D’Angelo Harrison


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)

UnknownFocused freshman Jakarr Sampson (above).

So Georgetown was looking tremendous at 10-0, and then they lose a hearbreaker by a point at Marquette, and then come home and get blown out by 28 by Pitt.  One minute they were looking like a potential final four team, and then scant days later, they were in a daze.  Really, it was no more than a case of ‘welcome to the Big East schedule’, as they are really a fine team, and are as likely as anyone to get on a run to the final four.  But see then, they rolled into Madison Square Garden for an 11 AM tilt with the Johnnies, and they outclassed St. John’s at that time, and again, we were not surprised that St. John’s were road kill.  Also, they always seem to struggle in those off time starts, and everyone is so excited to play in the Garden, and the whole thing was a recipe for disaster.

Today they face up again at 4 PM on NBC, and since these teams would likely be the foundation of a new Catholic, no football conference next year, and since they represent very storied basketball cultures, perennial programs and such, from big markets to boot, it is a very, very big game.  We always like the team a little bit more that got blown out last, even if they are on the road.  Well coached college teams have pride, like these teams.  As Georgetown illustrated in that first matchup.  And St. John’s is certainly a different club than they were 3 weeks ago, on a 5 game win streak with a fully integrated Jamal Branch, who, if anyone’s noticed, has been an important leader during that stretch.  And he’s a national guy.  As his back court mate, the pulse of the team, who like Branch is from Texas, and who helped recruit the close chum to Jamaica.

Hopefully today, we will see a national guy like Jakarr Sampson throw down more major dunks today, and more full court blocks, running guys down like a healthy Darelle Revis.  And Dom Pointer, another national guy, maybe makes a big 3 in a 3rd straight game, and hopefully a few more put back slams.  These players all should be sufficiently motivated to play in games that will be televised in the families’ living rooms, and 3 of the 4, excluding Harrison, have probably never had that opportunity while playing so well.

We expect a game today.

LET’S GO REDMEN!!!!!

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

JaKarrROW5Budding star Jakarr Sampson and a robust looking Steve Lavin (above).

If you have been watching St. John’s of late, you’ve no doubt seen both stretches of rapture and ineptitude.  In their wins, they seem to run out to big leads, only to watch them dissolve and then hold on for dear life.  In the losses, save for a blowout at the hands of Georgetown (which came as no surprise) they seem to get those leads also.  And then they meekly fritter them away, plagued by stretches, minutes on end, whole intervals between commercial breaks where the squad can’t score, or even pull one decent look.  But the losses have come rather infrequently of late, as St. John’s has now battled to 13-7, staging 4 largely impressive wins in a row, and looks to make it 14-7 tonight with a very big home game against DePaul, one of those teams who St. John’s looked all world against in their first meeting for part of the 2nd half, and who then had to scramble late against to come out with the win.

The offense might be described as meek, especially during peak inefficiency, which has basically cost them almost all 7 of their losses this year.  But do not make the mistake of calling the group meek.  The Johnnies are obviously blessed with tremendous fortitude, an attitude which starts with Coach Lavin and the rest of the staff, and is exemplified by some extremely gritty players on the court.  Obviously D’Angelo Harrison is imminently suited for Big East basketball, and as the team leader, has truly led.  As disappointed as fans had to be with their loss to Rutgers at MSG, a game in which Harrison missed a bevy of critical free throws in the games final stages, one had to be pleased with Harrison’s way of owning up to the loss.  One thing we can not stand is when players take losses too well, and don’t seem upset after losses, especially when they have made mistakes that play a large role in the outcome.  So when Harrison said that night, when he returned to campus, he was going right to the gym to shoot free throws, well, that’s all you can ask of a kid in terms of attitude.  Obviously Harrison, at 20th in the nation in scoring with 19.8 PPG, is not afraid to be the catalyst on offense, and while his shot selection is often questionable, we are not about to question his willingness or the results.  Harrison is equally valuable for his intangible qualities.  Against Notre Dame at MSG, then 14-2, Harrison stuffed 6’10 Tom Knight, giving away some 8 inches to come up with that block that helped key what was probably St. John’s best win all year.  Not just because of the opponent but because of how they played.  In that game, St. John’s won both halves, a rare feat for this squad in Big East play. And still the contest came down to another monstrous block in the waning seconds, as Chris Obepka, who we’re sky high on, rejected Pat Connaughton, sending the ball off Connaughton’s head and out of bounds, so that St. John’s also gained possession.

