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St. John’s forward Kassoum Yakwe values defense first

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After a fine freshman campaign at St. John’s last season, Red Storm combo forward Kassoum Yakwe is pursuing personal and team growth as he enters his sophomore year.

Yakwe averaged 7.1 points, 5.3 rebounds and 2.5 blocks per game (which led the Big East) last season, earning a spot on the All-Big East Freshman Team.

A lot of pundits—including yours truly—expect Yakwe to have a breakout sophomore campaign.

However, as good as Yakwe was last seasonespecially down the stretchone thing above anything else was constant in his life: losing.

St. John’s struggled mightily en route to just one conference win and eight wins overall. In what was a very trying season, new Red Storm head coach Chris Mullin probably learned as much from his team as the team learned from him.

It was definitely a transitional year for St. John’s after it lost its entire rotation from the previous season.

Yakwe is eager to correct the flaws that plagued the Johnnies.

“It was a learning process,” Yakwe told Today’s U about last season’s troubles at last week’s Big East Media Day. “Freshman year was a learning experience. I learned a lot.”

Despite last season’s struggles, Yakwe still enters his sophomore season with a lot of confidence.

“Our team is working hard,” said Yakwe. “I think this year, me (and my) teammates, we’ll provide (our fans) more.”

Yakwe also talked about the privilege of playing for a St. John’s and NBA legend in Mullin.

“He’s a great coach,” Yakwe said about Mullin. “He’s a guy you need to listen to because he has great knowledge (about the game). He’s been part of the game for so long. He knows how the game is played.”

With a year of playing in Mullin’s system Yakwe could soon blossom offensively. He does have the length, agility and athleticism to expand his game. While St. John’s fans shouldn’t expect a huge spike in offensive efficiency and production, Yakwe has the build, a willingness to learn, and the tools to incrementally improve in due time.

Yakwe’s bread and butter is clearly his defense.

With active hands and great length, Yakwe is a terror on defense. He can play the passing lanes with the best of them and rack up plenty of steals. With long arms and above-average quickness, he obviously can accumulate a lot of blockshe led the Big East in blocks last season.

Yakwe discussed his pride in being one of the conference’s better defensive players.

“I try to do everything on the court (but) defense is my first priority. I love defending and I try to defend everyone on the court. No matter if you are a point guard or a big man, I do my best to defend because defense wins games. Offense can come later.”

Considering St. John’s is a very young groupits roster consists of four sophomores, three freshmen and three upperclassmen who happen to be newcomers (junior college transfer Bashir Ahmed, junior college redshirt Darien Williams and Tennessee transfer Tariq Owens)it will need Yakwe to step up.

His work ethic and commitment will give Yakwe a chance to become one of the conference’s breakout stars.

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