By Lenn Robbins
After being voted Big East Coach of the Year Wednesday, St. John’s coach Mike Anderson received his share of congratulatory texts and calls. Carldell “Squeaky” Johnson, his point guard at Alabama-Birmingham, and Lee Mayberry, Jr. the lead guard at Arkansas when Anderson was an assistant coach, had an additional message for their former coach.
They are big fans of Anderson’s latest point guard tormenter – freshman Posh Alexander of Brooklyn.
“When you get two high-caliber players like that talking about a guy like that, you got something special,” Anderson said Alexander.
Alexander joined some elite company Wednesday along with Anderson. He became just the second guard in Big East history to win Freshman of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year, which he shared with UConn forward Isaiah Whaley. Allen Iverson, arguably the best two-way guard in Big East history, is the other.
Alexander said he’s watched the player known as “The Answer,” on YouTube.
“He’s a monster,” said Alexander.
Anderson knows what he sees when he watches Alexander.
“He’s the igniter,” said Anderson.
““You just think about what he brings to the table,” Anderson said on a Zoom call Wednesday. “I’ve always envisioned having a guy, I mean, he’s wired for defense. Most kids when they come from high school, junior college, they come with their offensive arsenal. They want to impress everybody that they can score. Well this guy, I’ve said it from Day One, he’ll pick you up when you come off the bus. That’s what he will do. I don’t even have to tell him that. He does that.
“When you got that instinct and ability and when you’re playing the way we play in terms of up tempo basketball it transcends into the team. It ignites guys. You have the dynamite and you got someone to ignite it. Well he’s that guy.”
The 6-foot-1, 205-pound Alexander is the point guard and the point of the spear that is the Red Storm’s attacking, swarming, trapping defense which often leaves opposing teams gasping for a time out and looking for the nearest fire extinguisher. The lgniter leads the league with 3.3 steals per conference games and is seventh nationally at 2.58.
The Red Storm (16-9 overall, 10-9 in the Big East), seeded No.4, opens play in the Big East Conference Tournament Thursday (3:00 p.m.; FS1) in The Garden with a cross-river showdown against fifth-seeded Seton Hall (13-12, 10-9). The teams split the regular-season series and just played on Saturday with the Johnnies rallying from an 18-0 deficit to win going away, 81-71.
What made the comeback even more shocking is that Alexander missed the game with a sprained right thumb, an injury that’s been plaguing him since late-February. Alexander said he will play against the Pirates.
Of course, he will. Alexander has been playing with a vengeance since he believes he was overlooked coming out of Our Savior Lutheran in The Bronx. When he wasn’t listened among the nation’s Top 100 recruits he took a photo of the rankings and made it the screensaver on his cellphone.
“Me personally, I don’t look at the rankings,” said Alexander, not passing a truth detector test. “Every time I go out there I just try to prove that I’m one of the top players or two so I go out there and try to perform every time I’m on the court. So I really don’t pay the rankings no mind.”
Here’s what Alexander should keep in mind.
Johnson averaged 2.6 steals per game in leading the Blazers to the Sweet 16 in 2004. Mayberry Jr., averaged 2.1 steals per game at Arkansas before being drafted 23rd by the Bucks in the 1992.
The Igniter, along with the rest of the Johnnies, have a chance to up their profile as the nation falls in love with college basketball over the next four weeks. This team can be quite a story.
The Johnnies were picked to finish ninth this season; they finished fourth, their best in 21 years. Anderson and Alexander, the A&A man, will be linked in St. John’s lore. Anderson is the first St. John’s coach to win the award since Brian Mahoney in 1993. Alexander is the first St. John’s rookie to win Freshman of the Year since JaKarr Sampson in 2013.
After a loss to Marquette in mid-January the Red Storm wwas 7-7 overall and 2-6 in the cellar of the Big East. Since then they’ve gone 9-3 overall and 8-3 in the league. They play every defensive possession as if they’re trying to blow up the building.
And they’ve got The Igniter to do it.