https://crackbillionair.wordpress.com/2012/11/14/in-lavins-return-st-johns-freshman-throws-record-block-party/

Obepka is a special player.  As a freshman, he is second in the nation in blocks at 4.6 a game, is also collecting 5.9 RPG, and is already by far the most dominant interior defender in school history.  What a tremendous coup by this staff it was in securing Obepka for St. John’s.  Frankly, we see Obepka as a component in a near future final 4 team, and we already see him improving his court positioning, expanding his offense, and taking better fouls.  A kid like Obepka, who has at times literally put a lid on the hoop for long stretches of clock, makes it possible for St. John’s to come up empty on offense itself for long runs and still be in a position to get W’s.

Now we’d like to temper our criticisms of Lavin’s recruitment of transfer Jamal Branch, who is a talent who has fit in and made plays.  After the bust that was Nurideen Lindsay, we are down on shoot first point guards, transfer point guards, and to a degree, national as opposed to local products.  But Branch’s 9 PPG and 2.4 APG have generated about 14 PPG for a team that struggled to break 60 before he arrived. Most impressive about Branch is he knows when to shoot.  How often do you see a guard shoot 50% from the field?  Branch is shooting .556, and against DePaul in Rosemont, Branch shot 9-14 while attempting zero 3’s.

It’s been contagious.  The Johnnies are a poor team from beyond the arc, and so they don’t play to that weakness, attempting precious few 3’s relative to most programs.  Still, they’ve made a few big bombs.  We were very happy to see Dom Pointer drill a 3 from the top of the circle late against Seton Hall, a just reward for Pointer, a real heart and soul player, now fully adapted to the Big East big boy style.

Jakarr Sampson, the much touted freshman wing, has also adapted very well to conference play.  Sampson has emerged as a consistent scorer and rebounder (14.3/6.5) and on offense, is the team’s best player on the block, and probably filling the lane in transition, where he has had some highlight reel dunks.  Also, we are now very happy with his haircut. With Harrison and Sampson forming a big 2 offensively, and with Pointer and Obepka playing key roles defensively while chipping in with opportunistic play on offense, the Johnnies really only need a combination of 2 out 3 remaining  regulars to be going offensively, and it seems to us that Phil Greene, Amir Garrett, and Branch are very capable when viewed in that light.  They seem to become more capable every day.

https://crackbillionair.wordpress.com/2012/12/08/st-johns-growing-pains-and-poor-grooming/

With Sampson, like with Mo Harkless last year, we may have a bit of a catch-22.  We’d love to qualify for the dance, obviously, and will need Sampson to play to his capability in order to.  All along we felt Sampson was a long shot to leave for the NBA after this season, but now, we’re not so sure, especially if St. John’s does what it needs to do down the stretch, which will be to win the ones they should (Providence, DePaul, USF) and steal a couple they shouldn’t (Louisville, Georgetown, Syracuse, Pitt, Notre Dame, UConn(?)).  Should St. John’s muster some magic here in the regular season’s final 9 contests, we feel the likelihood of Sampson leaving increases dramatically.  Frankly, a kid of his age, hops, and upside would not be a bad gamble midway through the first round of the draft this year, and a playoff team with the luxury of grooming a player a little would make a perfect fit for him.  In fact, we were all set to include a Youtube clip of Sampson on a break away dunk, but have thought better of it, as this kid does not need any further promotion.

But really, we are not worried about wins we should have had, defections, or the tournament too much right now.  We are enjoying this season for what it is–a tracking of the growth of a team set to morph into a dangerous contender, which is already starting show some if its true colors.  We feel this club could survive without Sampson next year, even without The Big East as a conference, as we are fairly certain that St. John’s will land in a strong, probably basketball only off shoot of the Big East, with Catholic schools like Georgetown, St. John’s, and Villanova as anchors.

