Sir Dominic Pointer


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.

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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.

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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)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LET’S GO REDMEN!

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

 

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)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fIgSarOjhKw

We have a definite soft spot for Dwayne Polee II (above).  When we heard earlier this week that he was transferring, we were a bit perplexed.  As we opined early on last season, Polee could be a 1 and done talent, only we were thinking NBA, especially after a few highlight reel dunks in the season opener.  As it would turn out, there weren’t too many more of those moments for Polee, who, for the sake of appearances and what well may really be, wants to be closer to home for family reasons, a sick family member, we think.

Polee never really fit in here and that is a terrible shame, because his commitment to the program–the first major talent to sign on–helped St. John’s get the ball rolling in terms of buzz and recruiting, helping them land Norvel Pelle and nearly Remi Barry, other California kids who had a zillion options.  Polee, a symbollic starter for a portion of the season, lost his claim to real minutes early on, after some uneven performances, bad shooting, and terrible decision making.  But he talked the talk, and seemed to have confidence in the program.  One knew as much after an awful Syracuse loss at the Garden, after which Polee spoke to the media about marking the loss and avenging it.

But it couldn’t have been easy for Polee, the only freshman, a guy from the left coast who was much heralded, to join a cliquey St. John’s team, with players who were probably looking at him like competition.  There was a Pennsylvania clique and a JC clique, and there’s the lanky kid from Cali who may not have had anyone to bond with.  Polee probably looked ahead a bit to next season, which was already becoming quite cliquey, and the cliques again did not involve him.  Maurice Harkless, Jakarr Sampson (see his impressive highlights on www.youtube.com above), and D’Angelo Harrison all played on a national all-star team recently, and seemed like they were having a good time together, while tearing it up.  Harkless and Sampson both have a bit of a position clash with Polee, as does Sir Dominic Pointer, who also played in that competition.

Pointer’s high school teammate, Dwight Meickle, has also skipped out on St. John’s, as Steve Lavin announced last month.  Meickle, who is whispered to be only 6’6 and not 6’9, is probably doing the Johnnies a favor.  The quality of recruit St. John’s is now typically in the mix with is well above the talent level of a Dwight Meickle, and we are sure that Lavin and staff will redistribute that scholarship and bring in a bigger talent.  For 2012-2013. 

Right now, as it sits, St. John’s has an extremely thin roster, with only 10 players signed for next season.  One of whom, Nurideen Lindsey, the supposed starting point guard, may not be eligible for the fall.  Of those 10 players, only 1 has NCAA Division I experience, and that’s point guard Malik Stith, who we made fun of all year for his lack of talent.  So we find ourselves questioning St. John’s for next year, though they recently completed a coup by signing power forward God’s Gift Achiuwa.

It was probably never the best thing for the program to give out so many scholarships so quickly.  Not when so many young kids want to wear the jersey.  Was all the pub about the biggest and best class in St. John’s storied history a bad thing?  Not at all.  It was important in getting the program re-established.  And so was Polee, who we are genuinely sad to see go.  He’s a great kid, and we wish him well.

Meickle?  We don’t think he woulld have played much, and we’d just as soon have somebody else.  And from what we hear, with the attention Lavin’s staff is showering on Kyle Anderson, who at 6’8 can play 5 positions, and Ricardo Gathers, we think St. John’s would rather have better players.  They might even get a better player in here to replace Polee, though we were content to sit with him and see his development, and hail him as the first to come.

We still will.  Too bad it will have to be from afar.

Crack (https://crackbillionair.wordpress.com, www.crackbillionair.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.

Crack (https://crackbillionair.wordpress.com, http://www.crackbillionair.com)