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.

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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)

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.

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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)