Of course we are also thrilled to have back strong the key cog, which is a healthy Steve Lavin.  It was extremely disheartening to hear Lavin tell Mike Francesa in November that he was still only about “80%” back to normal, and we were obviously very concerned for him and sympathetic, on a personal level.  We would not be surprised if Coach is still not at 100%, but by our count, he’s doing one of his best coaching jobs of his career with this group, which has, astoundingly, gotten absolutely zero contributions from any upper classmen.  With the program and Lavin both on solid footing, and with the Johnnies poised next year for their best year in perhaps 2 decades, we hope that Monasch and Harrington have sense enough to lock up Lavin with a state of the art, wrap around/flex contract that we now see given to elite coaches, which essentially automatically extend at the end of each season without any reopeners.

LET’S GO REDMEN!!!!!

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

angelo-harrison-st-johnIs D’Angelo Harrison (above) yelling at the barber who gave him that haircut?

With coach out for what was for all intents and purposes the entire season last year, his honeymoon period in Jamaica was effectively extended, so we thought it bad form to be heavily critical, when considering some of the errors the program made in 2011. While Lavin is perhaps already the best recruiter in team history, we are not able to say he is infallible, or that the mistakes made last year were not bad ones.  Lavin led the charge in a recruiting class in which his 4 best recruits had serious eligibility questions.  Nurideen Lindsey, the team’s shoot first point guard, had been rumored ineligible since June of 2011 but somehow got his course work done in time for last season.  But then Lindsey suffered an early slump and then essentially quit on the team, over some perceived dispute with interim coach Mike Dunlap, now the head coach of the NBA’s Bobcats.  It was a development that not only disappointed hardcore fans who bought into the Lindsey hysteria, but also one that begged the question, how exactly does a kid with so little character get recruited at all, let alone recruited for a leadership role?  Lindsey tried to downplay any controversy or that he was not a headcase, citing homesickness. So we guess Lindsey maybe was homesick for Phily in Queens but not in Oklahoma where he played his JC ball.

While Lindsey’s departure was not crippling to the program, that only happened to be the case because St. John’s had so few players on scholarship to begin with, and those mistakes in recruiting had already sounded the death knell for last season’s squad.  Nice that Lavin was able to walk away from a bad kid so easily, but that seems to be the only advantage really when your supremely touted recruiting class comes in undermanned and with so many eligibility questions that your roster is annihilated, and you can’t play full court basketball.

Of course the most disappointing recruiting loss the Johnnies suffered last year was that of perhaps the national class’s top big, Norvel Pelle.  Having a legitimate big man at the college level is a true luxury, even at class programs, and generally distinguishes elite programs.  Anyone who saw St. John’s struggle to score 20 points in the 1st half versus Kentucky should understand that concept very well.  Kentucky seemed to rack up more blocks than points in that 1st half of domination against us. But Pelle is another player dubious of character and intelligence who underscores the tenuous business of relying on the word of players, especially out of town players, when putting these classes together.

The 2 elite wing prospects that Lavin signed would both get to play for St. John’s, though getting them didn’t prove easy.  Mo Harkless, the team’s linchpin, brought tremendous honor to Lavin’s program when he was selected by Philadelphia in the NBA’s 1st round lottery, prior to being sent to Orlando in the Andrew Bynum-Dwight Howard deal.  But Harkless also had eligibility questions raised by the fact that at CTK, his Director of Basketball Operations was Mo Hicks, who now works on Lavin’s staff.  While Hicks was obviously brought in because of his sway with City kids, he isn’t allowed to recruit kids he coached in HS.  Thankfully the NCAA took mercy on Harkless, who had one of the best seasons of any freshman in team history.  Without him, St. John’s probably doesn’t win 10 games.

Yet, had he been ruled ineligible, then we may have seen MH suit up with this year’s talented but incomplete group of 2s and 3s.  If Harkless was to ride it out and stay on board, a kid like that with a man’s build, would have given the entire roster room to breath, while giving opponent 3s and 4s nightmares.  While we hate to play the what if he stayed game, and while we don’t like begrudging guys who have an opportunity to go to the next level, we feel like the absence of Harkless might keep the Johnnies out of the dance, especially after watching this young squad play a lot of up and down basketball already this year.  Struggling at home against NJIT is bad enough, but following such a squeaker with a flat performance against USF in Lavin’s return home to the Bay Area, after a couple days of rest and practice, even against a veteran team, is disappointing.

