Mike Dunlap


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Last Thursday night in Miami the Knicks played a complete game from start to finish, without star and 27.5 PPG contributor Carmelo Anthony, and blew out defending Champion Miami Heat at United Airlines Arena 112-92, in what may have been their best regular season performance in the new millennium.  Since then, the Knickerbockers went toe to toe with the Bulls in Chicago and lost, and posted wins over Denver and NJ…um, “Brooklyn” that is, 2 games that have been labeled by some as a Carmelo revival tour of sorts.  Tuesday’s victory over New Jersey, as must a win as there can be in mid December, was made possible by Anthony’s 45 pts, and was delivered by a 3 pointer by new team leader Jason Kidd (shown above) in the final minute which was also the game’s final tally.

Prior to the South Beach business trip, the Knicks played a mostly lackluster game in Charlotte, looking ahead to the Heat, in all likelihood.  While Anthony put up 20 in the 1st half, he had zero field goals in the 2nd.  But his low output did not hinder his effort.  With only a few minutes to play, Anthony followed a loose ball into the Knicks’ bench, lacerating his finger, and causing him to miss the next two games.

Without Anthony on the floor for the final minutes in Charlotte, the Knicks capped the impressive comeback (8 down with 6 minutes to play) win with a 5 man unit consisting of Chandler, Novak, Smith, Felton, and Kidd.  Felton and Smith teamed for a huge steal in the final minute and swarming team D led to a 5 second violation for another key turnover, in part aided by a mental error by city product and NCAA champ Kemba Walker.  The pride of UConn failed to present himself on the inbounds pass, as he was the likely option on the throw in.  Felton scored with approximately a minute to go on a sweet drive, which gave the Knicks a 98-98 tie, and then JR Smith, after failing to go hard to the rim for a layup that would’ve won the ball game, instead called a TO and then promptly won it with a fall away from behind the elbow as time expired.

The Knicks performance last week, marked by strong defense and execution, have been hallmarks of the team this year–especially 2nd half defense–traits notably absent during Mike D’Antoni’s failed tenure, but traits once again associated with the Knicks under Mike Woodson, now 35-12 as HC of the NYK.  Another refreshing quality the Knicks now have in spades, which was noticeably absent during the D’Antoni era is effort, which, to a man, has improved under coach Woodson.

It couldn’t have hurt to have added so many serious veterans with winning predigees, like Rasheed Wallace and “rookie” Pablo Prigioni, who, in 13 minutes against the Heat, recorded 7 pts and 6 boards.  Prigioni has a serious nose for the ball via the steal and the long rebound, a perfect reserve on a club that shoots so many 3s (last night the Knicks made 14-28 3PFGAS).  Kidd has also shown a knack for loose balls and long rebounds, but to be honest, what hasn’t he shown a knack for since coming to NY’s real team?

Walt “Clyde” Frazier, who truly puts the color in color commentary, recently discussed Kidd’s impact on the Knicks this year.  In doing so, Clyde recalled Kidd led NJ teams that went to the finals, along with players like Richard Jefferson and Kenyon Martin, who ‘have been practically nothing without him.’  It’s easy to understand why Kidd’s departure so enraged Dallas owner Mark Cuban.  In fact, we were even apoplectic that Kidd was out for the 1st game the Knicks played against the Nets in Brooklyn.  Something tells us the Knicks finish that business off with Kidd on the floor to steady and martial the troops.  We’re pretty certain that Knicks point guard Ray Felton would be the first guy to cite Kidd’s impact, as Felton is enjoying a career season with Kidd as his 2.

In that game against Miami, Felton made 6 3s, led the team with 27 points, and turned it over only 3 times, and only once through 3 quarters.  Felton’s play against Miami prompted one local beat man (props to Steve Popper) to Tweet, “Feltonsanity.”  Too bad Jeremy Lin didn’t stick around, as he would have greatly benefitted from Kidd’s tutelage, as opposed to Houston, where he shares the ball handling duties with, wait for it…Toney Douglass.  Oh, the hand of fate!

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Even if Kidd is not showing up on the score sheet, his contributions are great. In Miami, Kidd was a staggering +31 in his minutes.  Kidd has taken charge of most huddles and is perfectly suited to, for what player on the Knicks or in the league anywhere, for that matter, would not defer to Kidd’s wisdom in a crunch situation?  When JR Smith failed to go in for that layup to beat the Bobcats, Kidd was visibly irate with Smith, but then appeared to instruct Smith to shake off the play.  So Smith went out and made the buzzer beater, all net, no rim, splash.

Having 2 point guards on the floor, one being Kidd, has manifested itself in another winning attribute: TO ratio.  This year the Knicks have a +5.5 TO margin, which, at the moment is not only tops in the league but is also on pace for an NBA team record.

Back to the +/- stat for a moment, a stat which is also distinguishing the Knicks as an elite regular season team.  The Knicks 5 man unit of Chandler, Novak, Smith, Felton, and Kidd is the top +/- group in the NBA. The 4 man unit of Chandler, Felton, Novak, Kidd is the top foursome in the league, and the 3 man unit of Novak, Felton, and Kidd is the top 3 man unit, at a staggering +19 avg.

Novak has been worth every penny of his 20+M/4 yr deal so far.  Even last night, when he recorded zero points, he was a +12 in his minutes, which indicates that he plays sound ball regardless of his stroke and scoring numbers.

