Ricardo Gathers


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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