And so we have to mix in our first meaningful criticisms of Lavin’s program, which is a mixed bag of complaints about scheduling and recruiting philosophies.  In Lavin’s 1st year, St. John’s opened out west, also played UCLA at Pauley Pavilion, and now has trekked out to Frisco this year, all losses.

We get that a nice RPI comes from playing quality opponents out of conference and away from home, but when do we start winning some of these games?  We love that Lavin is here and we wouldn’t trade him for a second, but does having him mean a legacy of west coast losses?  Since Lavin is a Cali guy some might have the odd hope that he knows how to prepare teams to play on the west coast, but prior to last Tuesday’s game in Frisco, we all but knew that the team was headed for a loss.  When we thought about the halftime ceremony and how Lavin’s dad, Cap, was there at the game, we thought those things might have given St. John’s some extra oomph.  But it was a fantasy that was devastated early enough, as St. John’s was virtually down from the opening tip, causing us to ask ourselves how we could momentarily buy that Lavin west coast edge propaganda.

For stretches Tuesday night, St. John’s trailed very badly, which was especially disappointing when St. John’s cut the lead to 38-35 at the half, a run spear headed by a guy who looks spear headed with that odd fade, dynamic two D’Angelo Harrison, and then let SF get on a 14-2 run to start the second half and extend the lead to 52-37.  But we aren’t here to complain about the eventual loss, perse.  SF’s point guard Cody Doolin (14 Assists), orchestrating his team’s offense like a Steve Nash, seemed to have the ball on a string the whole night.  He is by far the best point guard we’ve seen this year.  That kid is a heady player who had his way with St. John’s young backcourt, except when St. John’s cut that 52-37 lead to 59-54 mid way through the 2nd half, when Lavin made a wise adjustment, putting Sir’Dominick Pointer on Doolin.  Pointer, widely heralded as the team’s best perimeter defender–another nappy headed kid–who had not really distinguished himself as a stopper to us, though Tuesday we saw that potential, as he played Doolin physically and step for step in the full court, until inevitable foul trouble necessitated a different matchup.  Pointer had at one point stolen an inbounds pass right under the SF basket, and was poised for a layup that would’ve cut the lead to 3 but he had stepped on the baseline, negating the play.  Pointer also displayed a very rough, east coast brand of defense that makes him perfect for the Big East.  You could tell that Doolin was uncomfortable with that matchup, as Pointer literally manhandled the upper classmen, reminiscent of star alum Ron Artest…um, we mean Metta World Peace, of course.

When we see the flashes that we did from Pointer, from the very promising young big Obepka, who may more than make up for not having Pelle, and from leading scorer D’Angelo Harrison, we can tell the team has a winning nucleus.  St. John’s got a reasonable contribution last night from Ohio native Jakarr Sampson, and though the highly touted freshman has shown flashes from the wing and around the rim, he’s still finding his way as he transitions to the college game.  Sampson was also part of the banner 2011 class who never made it on to the court last year due to eligibility issues, but at least he kept his word to Lavin and recommitted to SJU. He also must work on finding a better ‘do.  Is he the player he was hyped to be?  He’s had both fluid moments and struggles so far, but he does not seem to be in the same class of player as Harkless, even when rolling.

https://crackbillionair.wordpress.com/2012/11/14/in-lavins-return-st-johns-freshman-throws-record-block-party/

St. John’s seems to have a lot of talent by committee.  At different points in the game we saw good things from Sampson, Amir Garrett (who also plays baseball and is a strong prospect for the Cincinnati Reds, as well as another bad hair member of the Storm) Pointer, Obepka, and D’Angelo Harrison, but they all seemed to run invisible for stretches as well, which worries us more from Garrett and Harrison, who are essentially veterans on this club.  We were glad to see Pointer flash his defensive potential, and really play to the bulldog persona we’ve heard so much about, but Pointer is not a guy who we feel teams have to worry about scoring, and is, at least right now, a very incomplete player.  The usually reliable Phil Greene who can be counted on to score and play a lot of smart minutes did neither Tuesday, and was largely invisible as well.  We aren’t picking on Greene so much as acknowledging that he doesn’t match up well with legitimate point guards.  The tone of the broadcast seemed to reflect as much, with the announcers, joined by Chris Mullin, echoing the notion that the difference between the teams was that USF has a Doolin and St John’s does not.  Hopefully Jamal Branch will balance that equation as soon as he is eligible, and Orlando Sanchez, a supposed beast on the interior, will allow St. John’s to have more success in the paint.

