Christian Jones


25.1s055.robbins--300x300Power Forward Orlando Sanchez (above) of St. John’s.

The NCAA tonight ruled in favor of the appeal brought by St. John’s on behalf of Orlando Sanchez, successfully facilitated by high powered eligibility attorney Robert Orr, whom St. John’s had retained to make Sanchez’s latest appeal.  Orr had successfully made the case for UCLA’s Shabazz Muhammad, the enormously talented freshman wing player, who had been initially ruled ineligible for the 2012-2013 season, which granted Muhammad his freshman eligibility in November of 2012.

Muhammad has gone on to average 18 PPG and 5 RPG, while leading the Bruins to a 21-7 record this season.  UCLA is 11-4 in the PAC-12, tied right now for the conference lead with Oregon, and while they are outside the top 25, they are headed to the dance.   What made the Shabazz appeal so crucial for UCLA was the probability that, had Shabazz lost his appeal, the player would have most likely sat out this season and then went directly to the NBA.

Perhaps Orr’s help in the Sanchez case can have a similar effect on St. John’s next year.  The Johnnies have been woefully deficient in the paint this year, and Sanchez, who will be 25 in May, averaged more than 11 RPG and 4 BPG in his last season of JUCO ball.  While Lavin has called Sanchez a “shot maker”, we think that was more a function of him being political than being truthful.  We see Sanchez as an excellent shot blocker, rebounder, and defender with great length (6’9, 215 lbs.) and maturity, and we expect him to be the starting power forward next season.  Sanchez may not be known for his offense, but he is already a man  who can fill the lane and open things up for St. John’s in conference play by playing solid defense.

This season effectively becomes a red shirt season for Sanchez, who will debut for St. John’s in November of 2013.  St. John’s will also have God’s Gift Achiuwa returning to next year’s squad, giving them considerable veteran beef inside for a deep tournament run.  While Gift obviously has his flaws, he was a significant contributor for a lot of last season, and makes a very good looking backup four.

While the decision to grant Sanchez the year of eligibility does mean that right now, St. John’s has one scholarship too many allotted for next season.  Obviously one guy’s got to go, which, with all of the flux surrounding the program in the last 2 years, does not seem far fetched.  In our dream scenario, that guy would not be Jakarr Sampson, who we believe would combine with Sanchez and Obepka to form one of the longest and most athletic front lines in the nation.  Our dream starting 5 would be rounded out by point guard Jamal Branch and shooting guard and leading scorer D’Angelo Harrison.

https://crackbillionair.wordpress.com/2013/02/26/st-johns-pittiful-right-now/

We would hope that rather than Sampson declaring for the draft, a little to never used player will transfer, in order to accommodate the recruitment of a potential scorer, such as the speculation surrounding Rysheed Jordan.  Though Bourgault has made a contribution on the court, we could most easily live with his departure as opposed to guys like Jones and Balamou, who have more eligibility and greater upsides.

Even if Samspon declares for the draft, we would think that St. John’s looks extremely good for next year, especially considering they play their best with Obepka on the floor.  With Sanchez next to Obepka, St. John’s should control the paint, and Sanchez will probably slide to the 5 when Obepka sits, allowing St. John’s to continue to control the low box with Sanchez and Gift.

We’d have suggested Max Hooper as a transfer candidate, and that still may be, although we don’t think it’s likely that Hooper, who transferred from Harvard, would change schools again.  We’d also suppose there is a possibility that Amir Garrett, a strong pitching prospect for the Cincinnati Reds, would give up his basketball scholarship to concentrate on baseball.  Such a move would also alleviate the scholarship logjam, although we are keen on having Garrett back on the court next season.

Let’s Go Redmen!

Crack (https://crackbillionair.wordpress.com)

Unknown-1St. John’s hopeful Orlando Sanchez (above, l.)

So just when we had pronounced the program healthy, Jamal Branch, an important transfer contributor from Texas, who makes shots and rarely turns it over, goes down with a knee injury.  We aren’t saying that is the reason for dropping 4 out of 5, with the 1 win a lackluster job against USF, but St. John’s had played its best ball this year in games where Branch heavily contributed.

We aren’t gonna say that Lavin’s absence from the team had anything to do with it either, though it is true that Coach Lavin missed important road games at Syracuse and Louisville, which the team lost.  Truth be told, we pencilled those games in as losses long ago, and also, we thought Rico Hines did a good job filling in.  Those teams are just too good for us right now.   They know exactly how they want to play, they turn run outs and turnovers into dunks and layups with alacrity, and their home court edges are just too tough.  Both teams, no insult meant, just outclass St. John’s when it comes to coaching, leadership, recruiting, and shooting the basketball at this stage of our development under Lavin’s tenure.