As presently constituted, the Knicks sit atop the Atlantic at 16-5.  They should be wired on Thursday when they play the Lakers, a struggling team, now coached by Knicks’ castoff Mike D’Antoni, a questionable hire, especially considering that Phil Jackson was set to return to LA when D’Antoni agreed to take his woe is me act to SoCal.  Only time will tell as to D’Antoni’s success in LA, though not only aren’t we counting on it, but we’re actively rooting against it.  The Knicks would be wise to jump all over LA at MSG, where Kobe usually puts up immense numbers.

The Knicks should be further buoyed by the imminent return of Amar’e Stoudemire, who looks to be in great shape right now, and who is expected back around Christmas.  And when Iman Shumpert returns, hopefully in January, the Knicks will have the defensive presence to throw at quick guards like Rondo and Deron Williams, which should further boost the play of Raymond Felton, an absolute bargain at 3M per, and taken with Kidd’s approximate 3M salary, the winning pair come in at the same approximate salary as former Knicks’ savior Jeremy Lin.

KNICKERBOCKERS!!!!

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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.

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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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Steve Lavin, who has now missed consecutive games and 3 games total for St. John’s this year, will be interviewed by WFAN’s Mike Francesa in the 4 O’clock hour today. We are anxiously awaiting what will be Lavin’s most public and in depth remarks about the team an his health since being diagnosed last spring. The timing of the interview comes on the verge of St. John’s trip to Lexington to face Kentucky, which is the team’s biggest spotlight game so far. The interview and the trip to Kentucky will definitely impact on St. John’s recruiting as some recruits are questioning Lavin’s health, and the stability of the conference.

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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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Tonight at Carneseca in Jamaica, the St. John’s ‘Red Storm’ will open their season against William and Mary with Mike Dunlap running the team in place of Steve Lavin. Lavin is still recovering from prostate cancer surgery underwent on October 5th, and there doesn’t seem to be any concrete timetable for Lavin’s return. The team is in good hands with Dunlap running the bench. Dunlap will need to live up to his reputation as a mad scientist considering St. John’s tumultuous roster situation, dealt blows by the key ineligibilities of C Norvel Pelle, F Jakarr Sampson, and slasher Amir Garrett.

Imagine Maurice Harkless, shaping up to be the squad’s standout, was ruled in eligible for having had indirect contact with Director of Basketball Operations, Mo Hicks. It looked like the NCAA might come down on Harkless because Hicks had worked for Rice HS within 2 years of Harkless’s recruitment. Fortunately for St. John’s, Hicks had not coached Harkless within 2 years of his recruitment else the Johnnies would be starting a walk-on up front tonight.

The staff has done a great job recovering from the 3 big ineligibilities this fall, successfully re-recruiting most important big man Norvel Pelle for 2012-2013, getting the explosive Garrett cleared to play in January, and getting commitments from Ricardo Gathers and Darrick Wood for 2012-2013.

Unfortunately, St. John’s has not been able to get a renewed commitment from Sampson, who played lights out this summer at the various AM-IN’s, and who could have been the team’s best player. We hear that Lavin has found time to visit Sampson a few times since the ruling, leaving the door still open for the multi-talented Ohio native.

With the squad as is, even sans Lavin for now, we see a much more talented group than last year’s tournament team. This team still has God’s Gift Achiuwa (top) to man the middle, and Harkless and Sir’Dominic Pointer flanking him round out the best starting frontline they have boasted since Ron Artest, um, we mean Metta World Peace.

Our man Malik Stith (kidding), the only returning player of ‘note’ and the team’s elder statesman, will be in the backcourt mix, especially since he is the closest thing to a true point guard this team has. Not that his talent really justifies major minutes. Nurideen Lindsey, who comes to St. John’s from Phily by way of Redlands CC (Oklahoma), is a scorer who will be cast in the lead role. Lindsey too was nearly ineligible, and had to work diligently, so we hear, to earn enough credit hours to play. If you’re sensing a theme at work here about the quality of the St. John’s recruit in terms of character and academic standing, that’s not our drift. Character and academic standing of top recruits are problems that are pandemic within the sport. For proof of such, one need not look further than Storrs.

Lavin and co. have done a great job repopulating the program with talent, and that was job one. Lindsey, probably the team’s best weapon at guard, was discussed in many 2nd round mockups of last June’s NBA draft, despite the “lack of formal basketball” over the past 2 years. Two other very talented guards should see significant minutes, with D’Angelo Harrison of Texas likely starting and Phil Greene of Chicago likely coming off the bench.

The squad will be punched up considerably when the freakishly athletic Garrett can suit up in January. And though we love Dunlap and were thrilled when he announced he’d be returning despite interest from schools in need of a head coach out west, we also know Lavin’s return will be a big boost to the team.

While we are not oncology experts by any stretch, we are very concerned for coach Lavin. Obviously his situation is somewhat dicey. We thought it odd that his surgery would come during basketball season, essentially, and that his dr’s needed so much time to decide on a course of action.

Not to be flip by any means as we are sure the coach is in good hands. Still, we hate not seeing him, tie or no tie, running the bench.

At current, the Johnnies are favored by 8.5 pts tonight. Wednesday they will face Lehigh at Carneseca.

LET’S GO REDMEN!

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

Eerie CC All-American God’s Gift Achiuwa (below).

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.

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