Harkless commits to St. John’s

New St. John’s head coach Steve Lavin just had his first recruiting battle for a New York City player this summer – and won, as Maurice Harkless, who starred at Forest Hills high school before transferring to South Kent Prep (Ct.) this fall, gave a verbal commitment to Lavin and his staff on Monday. The decision became public the next day.

Harkless, a 6’8″ wing, chose the Red Storm over Maryland, Rutgers, Cincinnati, Oregon and Florida.

“This is a good spot,” Harkless said outside of Madison Square Garden to a group of media. “Especially being in New York, now we’re going to start getting back to what St. John’s used to be. Playing in Madison Square Garden, the world’s most famous arena, it’s a good situation.”

Initially, Harkless committed to Connecticut in April, but decommited during the summer. The difference between then and now, he says, was the coach.

“I wasn’t really looking at St. John’s but now with the new coaching staff, I took the program more seriously,” said Harkless, who averaged 16.5 points and 11.5 rebounds. “I think they can turn the program around and Lavin will do a great job.”

Lavin’s pitch to Harkless immediately got him interested.

“I liked his personality,” Harkless said of Lavin. “He’s a real cool guy. He’s very honest, great excitement. He wants the best for me, wants the best for the program.”
Nate Blue, Harkless’ advisor,” was just as impressed.

“I was very impressed,” said Blue, who has also mentored Charlie Villanueva and Smush Parker. “Lavin is one of the first head coaches I spoke to who can sell you on a program in two minutes. And it’s not just by talking a good game; you actually believe he’s going to do what he says.

“I’ve been dealing with head coaches for years. Lavin is one of the few coaches who can sell you on his program in two minutes. If he was at Wichita State, we would’ve thought about it.”

Harkless is Lavin’s first recruit for the class of 2011. He is a consensus Top 50 player in the country and top 15 small forward. He is St. John’s first high profile recruit from New York City to stay home since the days of Fran Fraschilla, who recruited Ron Artest (LaSalle Academy) and Erick Barkley (Christ the King).
He is confident that he will be a trendsetter for years to come.

“I wasn’t nervous at all,” Harkless said about being the first committed recruit. “Me being first, I figured some were nervous about being first so maybe if I go first, then others will start committing when I come here. I feel a lot of kids want to come here but was nervous. That all changes now.”

Despite Lavin’s hiring only a few months ago, the difference is already noticeable for Blue.

“Norm wasn’t really selling the city,” Blue said. “He was dealing with a different staff. It seems like it was last year but it was a different era. Last season was the end of a different era. This is the dawn of a new era.”