Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Trip to Denver Just Another Traveling Call For St. John's

When you mention 'traveling' to St. John's players, they aren't reminded about Justin Brownlee's well publicized walk with 1.7 seconds left against Rutgers in the Big East tournament.  More than likely, they are thinking about being up in the air--flying.  They've been doing all season.  Now, for the first time in nine years, the Red Storm are soaring in the rarefied air of the NCAA Tournament.

The Red Storm haven't been to the NCAA Tournament since 2002.  Now, they are the most experienced team unit in the field of 68 and are flying high without the benefit of any wings.

The 2,000 mile flight to Denver should prove nothing more than a relatively short commute for this squad.  They may have logged more air miles than any other team this season.

This week will be the fourth trip out west for the Red Storm (21-11) team and head coach Steve Lavin thinks his team is built for the NCAA's.

"One of the reasons we went out to St. Mary's to open our season, and went out to the Alaska Shootout, and went back out to play UCLA, was to prepare our players for all the different conditions you could possibly face in the postseason," said Lavin.

Sixth-seeded St. John's plays it's NCAA tournament game against 11th-seeded Gonzaga (24-9) on Thursday and brag that they are built for traveling--air travel. 

The team had logged over 22,000 miles on their three western jaunts.  Even George Clooney's "Up in the Air" character, Ryan Bingham, would skip a hotel promotion party for all those frequent flier miles.

Publicly, the nine seniors on the Red Storm aren't concerning themselves with jet-lag and time changes, but they are taking battle-tested Gonzaga seriously.  The "Zags are making their 13th straight tournament appearance and coming off a nine-game winning streak.

The Red Storm's biggest hurdle should be overcoming the loss of their best all-around player, D.J. Kennedy to a season-ending ACL injury.

At Monday's pep rally and bon voyage sendoff for the Johnnies in Carnesecca Arena, the St. John's swingman was the team's loudest cheerleader and biggest inspiration.  The team knows this one plane trip takes them somewhere special and makes up for four years of watching the Big Dance from the bleachers.  These are the last games of a magical season and their college careers.

"The change in time, we're used to that," Justin Burrell said.  "Jet lag, we're familiar with---we've dealt with it so often this year."

Ryan Bingham couldn't have put it  better.

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