One Bat, One Team, One Goal

Much has been written and said about the nine seniors on this 2010-2011 St. John’s roster. Coming up on their final season together, the last and telling test lies ahead, one that will dictate what history says became of this highly-touted Class of 2007.

Being that the majority of these players have been together for three years, working in the same system, going through the same ups and downs as a single, solidified unit, team chemistry is not a problem. “We’ve all been fighting to [make it to the NCAA Tournament] since Day 1,” said senior guard Paris Horne.

The team's brightest moment last season beating UConn at Madison Square Garden at the Big East Tournament. Can they use last season as a stepping stone? (Icon SMI)

Now, with a new energy, in part rooted in the hiring and recruiting success of Steve Lavin, this collection of veterans is poised for a run. With the same mix of attractive charisma and authoritative coaching knowledge that has paid off on the recruiting trail, Lavin seems to have this entire team on the same page and in pursuit of a top seed in the Big East this season. “They’re giving us more responsibility and teaching us how to be men and win,” said senior swingman DJ Kennedy of Coach Lavin and the rest of his staff.

But, with as much business as there has been to get ready for this season, that is not the only thing that has brought them together.

St. John’s fans got their first taste of this newly re-energized and charismatic team at Red Storm Tip-off when senior forward Justin Burrell emerged from the tunnel for his introduction, pointing to the sky and bobbing his head to “What is Love?”, a techno song made famous in the 1998 comedy Night at the Roxbury, much to the delight of his laughing teammates waiting at half court.

With a smile, recalling Burrell’s flawless performance at Tip-off, Paris Horne explained, “We’ve always joked around; I think it’s just that people never got to see it. We have fun but, at the same time, we focus and work hard.”

That “focus” has been at the center of a message from the assistant coaching staff, that of which includes Mike Dunlap and Rico Hines, both of whom have coaching experience in the NBA, along with Tony Chiles, a respected assistant at the Division I level with Drexel and Iona. It is a “focus” on team unity finally translating the personal chemistry they have off the court to positive results in games.

The first symbol of unity that has emerged for this team is what has come to be known as “Coach Dunlap’s Bat”. (#coachdunlapsbat)

The team lost the bat for a minute, we won't point fingers, but Sean @Shizzy5 Evans found it. #coachdunlapsbat (Twitter)

Though little more than a red aluminum bat with some peeling batting tape around the handle, what it symbolizes for this team is much more.

Each player has signed the bat with a marker, officially entering themselves into what DJ Kennedy has called “a brotherhood”. “We all signed it, which means we agree to work as a unit and we all have one goal.”

This bat, as simple as it may seem, embodies something much more profound and is one of the basic building blocks for a new culture of St. John’s basketball. In games last season against top-tier teams like Villanova and West Virginia, where St. John’s held a sizable first half advantage, it appeared to be a lack of cohesiveness that lead to compounded mistakes and second half breakdowns.

What Coach Dunlap’s Bat metaphorically strives to do is to bring all of these players together so they fit into one system and one scheme and stop the late-game runs that sank the team so many times last season.

As jokingly as it has been discussed, it is no laughing matter. Every three days, a new player must carry the bat everywhere they go and return it at the end of that period. And what happens if Dunlap’s Bat goes missing? As senior point guard Malik Boothe plainly put it, “You don’t wanna know.”

This culture shift for the Red Storm is not only in how they play, but how they present themselves as well. Just as Coach Lavin is always clean shaven and well-kept, he expects the same from his players. This means no more facial hair, turning back the clock for some players, back to their baby-faced high school days.

So with all this newly-found need to shave, what kind of products do the 2010-2011 Johnnies prefer? With a smile on his face, Malik Boothe answers quickly, “I never put a razor to this face. That’s my barbers job.” Boothe, who says he has gone to the same barber since 7th grade, instills the same trust in him as his teammates do when he runs the floor on gameday.

So, with a new focus, a new coach, and freshly-shaven faces, these nine seniors will take the floor on November 16th on the big stage, on ESPN against nationally-ranked St. Mary’s.

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