You wouldn’t have noticed if you weren’t paying attention.
On Friday afternoon, junior guard Malik Stith sat behind the table in St. John’s media room, a table with a red, floor-length banner that obscured the lower half of his seated body, and took questions, preceding St. John’s Sunday matchup with UMBC.
When the questioning had ended, Stith said, “Thank you,” got up, and left, heading out to, presumably, the St. John’s training room.
As he walked out the door, it became apparent: that man isn’t wearing any socks or shoes. At that point, it was really just an anecdotal detail.
When Stith eventually slid on some socks and tied his white and red Nikes for Sunday’s game versus UMBC, he put on one of the most impressive performances of his college career, turning his barefoot pregame interview into something more.
Stith, who has said that he partly blamed himself for the slow starts that had plagued this young St. John’s team, helped to spark a 9-1 run coming out of the gate in the second half that put the Red Storm in the driver’s seat for good, on their way to a dominating 83-59 victory.
“I think overall, it gives our team a huge lift, his aggression,” said sophomore guard Nurideen Lindsey, who came one assist shy of a triple-double, tallying 13 points, 10 rebounds, and 9 assists. “Offensively, he had a little pace going with himself. Him being our leader, we need that aggression and that intensity every night.”After scoring no points and turning the ball over once in the first half, Stith was aggressive in transition and in the half court, scoring seven points in the first three minutes of the second.
He went on to score 11 points on a very efficient 4/7 from the floor, two points shy of a career 13 in last year’s season opener versus St. Mary’s (Ca.).
“We kind of inverted, in long stretches, the game and had Malik run out and let Phil [Greene] or Nuri [Lindsey] push the ball,” head coach Steve Lavin explained, after the game. “And, when Malik gets catches down the floor in the scattered court, he’s got some nice cutback moves.”
Stith showed aggressiveness that has only been seen in flashes during his two-plus years at St. John’s, attacking the rim and sticking to his patented efficiency, turning the ball over just once in 27 minutes.
With only a seven-man rotation for St. John’s until at least December, the importance of Stith’s timely productivity will be amplified in upcoming games against Arizona, Kentucky, and Detroit.
If he can become a consistent contributor, along with his assumed role as the only player with more than three games of basketball experience at the Division I level, it will go a long way in smoothing the transition of the other, less experienced members of the Red Storm.
In his two years at St. John’s, Stith has not been used as a primary scoring option, but it appears a new role may be emerging for the Hempstead, Long Island native.
“He’s sturdy enough, in terms of the broad shoulders and the strength that he brings that he can get to the rim and finish,” said Lavin. “Based on the last couple games, it looks like, Malik may be better running the floor and getting catches, kind of like yards after the catch in football, and get to the hoop and try to draw a foul or score.”
And, though his status as the team’s elder statesman has earned him the nickname “Pops,” he’s still young and spry in his old age; he just has his slip-ups, on occasion.
Next time, someone just needs to remind him about his shoes.