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It’s fitting, almost poetic, that Posh Alexander’s Big East opener is against Seton Hall — the program some thought would land him, the school that has done so well with city kids in recent years, that had left St. John’s in its dust the last half-decade.
When the ball is tipped on the Big East season Friday afternoon at Prudential Center in Newark, Alexander will be wearing red, looking to snap the Pirates’ recent run of dominance over the Red Storm and hoping to continue a strong start to his young career.
“I thought it was big,” coach Mike Anderson told The Post in a phone interview, thinking back to Alexander’s commitment. “We made a statement, we want the best players in our city, and he fit that mold.”
The recruiting of Alexander, who was coming out of Our Savior Lutheran High School and the New York Lightning AAU program, was somewhat of a secret. His father, Paul, thought he would choose either Seton Hall or Dayton, his two other finalists. Current St. John’s teammate Julian Champagnie expected Alexander, a fellow Brooklyn native, to pick Dayton, that his own efforts to convince his friend to join the Johnnies would not be enough. Neither knew how much Alexander wanted the spotlight and responsibility that comes with being a New York City star who plays for St. John’s.
“You put the weight of the city on your shoulders,” said his father, a lifelong St. John’s fan. “He wanted to put the city on his back and bring New York basketball back.”
So far, it hasn’t been too much for Alexander to handle. He started immediately at point guard and has led St. John’s to a 5-1 start. Though senior guard Rasheem Dunn missing the past five games with a concussion has added more responsibility for Alexander, he’s averaging 9.3 points, 5.0 assists, 4.0 rebounds and 2.8 steals per game.
Anderson didn’t recall ever starting a freshman point guard in his previous 18 seasons as a head coach. But as the season neared, it became obvious the 6-foot pit bull of a player belonged. It was more than his talent, it was how hard he played, his unselfishness and his natural instincts that quickly earned the respect of his older teammates.
“He can have an impact on the game without even scoring,” Anderson said. “I just think he’s got a chance to be a special player.”
It also has been clear he was an underrated prospect. At one point rated in the top 50, Alexander fell off the map after a broken arm cost him almost his entire junior season, and he put on weight. He returned for his senior season, leading Our Savior Lutheran to the Grind Session Championship Game, but his ranking didn’t follow.
“Everyone local knew how good he was,” Seton Hall coach Kevin Willard said. “That’s why coaches don’t care about rankings.”
Willard was drawn to Alexander’s toughness, motor and defensive tenacity. He thought he would fit in well with Seton Hall — and follow in the recent run of New Yorkers like Isaiah Whitehead, Khadeen Carrington and Desi Rodriguez who attended school across the Hudson River. But Alexander took a different path. He was drawn to Anderson’s up-tempo style, playing alongside Champagnie and the close-knit nature of the program in Queens.
“I give Coach Willard his props, what he’s done,” Alexander’s father said. “But we’re from New York. Seton Hall is New Jersey. They’ve been lucky to get a lot of New York kids. But it’s time for a lot of New York kids to stay home.”
Anderson has done well locally, filling his roster with city guys like Alexander, Champagnie, Dunn and Dylan Wusu, Alexander’s high school teammate. Next year’s recruiting class features two players from nearby powerhouse Long Island Lutheran, Drissa Traore and Rafael Pinzon.
Already, St. John’s is seeing results. Champagnie was selected to the Big East’s all-freshman team last year and is the team’s leading scorer and rebounder thus far. Wusu has been a pleasant surprise as a quality defender and ball-mover off the bench. Dunn was the team’s leading returning scorer.
Friday against Seton Hall, St. John’s will be the team with all of the New Yorkers. Maybe, after eight losses in 10 games to the Pirates, that will lead to a different result, too.