Dylan Addae-Wusu came to St. John’s as an afterthought, the other recruit from Our Saviour Lutheran.
Despite a quality freshman year, he took a backseat to close friend and high school teammate Posh Alexander, the Big East’s co-Defensive Player of the Year and Freshman of the Year.
This week, the Bronx native may take center stage.
With Alexander’s status up in the air after suffering a right ankle injury in Saturday’s come-from-behind win over Butler, Addae-Wusu could be St. John’s starting point in this make-or-break week against No. 15 Villanova and No. 24 UConn at the Garden.
If Alexander is out, and St. John’s is listing him day-to-day, Addae-Wusu will return to the starting lineup after being demoted to the bench the past four games in the wake of Aaron Wheeler’s emergence.
“I consider him a starter,” Anderson said. “I just want him to be able to get us into what we want to get into offensively. He’s one of our top assists guys on our basketball team.”
At least on Tuesday, St. John’s may not have to deal with a ranked opponent at full strength. Villanova could be without Big East Player of the Year contender Collin Gillespie and fellow star guard Justin Moore. Both are dealing with ankle injuries, and neither practiced on Monday. They are being listed as game-time decisions, according to Villanova coach Jay Wright.
“Even if they play, I don’t expect either one of them to be 100 percent,” Wright said. “We practiced today like we weren’t going to have either one of them.”
Even if those players are out, St. John’s will be at a disadvantage without Alexander, its top playmaker and perimeter defender. Addae-Wusu, and to a lesser extent graduate senior Stef Smith, will need to fill the void. Junior star Julian Champagnie admitted Alexander’s absence “would change things a lot,” though that would be the case if any key player was out, he added.
“He’s like a one-man press,” Wright said.
Addae-Wusu’s sophomore season has been a mixed bag. His offensive numbers are up across the board. He’s averaging more points (9.5 compared to 6.5), rebounds (4.0) and assists (4.2), while shooting a significantly higher percentage from 3-point range (39.1). But he’s also committing more turnovers, 2.4 up from 1.9 a year ago, and his decision-making has at times been iffy. Addae-Wusu has struggled to finish off drives around the basket. Overall, he has a plus-62 rating this season, and is plus-two in league play.
“If that’s what ends up happening [and Addae-Wusu starts in place of Alexander], I think he’ll be fine,” Champagnie said. “There’s no telling what happens, there’s no telling how he plays or how he handles it, but what I can say is as a team we’re going to help him along. If that means we have to help him handle the ball a little more, then we do that. We have to figure it out.”
St. John’s has played two games without one of its stars. The Johnnies fell to Pittsburgh on Dec. 18 when Champagnie tested positive for COVID-19. And the Red Storm struggled to get by St. Francis Brooklyn on Nov. 23 when Alexander was out with a lower leg strain. But it is in a better place now, as others have picked it up, like Joel Soriano, Tareq Coburn and Wheeler. The Johnnies have won two straight games, and nearly upset No. 15 Providence last Tuesday.
“I think we’re playing a lot harder, we’re playing a lot better,” Champagnie said. “We’re headed in the right direction. We have to put it all together, honestly and truly.”
Four-star forward Brandon Gardner of Word of God Christian Academy (N.C.) began his official visit to St. John’s on Monday. He will be in attendance for Tuesday’s game.