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St. John’s may have filled its biggest need of the offseason on Thursday: A true big man.
The Johnnies’ offseason roster turnover continued with the verbal commitment of Fordham transfer Joel Soriano, a 6-foot-11, 250-pound center who averaged nearly double-double last season.
A Yonkers native who attended Archbishop Stepinac in White Plains, Soriano was courted by a number of other high-major programs and had Zoom meetings with Oklahoma State, Western Kentucky and Pittsburgh, but he ultimately chose St. John’s. He felt wanted, speaking frequently with coach Mike Anderson and assistant Van Macon as soon as he entered the transfer portal. He watched the Johnnies games and could see how he fit.
“I just felt the love the minute I stepped into that transfer portal,” he told The Post in a phone interview. “They told me they needed a big guy like me to bring them to the NCAA Tournament.
“I feel another thing was that they actually didn’t tell me what I wanted to hear. They kept it up front with me, told me my weaknesses. … I appreciated that.”
He becomes the latest local product to join the program, a group that already includes Julian Champagnie (if he returns to school after testing the NBA draft waters), Posh Alexander and Dylan Addae-Wusu, along with incoming freshmen Rafael Pinzon and Drissa Traore. Champagnie spoke to Soriano during his recruitment, emphasizing how much a player like him was needed.
The Johnnies have really struggled inside for several years, dating back to the Chris Mullin era. In each of Anderson’s first two seasons, he went the grad-transfer route without much success. Soriano, meanwhile, has three years left and is more of a proven commodity as someone capable of scoring in the post and being a quality rebounder. This past year, he averaged 10.4 points and 9.2 rebounds.
St. John’s is adding a lot of size next year. Freshmen O’Mar Stanley and Traore both are 6-8, Purdue transfer Aaron Wheeler is 6-9, and mid-year addition Esahia Nyiwe is 6-10. Soriano is a different entity, though. The other players are more combo forwards, not necessarily true big men.
“He can play anywhere in the country. He’s got tremendous hands, tremendous touch around the rim, and I think he’ll be good for them,” a Division I coach familiar with Soriano said. “In the halfcourt, you give him the ball in the post and it’s one-on-one, it’s going to be a bucket. Teams have to double him, have to front him.
“That’s what they’ve been missing over there, a big man like that.”
Another Division I coach wasn’t as bullish, questioning Soriano’s motor and athleticism, although he did praise his soft hands and physicality.
Soriano isn’t concerned about St. John’s uptempo style. Stepinac played fast, and he had to adjust his game for Fordham’s slower pace. He just needs to get in better condition for next season.
“Just got to lose a little bit of this weight, and I feel like I’m going to fit in just fine running up and down with those guys,” he said. “I can’t wait.”
St. John’s now has three open scholarships remaining. That does not include guard Greg Williams Jr., who is in the transfer portal and has heard from a ton of high-major schools but could return, according to sources. The team’s third-leading scorer a year ago, his decision is expected soon. The Johnnies want to add two more guards.