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2023-24 Big East Women’s Basketball Summer Check-In: St. John’s Red Storm

Even when things are going Joe Tartamella’s way, they aren’t going his way for that long.

NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament - First Round - Ohio
Jillian Archer is the lone returning starter for St. John’s.
Photo by Jay LaPrete/NCAA Photos via Getty Images

Team: St. John’s Red Storm

2022-23 Record: 23-9 overall, 13-7 Big East

2022-23 Big East Finish: Tied for fourth, but picked up the tiebreaker with Marquette by way of a better regular season record against Creighton as the two teams were tied in head to head (1-1) as well as records against UConn (1-1) and Villanova (0-2)

Final 2022-23 Her Hoop Stats Ranking: #66

Postseason? After getting bounced from the conference tournament in the quarterfinals by Marquette, the Red Storm earned an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament and went to the First Four as a #11 seed. They defeated Purdue to advance to the first round, where they took a 61-59 loss to #6 seeded North Carolina.

Key Departures: Pull up a chair, everyone, and go get a beverage, we’re going to be here for a minute.

St. John’s had three women who started every single one of their 32 games last season. All three are now gone. There’s another woman who started in all 31 games that they appeared in that’s now gone, as well as a super sub who appeared in every game with one start last year.

Now, the good news, such as it is, goes a little like this: These departures are not surprises for St. John’s. All five of those women were on their fifth and final year of eligibility, with four of them playing five years in Division 1 and the other going four years in D1 with a brief sophomore year stopover in the junior college ranks.

The bad news is that St. John’s has lost their top two scorers in Jayla Everett (16.0) and Kadaja Bailey (12.9) and those were the only two players getting into double digits on average. The bad news continues because St. John’s has lost four of their top five rebounders, including team leader Rayven Peeples, who grabbed up 8.7 caroms a night and was top 160 in the country in terms of rebounding rate on both ends of the floor according to Her Hoop Stats. More bad news: St. John’s loses their top three players in the assists column, including Mimi Reid, who tied with Bailey for the team lead at 2.9, just barely beating out Everett at 2.7 a night. The one of the five that I didn’t capture in that rundown was Danielle Patterson, who was the super sub. She gave the Red Storm 6.7 points and 2.7 rebounds in 16.6 minutes per game while appearing in every contest.

I feel like we should probably mention Danielle Cosgrove and Sitota Gines here, just because they did appear in more than 20 games each. They didn’t have big parts to play, less than seven minutes a game on average, but they played pretty regularly, and it helps drive home the point that this St. John’s roster has been gutted. Cosgrove was on her fifth season of eligibility as well, so that’s not a surprising loss, although Gines has transferred to Buffalo after appearing in 30 games across two seasons.

Key Returners: Two. There are two notable returning players.

Jillian Archer tops the list, as she appeared in all 32 games and started 31 times, and thus qualifies as St. John’s lone returning starter from an NCAA tournament team. She averaged 25 minutes a night, and added 7.2 points to go with 7.7 rebounds, which was second best on the team. She was particularly effective on the offensive glass, ranking #63 in the country in rebounding rate on that end per Her Hoop Stats. It is worth noting at this juncture, given everything else that we have discussed, that this will be Archer’s fifth year of eligibility after spending one at USC and two at Georgetown before joining the Red Storm last season.

Unique Drake is the other notable returning player after playing in every game last season and coming off the bench for nearly 26 minutes a night in all but one contest. The 5’7” guard, who is also on her fifth season of eligibility, averaged 8.6 points, 1.5 rebounds, and 1.6 assists per game while knocking down 37% of her three-point range attempts.

Key Additions: With four incoming transfers to go along with four freshmen, we’ve got a lot to talk about. Well, maybe not that much, as Blue Star Basketball doesn’t note any of the four freshmen in their listings for the Red Storm. The most potentially exciting thing in the press release that St. John’s put out for their signings last November was stating that Prep Girls Hoops ranked Tyonna Bailey (5’10”, Guard, Newark, New Jersey) as the fourth best prospect in New Jersey.

