fans can check out the "Aloha From Hawaii" online feature for the daily update. The Red Storm team will play three games in The Rainbow Classic, tour Pearl Harbor, hit the beaches and participate in a number of cultural activities while visiting the Aloha State for the first time in 31 years.
A seven-team field joins the Red Storm in the Rainbow Classic, including 1996 tournament champion Georgia and 11-time champion and host Hawaii. The Classic is celebrating its 44th year as the longest running eight-team tournament in the country.
The Red Storm opens the tournament on Dec. 19 with a 5 p.m. HST (10 p.m. EST) matchup against the Ohio Bobcats. Hawaii follows with a meeting against Louisiana-Lafayette. On Dec. 20, Tulane and Saint Mary's meet, followed by East Tennessee State and Georgia. The first-round winners advance to the tournament's championship rounds, Dec. 21-22, while the losers will play in the afternoon consolation rounds.
In addition to Georgia, St. John's and Louisiana-Lafayette make their third-ever appearances. East Tennessee State and Ohio make their second-ever appearances, while Saint Mary's and Tulane are first-time participants. The Hawaii Rainbow Warriors, the Classic's defending champions, have captured five of the last six titles, including four straight from 2001-04. Last year, Hawaii defeated Creighton, 76-60, in the final.
Georgia captured the 1996 tournament, defeating Maryland, 73-65, in the final. The Bulldogs also appeared in the championship game of the 2001 Classic and dropped a 54-44 decision to UH.
In its previous visits, St. John's placed fourth in 1969 and fifth in 1976 and owns a 3-3 tourney record. Louisiana-Lafayette, then known as Southwestern Louisiana, placed sixth in 1992 and eighth in 1998 and have a 1-5 mark. In their only appearances, East Tennessee State took sixth (1-2) in 2003 while Ohio placed seventh (1-2) in 1999.