The Independent Student Newspaper of St. John's University

The Torch

The Independent Student Newspaper of St. John's University

The Torch

The Independent Student Newspaper of St. John's University

The Torch

Recruiting in the city good, not a must for program success

I’ve never understood why recruiting players from New York City was so important
to the St. John’s men’s basketball program.

Yet throughout every aspect of the former Norm Roberts era and as the search for the next head coach begins, that
sentiment constantly rings loud and clear.

St. John’s is looking for an upstanding citizen to be its next head coach. It is
preferred that he be a native
New Yorker who can handle the pressure to win immediately with players he didn’t recruit and win annually once he brings in players of his own. He needs to be able to continue Roberts’ mission-to develop players as great men in addition to great basketball players-as well as get the Red Storm’s fan base
excited about its team again.

Oh yeah, and if that wasn’t enough, he’s got to find players from the New York City area to get the job done, remaining under the shadow
of Lou Carnesecca.

When everything is spelled out that way, it’s no wonder why Billy Donovan rejected St. John’s $3 million offer, which the New York Daily News reported yesterday. St. John’s could offer him nothing that Florida could not. After all, that $3 million offer didn’t even match his $3.5 million salary with the Gators.

In addition, a reclamation project is
always a risky career move. Donovan has roots at Florida, and is only enticed by what could eventually come to be at St. John’s. If that potential does not come to fruition, he and Roberts would be in the same boat-looking for work while athletic director Chris Monasch searches for another
leading man.

By the way, Donovan had just one player from New York City on his team this season-sophomore point guard Erving Walker from Christ the King High School-so much for recruiting within the city.

Had Donovan taken the St. John’s job and continued recruiting from Florida, instead of New York City, I doubt it would have been an issue if the team annually reached the NCAAs.

Roberts, like Donovan, had New York roots, but not the New York recruiting experience.

While working as Bill Self’s most trusted recruiter, he helped recruit players mainly from the Midwest, building Tulsa’s
program and laying the foundation for Illinois’ success under Bruce Weber before continuing the success Roy Williams left behind at Kansas.

But when Roberts arrived in Queens, he did so amid NCAA violations and an alleged rape scandal. High school coaches began pawning their players on schools outside the tri-state area, and St. John’s had to get struggle just to land
lesser-revered recruits. Pretty soon, Lance Stephenson was returning home to New York from Cincinnati and Kemba Walker was recalling his glory days at Rice High School as a member of the
Connecticut Huskies.

That was always the biggest knock against Roberts. Not only couldn’t his teams win 20-plus games, but they didn’t have the stars from New York caring enough about St. John’s to want to attend the school. But why was that so important? Why did Roberts continue to look to New York first, then expand his recruiting radar outward?

He was fighting a losing battle. Roberts told the Torch early in the men’s
basketball season that players travel so much during AAU and high school
ball that most aren’t worried
about picking up and moving somewhere else.
As years progressed, and the image of St. John’s became more positive throughout the city. The issue for recruits became less about the program’s off-court issues and more about its floundering status in the Big East. Suddenly recruits had a new reason to reject St. John’s, and there was little Roberts was able to do to stop them.

If so many players were leaving, why not go
elsewhere? Why not travel to
places others called home, in
hopes of coaxing them into
going to school in New York City and reviving St. John’s
basketball?

Some say the definition of a fool is someone who
continues performing the same action but expecting different
results each time. St. John’s
must bear in mind that it can
no longer depend on New York
City to provide the bulk of its recruiting.

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