Point Guard Branch to Make Debut For St. John’s

This week Providence, Missouri, UNLV and Iona have all featured mid-year debuts by transfers, and now it’s St. John’s turn.

Sophomore point guard Jamal Branch, who transferred to the Queens school from Texas A&M in January, will suit up Friday night for the first time against UNC-Asheville at Carnesecca Arena.

“I’m definitely excited,” the 6-foot-3, 176-pound Branch said. “It’s been a full year since I’ve played now. Just watching the team has given me a great experience, and I’m ready to get things started. I just have to go out and give it my all; 110 percent effort.”

Branch played in 11 games for the Aggies in the fall of 2011 and averaged 4.2 points, 2.5 assists and 2.2 rebounds in 18.6 minutes per game.

“Jamal brings the ability to create off the bounce and distribute the ball to his teammates,” said Johnnies coach Steve Lavin, whose club is 8-3, 7-0 at home. “He can be a very disruptive defender when applying pressure on our opponents. We have to create possessions by putting pressure on our opponents both in full court and in the half court. That’s where Jamal can really be helpful, it allows us to apply that pressure right after a score to be able to get up on opponents, speed them up and get them to turn the ball over or take quicker shots, allowing us to attack with our offense off of our defense.”

Lavin said he plans to sometimes play Branch as the point guard in place of Phil Greene or D’Angelo Harrison and sometimes will play various combinations together.

“The luxury of being able to rotate D’Angelo, Phil and Jamal will allow us to distribute the minutes more equally, get a quick blow here and there and we can have more balance,” Lavin said. “We also have the luxury of being able to play the three of them together in stretches, which will be a good look for us, both with our full-court pressure and pushing the ball and playing at a quicker tempo on offense.”

Said Greene: “Coach [Lavin] actually talked to me about it, and he thinks it will be a great idea. Even playing the three guards, D’Angelo, Phil and I, together would be great. We all know the positions, so I wouldn’t be surprised if he threw us all out there at once.”

Freshman forward JaKarr Sampson — who has won three straight Big East Rookie of the Week honors — believes Branch will help the team going forward.

“He’s been huge practicing with the second group and making them better. Whenever he’s on the court, everyone gets better because he can find people and put them in good situations. He’ll direct people and tell them where they need to be and what he wants them to do. He gets us into our offense.”

Photo: St. John’s

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