Enter San Man

Four years ago, they came in as freshmen. Last week, they played their final game together.

What happened in between was heart-wrenching and rewarding, maddening and blissful. At times along the way, they made you cringe, but at times, they also made you proud.

So now’s a pretty good time to look back on the career of the 10 seniors of the men’s basketball team who will shake hands with Fr. Harrington and smile before their 3,000-something peers in May, a storybook ending to the unique journey of the young men who courageously became the face of St. John’s University to the college basketball world, for good or ill, on the heels of one of the darkest times in the history of the school’s athletic department.

No, they won’t be looked at in quite the same light as the Mullins and Jacksons, who once upon a time made the St. John’s program one of the most successful in college basketball, but they will nonetheless be looked at, scrutinized and ultimately revered in similar fashion.

While most would equate their success to the memorable 21-12 season they just completed, which ended in a loss to Gonzaga last week in the NCAA tournament’s opening round, they may be most appreciated for the losing seasons they endured, the blowouts they suffered and the game-winning shots that seemed to fall for

everyone but them.

They knew that things were bad even before they went to Freshman Orientation, as then-head coach Norm Roberts compiled losing seasons in his first three years after taking over a program riddled with punishments from the numerous NCAA violations of past regimes. They chose St. John’s anyway, more than willing to repent for the sins of the departed, hell-bent on setting right the mistakes of others and reviving a proud program with an even prouder history, even though they’d have to do it in the most challenging conference in all of college basketball, the big, bad Big East.

They understood full well, however, that change often takes time to develop, while playing in a city that seldom has the patience to wait. That’s why Roberts was booted after their first three seasons, during which the team went a combined 44-53 and won just 18 games against conference opponents who looked up at the Red Storm in the Big East standings most of the time.

That’s the nature of the Big East, though. The best teams are the ones with talent throughout each recruiting class, with players who stick around until their senior year. This group never really had that luxury. Noble as they were for taking on such a tremendous challenge, they weren’t pampered with three or four seniors each year to show them the way. They had only each other to lean on.

So they endured. They didn’t transfer to contending programs, as it seemed so easy at times for them to do. They stayed positive and took every beating they had coming to them as underclassmen, showing signs of the talent they did have and taking notes on their peers along the way.  

They did it because they understood the value of a promise in an age where promises are often nothing more than arbitrary words. They did it because they understood loyalty, to the school that gave them an opportunity to play college basketball at its highest levels, to the brothers they grew to love along the way, the ones they’d be fighting their basketball wars alongside. They did it for their head coach, not Steve Lavin, but the man who would only revel in their future successes from the SNY studios.

So forget the fact that they didn’t get past the first round of the NCAA tournament. Forget that they got lucky against Rutgers during the Big East tournament, or had yet another bad break in losing D.J. Kennedy for the NCAA tournament. If anything, this group gave the St. John’s community hope — that things will never stay bad forever, that you can’t just run away from trouble, that blood is thicker than water.

The seniors didn’t need to have the season it had to be the success they are; they were already an inspiration.