Commentary

The 2000 Johnnies recall Big East title

The last St. John's team to win the Big East title supports current program's success

Updated: March 9, 2011, 7:59 AM ET
By Kieran Darcy | ESPNNewYork.com

NEW YORK -- This season St. John's has already accomplished a bevy of things for the first time in a very long time: a national ranking, a 20-win season, a lock to hear its name called on Selection Sunday, among many others.

Its next attempted feat? Winning the Big East tournament -- can you recall the last time that happened?

It was 11 years ago, way back in the year 2000. But it feels even longer ago, doesn't it?

It does for Anthony Glover, one of the stars of that St. John's team. On Monday, ESPNNewYork.com spoke with Glover, who is living in Argentina and playing pro ball there.

"It does seem long, but I've been gone for so long," said Glover, who is in his fourth year in Argentina, currently playing for San Martin Corrientes, after previous stops in South Korea, Iceland and France. "That was a really special year."

That season -- the team's second under coach Mike Jarvis -- did not get off to special start. The Red Storm lost their opening game to Samford 68-60. But things got much better from there. St. John's finished the regular season 21-7, highlighted by back-to-back wins at Duke and versus UConn in the final week of February.

In fact, that St. John's team was red-hot throughout the month of February, going 8-0 before losing at Miami in OT in early March in the team's regular-season finale. Sound familiar? This year's St. John's team won six in a row and eight of nine in February, if you throw in the Jan. 30 win over Duke, before stubbing its toe at Seton Hall in early March.

In the 2000 Big East quarterfinals, the Red Storm squeaked past Villanova 75-70. That set up a rematch with Miami. The Hurricanes led 57-56 in the waning moments, before Glover was fouled with 2.2 seconds left. The 6-foot-6 sophomore forward averaged 10.2 points and 5.2 rebounds per game that season, but was just a 61.7 percent free throw shooter -- and he was 0-for-5 from the foul line in that game up until that point.

"I was pretty nervous," Glover said. "The only thing I really remember is Coach Jarvis telling me to relax, take your time, and follow through."

[+] EnlargeJarvis
Tomasso DeRosa/Getty ImagesMike Jarvis led St. John's to three NCAA tournament appearances during his time in New York.

Glover did just that, drained both, and propelled St. John's into the championship game against UConn -- which had defeated the Johnnies 82-63 in the championship game the previous year en route to winning the national championship.

"That was our goal, to beat UConn," said Reggie Jessie, another key contributor on that team, by phone. Jessie -- a 6-foot-7 junior forward who averaged 8.7 points and 5.5 rebounds per game -- related how Jarvis had made the St. John's players remain on the Madison Square Garden floor and watch the Huskies celebrate in '99, in order to motivate them.

"We had so much confidence going in [in 2000] -- I can't explain it, but we knew we were going to win," said Jessie, who added that he still wears his championship ring sometimes. "That whole season, we just played confident -- we played like we were the team to beat. We took every practice like that, [and] every game."

Jessie is now back home in New York after playing professionally in Finland, Iceland, Argentina, the CBA and the USBL from 2001 to 2007.

In the 2000 Big East championship game, St. John's got its revenge, defeating Jim Calhoun's club 80-70. Shooting guard Marvis "Bootsy" Thornton led four players in double figures with 22 points and was named the tournament's MVP.

"The laughter, the tears, the smiles, all play over and over in my head as I remember climbing the ladder to cut down the nets," said Chudney Gray via e-mail from Qatar. Gray -- a 6-foot-3 senior who averaged 8.0 points and 2.8 assists primarily off the bench that season -- is currently playing for Al-Gharafa of the Qatar Basketball Federation, after stints in Russia, Lebanon, Egypt and Syria, among other places.

"It was very special, a moment in time that sort of summed up all the hard work we put forth," Gray said of the Big East tourney win. "We had great chemistry. ... We were truly a family and shared a bond that's lasting 'til this day."

Gray said the 2000 team remains close, keeping in touch with each other primarily through e-mail and social media since they are spread out all around the world. He also said he catches up with some of the other guys in person when he's back in New York in the summers.

