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Big East Basketball: RJ Luis Jr. defines versatility, culture for St. John's

RJ Luis Jr., a sophomore for St. John’s, might not have been an unlikely hero in the team’s dominant 91-72 win against Seton Hall, but he was a focal point of interest. Coming off the bench, Luis led his team in scoring with 18 total points.

Luis was one of six members of the Red Storm to score in double figures. Coming off the bench and playing 29 minutes, he totaled a plus-minus of 13 in his time on the floor; Luis was arguably St. John’s most impactful player. 

“It feels great … our playstyle is very fast-paced, (it) incorporates a lot of guys,” Luis said. “To go out there and have six guys in double figures, that just means we were just sharing the ball; we’re being more connected.”

Connectivity can be hard to come by in the modern era of college basketball. NIL and the transfer portal have changed the way coaches build teams and recruit. For Luis and the Red Storm, who feature a new head coach and seven new rotational players, the bond has been uniquely immediate in their first year together.

“Everybody here, they work really hard,” Luis said. “They’re all about basketball, and I feel like that’s one of the reasons I wanted to come here.”

For St. John’s coach Rick Pitino, Luis’s continued improvements after a season riddled with injuries have made his impactful play in March particularly special.

“RJ is getting better and better,” Pitino said. “Now he’s practicing for the first time every day. So that’s really good.”

Pitino detailed the moment Luis approached him, announcing he was ready to start practicing every day. For Pitino, the first concern was how Luis was feeling, but Luis disregarded it, citing the severity of the time of the year and his team’s NCAA tournament aspirations.

Most notably, that effort and toughness showed in Luis’s volume at the free-throw line, taking a game-high eight free throws without missing one. However, Luis is much more than an energy guy who plays tough around the rim and on defense. He’s one of St. John's most versatile weapons on offense.

“We’ve got a third point guard, and that’s RJ,” Pitino said. “He plays power forward for us, he plays wings, and it's not easy to do and he does it very well.”

Deciding to transfer from UMass as a rising sophomore to a team featuring a coach like Pitino and a plethora of talented veterans coming from situations in which they were top scorers was a risk, but one that’s allowed Luis to develop in a winning environment.

From a team perspective, St. John’s roster construction has allowed it to have an array of players capable of winning games for them, just as Luis did for the team against Seton Hall on Thursday. With an array of seniors, this team has a win-or-go-home mindset that is shared from top to bottom.

“Guys were really locked in, have been. Six seniors, nobody wants to end the season on a bad note,” Luis said. “We want to keep the season alive, so it was just really just coming together, sticking it out … Just not letting the pressure get to us and just looking on to the next game.”


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