The two transfers that immediately jump out at you are Phoenix Gedeon (6’0”, Forward, Montreal, Quebec, Canada) and Ber’Nyah Mayo (5’6”, Guard, Wilmington, Delaware). Gedeon started in 25 of her 28 appearance for Robert Morris and led the team in both scoring (12.9) and rebounding (8.4) as a sophomore, but the team went just 9-19. She attempted just nine three-pointers across two seasons without making one and shot under 37% from the field in both of her years with the Colonials, so we’ll see how that translates to the Big East. Mayo comes over after three years at UMass, where she’s been a starter since Day One. This past season, she averaged 12.6 points, 4.0 rebounds, and 4.0 assists, plus 2.5 steals per game as well. The steals led the team, but none of the other things did as they went 27-7, but had to settle for the WNIT after losing to Saint Louis in the A-10 championship game. Why is she at St. John’s now? Might be because UMass’ head coach left to take the Pitt job.

SPEAKING OF PITT, Amber Brown (6’0”, Forward, Monroe, Louisiana) is also at St. John’s most likely because Pitt changed their head coach. This will be her fifth season of eligibility after spending four years with the Panthers. Brown was always a starter for Pitt, but never a superstar. As a senior last season, she averaged 9.8 points, 5.1 rebounds, and 1.6 assists. Finally, there’s Tara Daye (5’10”, Guard, Newark, New Jersey), but I have questions about whether or not she’s going to be able to contribute at St. John’s. She was a freshman at DePaul this past season, and sure, she played in 27 games and averaged 11.8 minutes per game, which is good. She only chipped in 1.9 points and 2.3 rebounds in her playing time, and also that was for a Blue Demons team that went 16-17 with an 8-12 record in league play.

Coach: Joe Tartamella, entering his 12th season in charge of the Red Storm and overall as a Division 1 head coach. He has a record of 205-143.

Outlook: I swear to you, I was really expecting to write a positive and glowing outlook for St. John’s in 2023-24.

After three straight years of me pointing out that Joe Tartamella hadn’t been to the NCAA tournament since 2016, and after three losing seasons in the past four campaigns, things turned around for the Red Storm in 2022-23. They got off to a terrific start to the season, going undefeated until the calendar flipped to 2023 and that included a home win over then-#13 Creighton that helped boost the Johnnies into the Associated Press top 25 for three straight weeks. They went 13-7 in Big East play, including a road win over then-#4 Connecticut, and that win against the Huskies was just enough to push them over the line and into the NCAA tournament. Even though it was as a First Four team, St. John’s acquitted themselves nicely, fending off a late Purdue charge to advance to a first round game, and that meant picking up the program’s first NCAA tournament victory since 2014.

Seems like good news all the way around, right? Tartamella’s building something, pieces are coming together, forward momentum, etc., all that good stuff. St. John’s even gave him a contract extension through 2029 in late April.


St. John’s might be bad next season.

They will have little to no continuity from this NCAA tournament team, as five of the seven every night rotation players are gone, leaving Jillian Archer as the only returning starter. Unique Drake might be the player best served by becoming the alpha in the lineup after averaging eight shots a game last season.... but if Tartamella wanted her doing that, she probably would have been starting, not coming off the bench every night, right?

It remains to be seen if Phoenix Gedeon can replicate her production in the Big East, and questions will persist till we see the team in action as to whether or not she was putting up those numbers because she was on a bad team last year. Ber’Nyah Mayo put up numbers for UMass but wasn’t the star there, and again, until we see the Johnnies in action, it’s hard to say whether or not a 5’6” guard is going to be able to do what needs to be done to get 10-plus wins in Big East action.

If Jailah Donald and Skye Owen — they were on the team last year but barely played — can step forward and be rotation players for the Red Storm.... that gives them a rotation of six women. You’d have to figure that Amber Brown and Tara Daye are expecting to do more than they did last year, so that gets you to eight players that Tartamella can rely on.

If every single one of them works out to their best potential.

And if they can actually play together as a team.

Maybe they can, I don’t know, I’m not the one scouting them and recruiting them and making a general season long game plan for them.

There’s another aspect to this season for St. John’s that we have to stop on before we finish. Archer and Drake are done after this season. So is Amber Brown. If the Johnnies are heavily relying on those three women to carry them all season long.... then no matter what their record looks like in 2023-24, we’re going to be right back here next summer having the exact same conversation. If Tartamella manages to put the focus over onto his players with eligibility past this season..... well, that’s a different story, but he didn’t do that last year, now did he?