The last top-50 prospect to become a Johnnie, Shamorie Ponds, was a Day 1 starter who barely had to fight for his spot.
This new era of St. John’s under Rick Pitino, however, is different. The roster is flooded with talented and experienced transfers. His prized freshman seems to get that.
“I know it’s going to take time, and I’m not rushing or anything,” the 6-foot-4 Wilcher told The Post on Sunday after the Johnnies held an open practice for fans. “I just want to show I can be a point guard, lead my team and help my team win. … It’s basketball. We’re all going to get a chance to play and I just want to win.”
Pitino insisted that he doesn’t have any locked-in starters right now, particularly in the backcourt. It’s still too early for that, even if it seems very likely that Iona University transfer Daniss Jenkins will be his starting point guard and Penn transfer Jordan Dingle will start next to Jenkins.
Both are entering their fourth year of college. Wilcher just had his fourth official practice in college.
“He’s just like [NBA players Pitino coached at Louisville] Donovan Mitchell or Terry Rozier [when they first got to college]. He’s in the learning stages of basketball,” Pitino said. “I think he’s going to be a great player. He’s just learning the game, like they learned the game. It takes time to jump from high school to college. He’s not a physical specimen. He’s going to need to get stronger. But I think he’s got a great future.”
One of Pitino’s favorite attributes in Wilcher is his desire to learn and willingness to listen. He has seen it not only with how the freshman takes coaching, but through his interactions with Jenkins.
Wilcher was thrilled that the senior was able to graduate this summer, and gain immediate eligibility, even if it meant a lesser role for him. They frequently go up against each other in practice.
“It’s extremely helpful. He’s a vet, so he has more experience. Anything I can pick up from him is great,” said Wilcher, who averaged 15.4 points, 5.6 assists and 4.5 rebounds as a senior for Roselle Catholic and was ranked 34th nationally in the 247Sports.com composite. “He gives me gems on how to do certain things while we’re playing, so I enjoy our relationship. I feel like it’s speeding up my progression as we get closer to the season.”
The plan is to play Wilcher at both guard spots, and use him in tandem with Jenkins at times. Wilcher did admit he has some personal goals for the coming season, but he wanted to keep those to himself.
They aren’t as important as the team’s goals, which is to win and win big.
Wilcher took a circuitous route to St. John’s. He initially committed to North Carolina in October of 2021 and signed last November.
But in June, Wilcher asked out of his National Letter of Intent. He wound up choosing St. John’s over Seton Hall, Georgetown and Indiana, mostly due to the opportunity to stay close to his Plainfield, N.J. home and play for a legend in Pitino.
“Everything that people say, it’s really not a lie. He really knows a lot about basketball. Things he says will happen, they happen right after he says it,” Wilcher said. “He’s a great coach to learn under. I feel like he’s going to prepare all of us for a very long future with this basketball thing. Coach just knows so much. It’s different from everybody else, which is why he wins so much.”
Freshman Brady Dunlap (ankle) was held out of practice on Sunday. The team held a scrimmage at the end of the workout. UMass transfer RJ Luis led all scorers with 13 points and Kansas transfer Zuby Ejiofor added 10 points, nine rebounds and two assists.