In what had been a dreary season for the St. John's hoop faithful, Shamorie Ponds almost single-handedly turned things around in the span of a week. Last Saturday the Red Storm limped into Madison Square Garden smarting from an 0-11 Big East Conference record to face No. 4 Duke. Behind Ponds, St. John's not only stunned the Blue Devils, but followed that up by taking down Villanova, the top-ranked team in the nation, with the sophomore southpaw putting up 33 points and 26 points, respectively. A week after the Duke triumph, Ponds set the scoring record at Carnesecca Arena by netting 44 points in the Red Storm's win over Marquette. The performances garnered national attention, with Ponds being awarded back-to-back Player of the Week honors from the Big East Conference and NCAA.com.
In the history of St. John's basketball, an era that dates back to 1908, only two players have scored more than 44 points in a game, with one of those players eclipsing that mark twice.
Bob Zawoluk, who holds the St. John's record for most points in a game, scored 65 in a 105-61 win over St. Peter's in 1950. The other player, Harry Boykoff, scored 45 in a 76-46 win over St. Joseph's in 1943 and 54 in a 71-52 win over St. Francis in 1947.
Although their tenures are more than 70 years apart, Ponds and Boykoff have something in common: they both played high school ball at Thomas Jefferson High School in Brooklyn.
This connection is more than a random factoid. Back in the day, St. John's was the beneficiary of a long list of Orange and Blue standouts who went on to make vital contributions to the succes of the St. John's basketball program, shaping its legacy.
Thomas Jefferson High School opened its doors on September 24, 1924 and immediately produced a competitive basketball team. The Orange and Blue played their first game at the new school on Tuesday, December 2, 1924, a 27-16 win over Franklin K. Lane. Allie Schuckman scored 9 points and team captain Max Posnack scored 3. Jefferson trounced Brooklyn Tech 18-1 later that season and finished their inaugural campaign with a 9-2 record.
The following season, Jefferson made it all the way to the 1926 PSAL City Championship Game, falling to DeWitt Clinton 28-25 in the final.
Posnack and Schuckman went on to star at St. John's, comprising two-fifths of the legendary "Wonder Five" that compiled a record of 67-4 between 1928 and 1931 under Head Coach Buck Freeman.
In 1938, Jefferson grad Jack "Dutch" Garfinkel arrived at St. John's, eventually leading the Johnnies to their first two NIT appearances in 1939 and 1940. As a senior, Garfinkel was the first St. John's recipient of the Haggerty Award in 1941.
Speaking of 1941, Jefferson advanced all the way to the PSAL semifinals that year behind 6"9" Harry Boykoff and 5"6" Hy Gotkin. Boykoff and Gotkin remained teammates at St. John's, leading the Johnnies to the NIT Championship in 1943, the first in school history. Gotkin guided St. John's to another NIT title in 1944, even with Boykoff on a hiatus tending to military service.
When Boykoff returned to St. John's, he dropped 54 points in a game in 1947, setting the scoring record at the old MSG. Boykoff also became the first 1,000 point scorer at St. John's.
Jefferson won the PSAL City Championship in 1954, and although none of the stars from that team would play for St. John's, it would not be long before another Jefferson gem would join the Johnnies.
By the time Tony Jackson completed his career at Jefferson in 1957, he had set the PSAL scoring record by amassing 1,433 points. Ineligible to play in his freshman year under the rules of the day, the eventual namesake of Jefferson's home court led St. John's to the NIT title as a sophomore, taking MVP honors in 1959. Jackson was an All-American in 1960 and 1961.
Right behind Jackson, 6'10" LeRoy Ellis was the next Jefferson star to opt for St. John's, and Jackson and Ellis won back-to-back Haggerty Awards in 1961 and 1962. Ellis also led St. John's to the NIT final in 1962, with the Johnnies falling to Dayton in the championship game.
St. John's started playing at Alumni Hall in Queens in 1961. To be sure, the program continued to have success, eventually hitting its apex in 1985 with a Final Four run behind Chris Mullin and Walter Berry, but the steady transition of talent from Jefferson High became a thing of the past.
Fifty-five years after St. John's started playing at what is now know as Carnesecca Arena, Ponds joined the Red Storm after leading Jefferson to its first PSAL title since 1954 and its first New York State title ever.
In addition to the excitement and promise that Ponds has brought to St. John's, he is also reviving the special connection with Jefferson High.
The Red Storm has already offered a scholarship to Jaquan Carlos, Jefferson's freshman point guard who is the Orange Wave's leading scorer.
As the expression goes, history has a tendency to repeat itself.
Sometimes it just takes a while.