St. Johns guard Nahiem Alleyne working on consistency to earn major role
HARTFORD, Conn. Rick Pitino had a nickname for Nahiem Alleyne, one that the Connecticut graduate transfer couldnt have been too fond of.
A week ago in practice he would have zero rebounds, zero assists, zero steals, and I called him the bagel man, the Hall of Fame coach recalled.
That name wont stick if Alleyne continues to perform like he did in the practices leading up to Wednesdays 81-66 win over Xavier.
Its what got him into the starting lineup.
Alleyne took advantage of the opportunity, scoring 15 points and adding four rebounds, two assists and a steal in a season-high 33 minutes against the Musketeers.
Now, its about consistency.
The 6-foot-4 southpaw has been somewhat of a mystery so far for St. Johns, a quality defender and shotmaker who had yet to carve out a major role for himself with the Johnnies.
He has played well in some of St. Johns best wins, scoring 10 points in a neutral site victory over Utah andnotching 14 points in a win at West Virginia, but his minutes a career-low 17.5 have not been there on a regular basis.
3Japhet Medor #0 of the Fordham Rams drives to the basket as Nahiem Alleyne #4 of the St. John’s Red Storm defends during the first half. Robert Sabo for NY PostPart of that, it should be noted, was Pitino trying to find out what he has with this almost brand-new team.
A four-year, high-major contributor on winning teams at Virginia Tech and UConn, Alleyne was more of a given.
Coach is trying to pull something out of him other stops havent done, said Cory Underwood, Alleynes advisor. He wants Na to check other boxes, be a threat to get to the rim, rebound a bit, show off his passing chops. I think Coach has done a good job of jumping his ass. He knows, if Im not rebounding, if I dont get deflections, Coach is going to get on my case.
St. John’s defense clamps down on Xavier for impressive win in Big East opener
Asked about the high variance of Alleynes minutes, Pitino said he hasnt performed well enough in practice and hasnt deserved to start.
Alleyne thinks he has to treat practices more like games.
Earlier in the season, he apologized to Pitino for not performing up to either ones standards, an admission that impressed the legendary coach.
Now that Big East play has arrived, a light may have gone off, for both the coach and player.
They need each other.
Hes very important to us because of his defense. Hes highly intelligent, Pitino said. We know he can guard, we know he can shoot.
St. Johns (8-3, 1-0) may be better served starting Alleyne and bringing Jordan Dingle, the nations second-leading scorer a year ago at Penn, off the bench.
Alleyne and starting point guard Daniss Jenkins are the Johnnies best defenders at the guard position.
The offensive-minded Dingle makes more sense as a microwave scorer off the bench who needs the ball in his hands.
Star center Joel Soriano believes Alleyne sparks St. Johns when hes playing well, particularly in the press.
3Nahiem Alleyne #4 of the St. John’s Red Storm puts up a three point shot over Joshua Rivera #55 of the Fordham Rams. Robert Sabo for NY PostFor the time being at least, Alleyne can make this new lineup stick by continuing his recent strong play.
Saturday night will be a major test, facing his old team in Hartford, Conn.
It figures to be an emotional night for Alleyne.
He won a national title as a key reserve for the Huskies (10-2, 0-1) last year.
Just a lot of intensity, no buddy-buddy ball, Alleyne said is what he expects. I cant be friends out there, even though I know those guys and won a national championship with those guys. But at the end of the day, Im on the opposite team. Im here to kill them and get a dub. Simple as that.
3Nahiem Alleyne #4 of the Connecticut Huskies reacts after defeating the San Diego State Aztecs 76-59 during the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament National Championship game. Getty ImagesAs St. Johns was getting off to a slow start, and Connecticut was manhandling quality opponents like North Carolina, Texas, Gonzaga and Indiana, it would be understandable for Alleyne to second-guess his decision.
But he has insisted thats not the case.
He left UConn for St. Johns because he wanted to play for Pitino and thought there was a chance for a major role in Queens to close out his college career.
Nothing has changed for him.
I dont really think about what couldve been, just because Im here now, and Im blessed to be here right now, Alleyne said. I know theyre off to a hot start, theyre doing good, but were ready for them.
Connecticut could be without star sophomore center Donovan Clingan on Saturday night.
Clingan suffered a sprained right ankle in the fifth-ranked Huskies surprising loss to Seton Hall on Wednesday and wasnt able to practice Thursday or Friday, coach Dan Hurley told reporters.
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