In doing the calculus for the program to reach the dance, we thought yesterday’s game vs. Pitt at MSG was a must win, really, even if they had pulled off a miracle split with Louisville and Syracuse on the road.  St. John’s has to establish and protect home court as a program, especially when so many Big East kids come through as visitors, looking to put up big games at the Mecca.  Yesterday, St. John’s failed miserably, while only managing 20 points total in the 2nd half, and while converting on zero of 8 from downtown in that half of basketball.  Once again, we see the distinct advantage here in recruiting local kids, something that does not appear to be the top priority for this program, with all of its top scorers brought in from out of state.
It was St. John’s 3rd brutal loss at home at MSG, counting losses to Georgetown–which wasn’t close–and Rutgers, which was a horror show.  At this point, it’s hard not to look back at early non conference losses in which the Johnnies led, and at poor performances at MSG in conference, and not say, “what if we had won 3 or 4 more games?”

Villanova at Villanova was another terrible loss, though on the road, especially when one considers that the Wildcats now sit above us within the conference.  Pitt coach Jamie Dixon, an excellent coach, said after the game that to win a conference game by 16 on the road was a telling indicator as to the impressive nature of the win.  But then, what of the loss for St. John’s?  We thought that if St. John’s could score 65 yesterday, they’d win.  And we’re still waiting.  While St. John’s played better than expected against Louisville and Syracuse, it is deadly obvious that the Johnnies can not score.  Recently D’Angelo Harrison displayed a swollen finger, as an explanation for recent poor offensive performances, and it is true that St. John’s has no real shot in games like yesterday’s in which he does not break double digits.  But we can not blame Harrison, who always gives a giant effort.  The fact is this: the Red Storm does not make 3’s, they do not score in the paint, and they get woefully little done in transition despite usually playing excellent defense.  And there’s also the ugly business of their free throw shooting.

It must sound like we’re trashing them, which we don’t mean to do.  Are we disappointed with the loss?  Of course.  But moreso, these are the warts that plague the program, honestly put.  Now that the season has been essentially reduced to a formality, we may as well provide an early postmortem.  We can like Lavin while disagreeing with his recruiting philosophy and we can respect the mitigating factors that surround his time away from the squad while stating that he does miss more games, for whatever reasons, than any other coach in the country.

Also, we’re not about to go crazy either way for the plight of JC transfer Orlando Sanchez, despite the fact that he is a beast like four who would be guaranteed for a few monster blocks and dunks each game, among other things, who has already reached manhood at the age of 24.  For a kid over 21, the NCAA is clear on the rule that having played for his country’s national team in 2010, regardless of the amount of minutes or games played, his eligibility is exhausted.  That he has a good chance of winning his appeal, or any of the other pro St. John’s articles in this regard, are irrelevant.  In light of this fact, he obviously never should have been recruited.

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/23/sports/ncaabasketball/orlando-sanchez-of-st-johns-seeks-review-of-ineligibility.html?_r=0

Should he be granted that year of eligibility, St. John’s, with a full compliment of returning players, and we would count heavily Jakarr Sampson, as well as Felix Balamou, Max Hooper, and Christian Jones (highly touted recruits who are yet to break into the rotation) St. John’s would appear extremely formidable on paper for next season.  If Sanchez is ineligible, we expect the program to successfully re-distribute that scholarship to a guy who can contribute in a real way who plays the four like Sanchez does.  Lavin has shown an uncanny ability to pull recruiting classes together last minute, and learning Sanchez’s fate this week would give him plenty of time.  But Lavin has also showed us last year how a class can fall apart late as well, which should not be the concern for next year, especially if there are no defections, since St. John’s is only looking at 2 new recruits, if Sanchez is in fact ineligible, which we’d hate to speculate on, as we hate to absolve St. John’s right now for recruiting another ineligible player.

But we can’t say we were happy to read earlier that the one 4 year scholarship we do have available is likely to go to another out of state product.  St. John’s will be better suited to Lavin’s full court style next year, when they won’t have to rely as much on smaller players who don’t get to the rim or make jump shots, or when they aren’t stuck over playing guys like Bourgault, who we feel is a very borderline player at a big time D1 school.