While we are optimistic about the program, we can’t go crazy about guys who aren’t eligible, as last year has reminded us.  It is also unwise to put too much stock in guys who haven’t played much college basketball.  While Branch is a transfer, and he may have represented the best point guard option available at his late signing date, we feel that St. John’s is having trouble making commitments stick, especially at the one, and that there were several freshmen point guards who stayed relatively local that are better players than Branch.

Sanchez could be this year’s God’s Gift, a guy with a lot of hype to live up to who probably won’t.  Notice how Lavin has GG moored to the bench this year when last year he was practically the toast of the town.  Sanchez could also be a guy who doesn’t get cleared to play.

We hate to come down hard on Lavin, who we would not trade for a second.  Judging St. John’s coaches calls for perspective.  Lavin is quite possibly the best coach and recruiter that we’ve ever had.  Maybe Lavin lost touch a little bit with recruiting matters last year, and if so, there are enough quality new players to suggest that he regained that touch.  And then we consider that there are ongoing eligibility questions surrounding the current squad as well.  While the program is light years better than during the Norm Roberts and Mike Jarvis eras, we feel that Lavin is plagued by stability issues, which is in no way meant as a veiled criticism of Lavin’s health problems.  Going back to Lavin’s first ever recruit, talented wing Dwayne Polee, who has since transferred as well, Lavin seems to bring in kids who have no strong ties to the community at St. John’s.  Polee may not add up to his freshman hype ever, but he would have been something this current team does not have: a contributing upper classmen.  And his presence, coupled with what would now be 3 years in Lavin’s system, would no doubt smooth the transitions of all these supposedly epic freshmen.  Truth be told, with all the turnover and whatnot, we were shocked when Amir Garrett came back to the team this year, especially in light of his ability to throw a baseball.

St. John’s is its own unique set of circumstances, so we don’t like comparing too much across programs, but if we did we’d probably wonder why Mike Rice has gotten Rutgers off the ground better, with virtually no inner turmoil.  Rice has made his recruiting base local, unlike Lavin, who, while recruiting some impressive locals, has a national recruiting base, reflected by a starting 5 with the 3 better players hailing from Texas, Detroit, and Chicago.  What we’d like to think is that Lavin is going to get the program rolling in full force, but it is year 3 already and we are looking at a very average team.  In a perfect world, coach Dunlap lays an excellent foundation in Lavin’s absence, with an intact 2011 class, which we felt, though a young squad, would have been a lot more talented than the team Lavin took to the tournament in 2010.

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In the actual world, St. John’s is almost starting from scratch in year 3 of the Lavin era, which puts them squarely behind most projections and the rule of thumb that says a new coach needs a good 3 years to turn around a flagging program.  We would have liked to see Lavin take the advice of coaches like Boheim and Calhoun who did not rush back too soon when similarly afflicted.  As much as we love Lavin, he’s not superman, and we feel the team would’ve been better off with a full year of Dunlap plus a full year of Lavin recovery time.

But we suspect that Lavin was indeed concerned, with the flighty nature and poor academic standing of his prized recruits, and that he feared even greater recruiting casualties.  That strikes us as more of a problem when one recruits so heavily nationally.  When kids have eligibility problems, they are likely to end up close to home.  Obviously college basketball is a tough business and it must have been a terrible feeling for the coach, who is a straight ahead guy, to lose traction in year 2 after generating such a healthy buzz around the program in such a short time.

We’d never judge the program’s savior too harshly.  As a St. John’s fan, it could always get worse, and we’ve even seen it border on the sublime.  In fact, we feel the university should extend Lavin’s contract.  Lavin is a national coach, a skilled recruiter, and is rebuilding St. John’s as a brand, which is a task that will necessitate a patient and understanding fan base.  Putting Harkless and Dunlap in the league–the first guy to ever go from a college assistant to a pro head coach, oh by the way–only reinforces the reformed St. John’s brand.

