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

Lavin introducing fresh attitude to Big East recruiting race

St. John’s used to be the
pushover of Big East basketball
recruiting. Not anymore.

It used to be that the Johnnies were a good program that deserved
better, getting solid players with
reputations for working hard and being
good character guys off the court. This was said usually by the coaches who
cherry-picked the top recruits out of
the Red Storm’s backyard while
St. John’s could do nothing more than
stand idle and hope that its recruiting pitch-a chance to revive the program
while playing at the World’s Most
Famous Arena, Madison Square
Garden-could outweigh the others.

But in his first recruiting season with the Red Storm, men’s basketball coach Steve Lavin changed all that, prying
Los Angeles’ Dwayne Polee Jr. away
from the West Coast, where he was
widely regarded as the area’s top college
prospect, and nipped Forrest Hills’
Maurice Harkless, a small forward who initially committed to Connecticut. Polee will join the Johnnies on the court for
the upcoming 2010-11 season and
Harkless will follow next season, when the team will have nine other
freshmen, as part of what Lavin calls his
“Noah’s Ark.”

It seemed like St. John’s primed for something big. The program had
been building to this crescendo all
summer, as Ron Artest’s Los Angeles
Lakers won the NBA title and
Anthony Mason Jr. took his talents to
South Beach in joining the trio of
LeBron James, Chris Bosh and
Dwayne Wade.

Finally, in late August, the current Red Storm squad received recognition when the conference’s coaches made
their preseason rankings. Louisville’s Rick Pitino gave the Johnnies his
first-place vote. “Nine seniors,” he said in a text message to ESPN. “Everyone
but Pitt and Villanova lost key players.”

But the big boom came just before classes started on the Queens campus, with Harkless announcing his commitment to the Johnnies right in front of the Garden, just as
Amar’e Stoudemire did when he agreed
to join the Knicks in their rebuilding
efforts in July. When the rebuilding
projects are done, neither will
probably be the main star of either
team, but the defiance with which they
chose New York speaks for the swagger
both clubs are bringing back
to basketball.

Which is why Lavin benefited more from the move than Harkless. The only way St. John’s basketball could revive the way New York expects it to is to have a guy who embodies tenacity leading the way-a guy who doesn’t take no for an answer and does whatever it takes to bring in the guys he targets.

Lavin has done that not once, but twice thus far, and he’s done so right in the face of UConn, one of the Big East’s perrenial powerhouses, by luring one of their former committed players. When he was hired, Lavin talked a big game of what he projected for his program and, at least on paper, he’s delivered.

Lavin will not let St. John’s stand idle while rival teams have their way with the City’s talent anymore. Norm
Roberts couldn’t do that, and from the
looks of it, Steve Lavin relishes in
defending his turf. And judging from
last Tuesday’s announcement, it looks
like Harkless is the kind of guy who
does too, and those are the kinds of
players you can expect Lavin to target
and bring into the school.

This is not to say this attitude hasn’t ruffled some feathers. At Harkless’
introductory press conference, his
advisor, Nate Blue, said the recruit
received a text message from a rival
Big East coach saying, “if Moe
committed to St. John’s he would be
double and triple-teamed on a team
of nobodies.”

He says that because folks, the times they are a-changin,’ and the balance of power in the Big East is shifting. He says that because he can feel it. And he’s scared.

And he should be, because Blue had this to add: “There’s going to be a lot of help coming to St. John’s in the next few weeks. I won’t tip my hat, but there’s more coming soon.”

If that is true, the rest of the
conference had better take notice.

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