The Norm Roberts era at St. John’s is not The Norm Roberts era at St. John’s is not over yet.
Days after the New York Post reported that Roberts would not be retained for a seventh season as the coach of the men’s basketball team, the Red Storm received a berth in the National Invitational Tournament for a record 27th time.
St. John’s (17-15, 7-13 Big East) will square off against Memphis (23-9, 13-3 Conference USA) tonight at 9 p.m. on ESPN2, as the Johnnies look to build on their tournament-record 40 NIT wins, 15 semifinal appearances and five championships.
“[The NIT] holds a lot of significance to St. John’s,” said Roberts, who coached the team to 17 wins in 2009-10, the most in his six years as head coach. “St. John’s was always a big part of the NIT. It is one step of us moving forward. Every year this team has taken a step and this is another step. Last year we went to the [College Basketball Invitational] and now we get a chance to hopefully win a couple games and come back home.”
With a win over the Tigers, St. John’s would face either two-seeded Mississippi on the road or seventh-seeded Troy at home later this week. If the Johnnies can advance to the semifinal round, they’d return to Madison Square Garden on March 30, where they played most of their conference schedule this season.
“We are excited that we can continue to play,” said junior guard Paris Horne. “We’re playing for a lot. The NIT is a great tournament and I feel like we could win it. So we are just going to go after it.”
The Johnnies may need to “go after it” in order for Roberts to keep his job for next season. According to a report last week by SNY’s Adam Zagoria, Roberts has not yet discussed his future with university officials and will not do so until the season ends, a sentiment he reiterated before the team left for Memphis on Monday. If the team reaches the NIT finals, he would still be coaching the team on April 1.
“Nothing has been discussed about any of that stuff,” Roberts said. “We haven’t evaluated our whole season until our season is over. When it is over, we will evaluate where the program is. We knew the season wasn’t over and we wanted to keep on playing.”
Horne dismissed the notion that the team would be playing for more than the program’s sixth NIT title when the Johnnies take the floor tonight.
“We aren’t thinking about [Roberts’ future with the team],” Horne said. “That isn’t our standpoint. Our mindset is to play and going out and trying to win. We really wanted this chance for this tournament. We feel like we are a great team and we just want to show everybody that we are. It’s out of our control.”