We don’t care that last year was a throw way season and as long as we see this young team make strides, we won’t get too wrapped up in its won/loss record.  What we do care about is the why and the how.  It is not often that the coach of a major program declares his own team dead in November as Lavin did last year, and when we see signs of continued stability problems like ineligibility and decommittments, then those are things we’d like to see addressed.

One suggestion along those lines is for Lavin to move away from JC players and other transfers, and to go harder at local products.  As we hear it,  Syracuse looks to have bested St. John’s locally the last 2 years, and next year as well.  One recruit choosing between the Red and the Orange said he had a better sense of Syracuse’s interest because they were more ‘present and diligent’ during the recruitment process. We are by no means a Duke but we do appreciate Coach K’s reluctance to take short cuts with that program.  Teams that take on a lot of transfers are more transient and less rooted, and so they in turn suffer more defections and NBA early birds, whereas a Duke suffers notoriously few.  We also think local kids are more likely to ride things out when closer to home.

St. John’s future is still enormously bright regardless even with these setbacks and delays, as long as Lavin stays, and we’d like to credit Lavin for bringing in a great class while recovering from testicular cancer, in the face of many questions about his future and that of the Big East.  Now we have to work on keeping that class at St. John’s, and finding a top flight point guard, preferably a local kid, not a stop gap national guy, to bind the whole thing together.

And oh yeah.  It wouldn’t hurt if a few guys found decent barbers.  We can live with growing pains, but these youngsters, who may not be from here, can at least rep NY in style.  While we might not always expect wins to be the norm with this evolving crew, we are definitely expecting a big performance on the garden floor Saturday against hack coach Tom Pecora (“nobody wanted any of us” LOL) and the second rate Fordham program.

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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!

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Mike “The Wizard” Dunlap (above), who has coached St. John’s to two wins this year in place of Steve Lavin, most recently on Tuesday evening.

Tough week for the Johnnies on the court with back to back losses to Arizona and Texas A & M, two ranked teams, at MSG.  At least the Johnnies were in both games, especially the A & M game, which they lost 58-57.  In truth, we expected a loss to Sean Miller’s Arizona squad, one of the premiere outfits in the land.  We thought St. John’s played pretty well against AZ, despite the loss.  We’d have love love loved a win on Sunday though, but we understand the young lads will take their lumps early, with all the freshmen and two important sophomores just coming together, an ongoing process.

The team you see now is not the team you will see in January.  So we are not worried at all about losses to good teams, not even at MSG.  But we are worried about coach.  Very disturbing that Steve Lavin didn’t coach the team in Tuesday night’s win over St. Francis at Carneseccsa.  Three hours before game time, Lavin informed the school and the team that he would not be able to coach, ceding the bench to Mike Dunlap in the 63-48 win.  We aren’t concerned about anything–not Jakarr Sampson, not the Big East falling apart, not Ricardo Gathers de-commit–except for Lavin’s health.  Lavin could recruit eskimos in Hawaii, without health concerns.  Predictably, St. John’s was murky when side stepping the issue of Lavin’s availability to the press, after the victory.  So is the coach tired from a 2 day recruiting trip, or did he embark on one right after the game?  ESPN and the NYDN issued conflicting reports, but in truth, The News’ version sounds more likely, that Lavin had been recruiting all day Monday and Tuesday, namely, re-recruiting lights out prospect Jakarr Sampson, and will likely spend the holiday hunkered down with family.

St. Francis was a nice win, with another big game from Maurice Harkless, and from D’Angelo Harrison, who had 21 points and shot 4 out of 5 from deep, decidedly not looking like the kid who can’t shoot straight, against albeit lesser competition.  We’ll take another built in win on Sunday, or what should be, home against Northeastern, before next Thursday’s tilt in Lexington, which is likely a loss.  An interesting matchup at Detroit follows that one, before the hotly awaited Fordham rematch, this year at the Garden, on December 17th.

Frankly, we don’t care too much about how these games shake out, except that one.  Beating Fordham is an absolute must.  And getting Coach Lavin back in a full capacity.  No one could’ve liked that Gathers, when de-committing, mentioned the uncertainty concerning Lavin’s health, which obviously exists.  Lavin will no doubt recruit an army to St. John’s, Sampson and Gathers not withstanding, but this will happen only if Lavin is perceived to be healthy.

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