Marcus LoVett, Felix Balamou ruled ineligible for St. John’s

Carmine Carcierci, Assistant Sports Editor

Chris Mullin’s first season as head coach of the St. John’s men’s basketball team is expected to be a clear cut rebuilding year with nine new faces. That task has proven to be much more difficult after the NCAA ruled freshman Marcus LoVett and senior Felix Balamou ineligible.

The NCAA came to a decision regarding LoVett’s status just two days before the Red Storm’s season opener against Wagner last Friday. The center of the investigation involved the point guard falling behind with his schoolwork heading into his senior year of high school. But, according to the New York Post, LoVett made up all his credits by taking night and summer classes, and St. John’s was confident he would maintain his eligibility.

Even after exhausting his appeals process, LoVett may decide to challenge his partial qualifying status by hiring a lawyer.

“The University disagrees with the NCAA’s decision and the process it used in reviewing Marcus’ initial eligibility wavier request,” St. John’s interim athletic director and general counsel Joseph Oliva said in a statement. “We have engaged in several conversations with the NCAA to express our concerns that their process may have violated Marcus’ legal rights. Unfortunately, it appears that the NCAA elected to disregard these concerns.

“We have advised Marcus and his family to consult with appropriate legal counsel about the options that may be available to challenge the NCAA ruling and the standards it applied in this process.”

The six-foot freshman from Chicago was projected to be the team’s starting lead guard due to his superb handles, playmaking ability and unique vision. Now, the Johnnies will have to rely on fellow freshman, Federico Mussini, who would have greatly benefited from LoVett’s calming presence.

Without LoVett, Mussini will have to handle the brunt of the ball handling responsibilities while also having to adjust to American basketball on the fly.

Meanwhile, Balamou is dealing with an unspecified NCAA violation. His ineligibility was announced by St. John’s just hours before the team’s opener. There are no specific details as to whether the senior guard will be inactive for the remainder of the season but the University is seeking reinstatement.

“We understand Felix’s disappointment and we are here to support him,” Oliva said in a statement.

As one of three returnees from last season’s NCAA tournament team, Balamou was expected to provide critical senior leadership and experience while bringing versatility, athleticism and strong on-ball defense. Balamou has gone through the rigors of the Big East before and, while his minutes haven’t been consistent, he has talent.

The Johnnies will have plenty of depth without the two guards but Mullin’s job will not be an easy one, especially when Big East play rolls around.