Joel Soriano, a Yonkers native and alumnus of Stepinac High School, takes a critical leadership role at St. John’s this season as they seek to break a painful 24-year NCAA tournament drought. The hype surrounding this St. John’s program is reaching a fever pitch after they retooled the roster.
St. John’s has long been hungry for a return to NCAA tournament glory. Their last tournament victory dates back to 2000, and fans have been eagerly awaiting a resurgence. Head coach Rick Pitino’s new-look squad is still in the process of gelling. However, it is stacked with proven veteran transfer talent.
While the program has high expectations for players like Chris Ledlum and Jordan Dingle, it’s Joel Soriano who stands as the cornerstone of this year’s team. Soriano, coming off a year where he averaged 15.2 points and 11.9 rebounds, is the sole returning player from last season.
The 2022-2023 season began promisingly for St. John’s but unraveled into a listless overall performance. Fans were calling for the ousting of then-coach Mike Anderson, and a collective desire to rejuvenate the program arose. It was at this moment that Rick Pitino, who had revitalized his Hall of Fame career at nearby Iona College, stepped in and took on the role. Joel Soriano initially expressed his intention to return for his fifth year only if Anderson remained the coach. Otherwise, he promised to head for the transfer portal. However, a single pivotal conversation with Pitino dramatically altered Soriano’s perspective.
Pitino’s belief in Soriano’s led to him becoming the team’s captain for the highly anticipated season. Despite being one of the oldest players on the team at 23, the veteran has a penchant for double-doubles. This likely gave Pitino the confidence to name him captain.
Soriano’s role this season will expand as he diversifies his offensive skills, incorporating an outside shooting touch into his repertoire. Throughout his collegiate career at Fordham and St. John’s, Soriano has proven himself to be remarkably coachable. So, he made it clear from the moment he met Pitino that he wanted to be held to a high standard. And Pitino has been pushing Soriano to his limits.
Soriano’s shed over 20 pounds between his junior and senior seasons by giving up late-night snacks. In the current season, he has transformed his 6’11” body to reach the best shape of his life. According to Pitino, Soriano had to up his game to compete with high-energy players like 6-foot-9 Kansas transfer Zuby Efiojor. So, Soriano became lighter on his feet while maintaining his reputation as a maniacal presence on the boards.
As fans await the upcoming season, Joel Soriano represents hope for a program desperate to reclaim its former glory. And with a renewed sense of purpose, the Red Storm may finally break their NCAA tournament drought.