Speaking of whom, here is what the other key players from that team are up to at the moment. It wasn't a deep squad as St. John's had just eight scholarship players that season, and Jarvis stuck to a tight seven-man rotation most of the time.

Bootsy Thornton (6-foot-4 senior, 15.3 ppg, 5.5 rpg): Thornton, the MVP of the Big East title game, spent six years playing professionally in Italy and a year in Spain. He's currently in his third season with Efes Pilsen Istanbul in Turkey, where he's averaging 8.6 points over 16 Euroleague games this season, and 7.2 points in 19 Turkish League games. (Efes Pilsen is in fourth place in the Turkish League, one spot ahead of Besiktas, the club Allen Iverson signed with in October.)

[+] EnlargeBootsy Thornton
Andy Lyons/Getty ImagesBootsy Thornton was named the MVP of the 2000 Big East tournament.

Erick Barkley (6-foot-1 sophomore, 16.0 ppg, 5.1 apg): Barkley entered the NBA draft following that season and was picked 28th in the first round by Portland. But his NBA career never panned out, as he appeared in just 27 games in two seasons with the Trail Blazers, averaging 2.9 points and 1.5 assists. Most recently, in December Barkley joined the Quebec Kebs of the Premier Basketball League in Canada and spent a couple of months working himself back into shape after not playing since the 2008-09 season in Poland. Barkley appeared in his first game for Quebec on Feb. 4, going scoreless (0-for-3 from the field) with one assist in 18 minutes in a 102-94 overtime loss to the Halifax Rainmen. He was subsequently released.

Lavor Postell (6-foot-6 senior, 14.3 ppg, 6.9 rpg): Postell was drafted by the hometown New York Knicks in 2000, in the second round with the 39th overall pick. He played in 61 games over three seasons for the Knicks, averaging 3.2 points per contest. After that, from 2003 to 2009, Postell had stops in the NBDL, Greece, Italy, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Venezuela and Colombia. The Albany, Ga., native is currently back home in Georgia.

Donald Emanuel (6-foot-8 sophomore, 2.5 ppg, 2.2 rpg): Emanuel, who appeared in all 33 games that season, averaging 12.0 minutes per game, went back home to Houston after graduation and got involved in the entertainment business. For the past year and a half, he has been working for a tutoring service, helping kids who are struggling academically. But he's still an avid St. John's watcher and is thoroughly enjoying this season and the special run so far.

"Oh yeah, man, I'm on Facebook screaming and cheering," said Emanuel via phone. "I honestly thought that Coach Lavin was gonna do a good job when I first found out he got the position. ... I expected good things. I can't say I expected them to happen this fast, but that's the way sports works sometimes. I'm just so happy for Coach Lavin, I'm just so happy for St. John's, I'm just so happy for New York City."

Things didn't end very well for that 1999-2000 St. John's team. After winning the Big East tournament, the Red Storm were installed as a No. 2 seed in the West regional. But after a 61-56 first-round win over Northern Arizona in Tucson, St. John's was upset by No. 10 seed Gonzaga 82-76.

But those Red Storm players will always have their Big East championship to cling to, and cherish.

And they all sound very happy for their alma mater, whatever happens in the postseason, as they watch from around the globe and close to home.

"St. John's is like the Knicks -- they are New York's college basketball team," said Glover, who's been able to watch a few games this season on the Internet, including the win over Pittsburgh. "I do my best to support them while I'm away. ... I'm really proud of these guys."

"It's absolutely great to see St. John's back on track," Gray said. "It brings a lasting smile to my face whenever I see them doing good and continually proving the naysayers wrong. It's been a good while but I think the best is yet to come."

"To me, it was like a matter of time that something good was gonna happen," said Jessie. "[But] I always have pride in being from St. John's. Even when they were losing, I was proud."

Kieran Darcy is an ESPNNewYork.com staff writer. He joined ESPN in August 2000 after graduating from the University of Pennsylvania, where he played four years of JV basketball.
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