Eerie, Pennsylvania JUCO star by way of Nigeria, God’s Gift Achiuwa, the 9th leading scorer and 10th leading rebounder last season in NJCAA, has finally committed to St. John’s University after recently ruling out Washington and Kentucky, and then selecting the Johnnies over Big East rival Cincinnati this week. For those of you who are confused about the lad’s name, or already under the impression that God’s Gift walked St. John’s sideline–Steve Lavin–understand that we are talking about a 6’8/6’9 beast of a power forward who Lavin and staff have been recruiting for months. Achiuwa, the son of a Nigerian minister, is 1 of 6 siblings who all have unique first names, including “God’s Will”, “Promise”, and “Peace.”
It’s been a good month for St. John’s, who in the wake of their first tournament berth in 10 years, retained their X’s and O’s wizard Mike Dunlap, who looked to be in the running for top spots with Oregon and UNLV at the final four, and who insiders credit as having taken apart Duke video for 9 months in preparation for St. John’s astounding 93-78 blowout of the then defending national champions. That the St. John’s staff suffered no defections thus far, with most head coaching vacancies already set, must be considered a victory. By the way, did anyone notice that the guy who almost took Lavin’s job, Paul Hewitt, accepted the top spot at George Mason, earlier today? We’re convinced that no one is second guessing that near miss after Hewitt’s 2nd straight shaky season at Tech and a conference downgrade, not to mention the boatload of dollars Hewitt was able to walk away with because of his fancy rollover contract (every year rollover contracts re-set to the original dollars and duration, meaning Hewitt walked with the full value of the contract his agent renegotiated last spring).
Though most publications and media outlets that rank incoming classes already had the Johnnies near the top (www.rivals.com currently has St. John’s at #2 behind Kentucky), as close observers, we believed that God’s Gift, or “Gift”, as the staff refers to him for short, was a crucial get for the Johnnies, who will not win big without size. St. John’s first round loss to Gonzaga underscored how a lack of size will kill you in the tournament, as did Big East tournament loss to Syracuse on our home floor. Though the incoming class is being heralded for its shooting and athleticism on the wing, it is comprised of only two big men: Norvel Pelle and Dwight Meickle, and there are questions about both. Pelle, probably the best of all St. John’s recruits, is a very thin 6’9, and the common notion is that he needs a heavy to do his dirty work for him. That heavy would be God’s Gift, who is about 240 lbs. of solid muscle. Meickle, a Long Island product, appeared to be a back of the rotation guy or perhaps less, and that was before God’s Gift made it official.
Those wondering about the look of the starting five are not in the minority. Though Lavin himself has confirmed that scoring point guard Nurideen Lindsey would be eligible for the start of the 2011 season, we are hearing that he has many credits to complete and that the hopes for his eligibility are ambitious. There are also loud questions about his commitment to defense, which, if true, will see him languish on the bench when he does arrive, despite his ability to score at will. Most considered Queens product Maurice Harkless the gem of the class, though it now seems Mo may not crack the starting 5 due to the team’s depth at the 3 and probable need to start both Pelle and Gift. Harkless is competing for minutes with standout Ohio prospect Jakarr Sampson, and Sir Dominic Pointer, a Detroit prospect who, last year was hailed as a defensive stopper, and now is considered the best all around player in St. John’s class. And Sophomore Dwayne Polee II will also be vying for minutes. We can’t imagine a line of freshmen coming in and surpassing Polee, who has already acclimated to the program.
We’d be a bit surprised if Polee, Pelle, and Achiuwa don’t start up front. We think Harkless and Pointer will see heavy minutes up front as well. It wouldn’t surprise us if Malik Stith gets some minutes at point, returning for his junior year. We’ve made fun of him on numerous occasions, but we think the coaches will opt for the stability he offers over a shoot first freshman point guard. He also may play a little better with better talent around him. As the year goes on, we think the coaches might stash Stith on the bench in favor of Phil Greene and that Amir Garrett will get a lot of minutes as the 3rd guard.
In 2012, Jevon Thomas comes in and takes the reins as the high quality talent pass first point guard, which, at the moment, is the only position the Johnnies lack. The staff must also open a few scholarships in the hopes of landing local standouts Kyle Anderson, a 5 position player in high school, and power forward Ricardo Gathers. Both Anderson and Gathers are frequently mentioned as kids who are giving a lot of thought to coming to St. John’s.
Best news of all regarding the program has to be the nature of Steve Lavin’s prostate cancer, which doctor’s are confident will be cured. We weren’t surprised at all to learn that Lavin knew about his health situation and had kept the condition a secret while he worked tirelessly to build the foundation of the program.