We thought we'd start our look at St. John's with a look back at Carl Heimel's pre-season take on the Johnnies and then see what they look like now.Â
There's a good chance you may have seen Steve Lavin sitting next to you on an airplane this past year. Or maybe you saw him at a rental car counter, in a hotel lobby, or sitting in a high school gym. That's because Lavin, whose Red Storm squad was faced with losing their top 7 players, hit the road and put together a monster recruiting class composed of 9 players.
It's a class that lacks any true superstar (there were no McDonald's All-Americans in the group) but has 6 recruits that would be considered in the top 100 players in the class (as per rscihoops.com, a compilation of recruiting rankings) and two highly regarded Junior College players. At the core is a set of talented small forwards in Sir'Dominic Pointer (who makes the All-Name team along with his twin sister, MizUnique), Jakarr Sampson, Maurice Harkless, and Amir Garrett giving St. John's a versatile team similar to what Lavin had this past season.
There's no telling which of that quartet will step up distinguish themselves from the pack as all of them are similarly regarded. Pointer is considered to have the greatest upside and is a terrific athlete who could excel in Lavin's transition offense. Harkless brings an already polished offensive game and could be the guy to step in and make an immediate impact. Sampson has the size (6-8) and the athleticism to play both forward positions and, like Pointer, is a guy really built for scoring in transition. Garrett may be the best athlete of the four and has the intensity to be a lockdown defender for the Johnnies. He'll also likely have the best fastball in college basketball - his 96 mph heater was enough to earn him a minor league contract with the Cincinnati Reds.
The other key members of the class are Norvel Pelle who will be a factor at the PF position and Nurideen Lindsey, a high-scoring combo guard who almost broke the scoring record for his high school. Normally that's not that big of a deal unless the guy who holds the record is named Wilt Chamberlain. Perhaps the most important incoming player is God's Gift Achiuwa who was a First Team JUCO All-American last season. At 6-9 and 240 lbs. Achiuwa is the only guy on Lavin's roster with the size to play inside in the rugged Big East. (And when it comes to the All-Name team you can count on God's Gift being one of the guys who is shaking hands with the opposing captains and refs at center court before the tip.)
St. John's will be one of the most interesting teams on Duke's schedule. It's rare that you have such a complete roster turnover as what the Red Storm will face this year. Lavin has done a terrific job of putting together a recruiting class to restock and if he can keep this squad together for a few seasons they will be a contender in the Big East. Look for them to be a bit inconsistent as all that talent tries to mesh together and adapt to the challenges of college basketball but don't be surprised to see them pull off a few upsets this year.
A few things have changed since Carl wrote this, primarily Steve Lavin's health: Lavin has missed most of the season after undergoing surgery for prostate cancer.Â He attempted to return to soon, coaching for four games, before realizing he was endangering his health.
There's no guarantee he won't be on the bench Saturday, but there's no guarantee he will, either.
In a sense, this reflects his career perfectly: Lavin's been wildly inconsistent from day one.Â His teams have had the capacity to play brilliantly on Wednesday then inexplicably poorly on Saturday.
It's been more of the same this year: with a lot of new players and coaching instability, St. John's is currently 9-11.
They've got an eight-man rotation with few familiar names.
Moe Harkless is averaging 16 ppg and 8.6 rebounds.Â Three other players are averaging in double figures.
Things might have gone better for the Johnnies if Dwayne Polee hadn't split.
Polee headed back west as his mother is ill and is now enrolled at San Diego State.
Sophomore Nurideen Lindsey is also gone, off to Rider.
Still, despite it all, St. John's is confident going into this game.Â They gave Duke a serious beating last year and just beat West Virginia with five freshmen starting.
St. John's may give Duke trouble with athleticism, a familiar story this season, but Duke may return the favor with their stable of big men.