Everything about Joel Soriano screams out “leader.”
He’s outgoing and personable, experienced and not afraid to let his feelings be known. But, most importantly, the St. John’s center understands what it takes to get others to follow.
“You got to put in the work. You can’t call yourself a leader if you’re not doing what others are doing,” he told The Post this week, as St. John’s prepared for an international tour next week to the Dominican Republic.
St. John’s coach Mike Anderson fully expects the 6-foot-11 Soriano to take on a leadership role on this team and help fill the void left by leading scorer Julian Champagnie. This offseason, the Yonkers native made it clear how important basketball is to him. He has been in the gym every day working on his body, frequently putting in multiple workouts to get into prime condition.
Upon arriving at St. John’s last spring from Fordham, Soriano was 280 pounds. He dedicated himself to getting into the shape necessary to play in Anderson’s up-tempo system, which is predicated on pressuring the ball, and getting up and down the floor. He changed his diet, cut out fast food and dropped 20 pounds.
After the season, however, there was more work to be done. Soriano finished a disappointing season for the Johnnies well, averaging 7.8 points, 5.3 rebounds and 1.6 over his last 10 games. But that wasn’t nearly enough for the rising senior.
“Just so I can stay on the court longer,” said Soriano, who is noticeably leaner and quicker, when asked what motivated him. “To try to elevate my game to the next level, I felt I had to change my body in different types of ways. Try to do what I can for my team. … I feel like I can definitely contribute way more.”
Anderson suggested Soriano could emerge as a leader unprompted, bringing up the maturity he has shown with his work ethic. Soriano has been more vocal through spring workouts and practices, putting in more time on his own. He’ll hunt down assistant coaches and team managers on off days.
“I think he likes his body,” Anderson said. “He takes his shirt off a lot. Last year, he didn’t take his shirt off. … I like the direction he’s going in.”
Soriano has already had a hand in the Red Storm’s strong offseason. His relationship with top transfer David Jones of DePaul — the player expected to replace Champagnie as the team’s go-to scorer — was a significant factor in the talented wing’s decision to come to Queens, Jones said. Soriano said that though the two are very close, and he obviously wanted his close friend to join him at St. John’s, he made it clear to Jones to take him out of the equation.
“Don’t come here because of me, come here if you want to come here,” Soriano said he told Jones. “Just imagine that I’m not here, would you still come to St. John’s?”
Soriano later added: “He wants to be here. I appreciate him coming [to St. John’s]. That’s like my brother.”
As a leader would, Soriano didn’t list any personal goals when asked about his hopes for the upcoming season. He pointed to teammate Posh Alexander as someone capable of leading the Red Storm. It was further evidence that he is equipped to be the voice of St. John’s this winter by not making it about himself.
“Being a leader is being consistent, being vocal,” Soriano said. “When you go through adversity, you go through problems in the locker room or outside the locker room, you need someone on the team to pick other guys up, and keep other guys stable, keep other guys close, keep everyone united.”