If St. John’s does not have to re-recruit the Sanchez spot and if Sampson stays put, we think the program takes a big step forward next year, especially as Obepka, a possibly dominant big, further develops.  We can’t get too crazy about if situations though, as anything is likely with Sampson, and if we had gotten sky high on Sanchez it would have been unwise, since the year has gone by and he hasn’t and may never suit up at all.  We are also unable to go crazy about the possible signing of Rysheed Jordan, who was called the best prospect in Phily today in the Daily News by “Hoops” Weiss.  We remember going crazy for Nurideen Lindsay last year and how that played out–a disappointment that Lavin turned into Jamal Branch.

http://www.nydailynews.com/sports/college/ncaa-basketball/forecast-storm-year-article-1.1272494

http://www.nydailynews.com/sports/college/st-john-recruit-sanchez-retains-lawyer-argue-ineligibility-article-1.1271472

http://www.nydailynews.com/sports/college/lavin-mastering-issues-court-article-1.1271959

Still, we are confident that the program will field an able bodied team despite possible defections, and while we are  upset over the dismal showing yesterday, we still have a very positive outlook concerning 2013-2014.  But we must refuse to get caught up in headlines as to what may or may not be.  Whatever fortunes are to come with this program reside squarely with Steve Lavin, and Lavin has proved adaptable, so if there are defections or ineligibilities to come, we’re confident that Lavin will turn them into contributors, much like the way he turned Lindsey into Branch.

Let’s Go Redmen!

Crack (https://crackbillionair.wordpress.com)

Dominant interior defender Chris Obepka (above) for St. John’s today in Jamaica.

Despite being home at Carnesecca to start the season, we were not expecting big things from St. John’s today against Detroit.  So when we picked up the action late in the first half and the Johnnies were trailing 30-25, and 34-28, we were not surprised.  In the second half, the team looked a bit better, but they were missing key free throws and open jumpers until about half way through.  One kid in particular with a penchant for fall away jump shots had us particularly rankled, and longing for Norvel Pelle.  St. John’s had definitely stepped up their intensity and their defensive effort in the 2nd half, which led to several fast break opportunities, but when failing to convert them, the Johnnies had let Detroit’s lead grow to 49-41 and at that point, we were just watching to see what happened next, and not particularly expecting much.

But then that kid who seemed to like fall aways from the elbow decided to justify Lavin’s faith for awarding him a precious late scholarship, which so many fans questioned at the time.  Chris Obekpa, all of 6’8, took over the game, putting a virtual lid on the basket, along with one of the jewels of the 2011 class, D’Angelo Harrison, who contributed 15 2nd half points, and 13 in the final 7 minutes, for 22 points in 29 minutes off the bench, allowing St. John’s to come back from down 60-53 with 9 or so minutes to play, and to end the game on a 24-14 run, en route to a 77-74 victory.  The win already gives St. John’s an impressive non-conference victory in their first game in a game where hard core supporters like us were probably not expecting the world, despite the Johnnies coming in as a slim favorite, in all likelihood, because of their home court advantage.

Lavin was back on the sideline where he belongs, back in his tie-less suit and white sneakers.  LOL.  He might have dressed it up a little more had he known it was to be one for the record books.  Nigerian freshman by way of Long Island, Chris Obepka, broke Rob Werdann’s 23 year old blocked shot record, finishing with 8 on the afternoon.  We counted 9 ourselves, but we can not quibble over Obepka’s tally, who, frankly, already has turned heads and has us praying that he isn’t going to be a one and done kind of kid.

Many believed that Jakarr Sampson would be a one and done guy, but his debut was not as sterling.  Sampson struggled, and though he started, converted on only 1-7 FG’s, for 2 points (but he did manage 6 boards).  St. John’s outshot Detroit (45.9% to 35.1%), and out-rebounded Detroit (31-21), excelling in both categories largely on the strength of Obekpa, who also had 8 boards, and who, by game’s end had us reverse our thinking on Pelle.  Because frankly, we don’t think the Johnnies have had a defensive player of Obepka’s size and ability ever.

In addition to Sampson, Lavin started Obekpa, Amir Garrett (who thankfully is sticking with basketball despite being 6’7 with a 95 MPH fast ball), Phil Greene, Freshman Christian Jones, with Harrison and Pointer off the bench.

Also, notably, Greene played the entire 40 minutes and had 20 pts.  Garrett contributed 15 and 11 boards in 34 minutes.  Harrison, who led the offensive surge in the 2nd half, came off the bench along with Dom Pointer, who, seemed out of place to us.  He had only 3 points in 18 minutes and was routinely beaten off the dribble, despite his reputation for defensive prowess.

Thursday @ 5 PM St. John’s will play its 1st road game against the College of Charleston.

LET’S GO REDMEN!

Crack (https://crackbillionair.wordpress.com)