Thursday, September 15, 2011

Three ineligible freshmen at St. John's, not as bad as you think it is

When Steve Lavin made the decision to take the St. John's job back 18 months ago, he knew he had to bring in a loaded 2011 recruiting class.

That's what happens when you take a job coaching a program with 10 seniors on the roster. So while St. John's made the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2002 last season, Lavin knew back on March 31st, 2010, that his program would essentially be starting from scratch with his crop of 2011 recruits.

To Lavin's credit, he did just that, bringing in a nine-man class that ranked right behind Duke and Kentucky's as one of the best in the country. But since he was in a bit of a desperate position, Lavin had to take on a couple of risks, namely Jakarr Sampson, Norvel Pelle and Amir Garrett. Today, St. John's got the news that all three of those recruits -- who sit at 38th, 57th and 76th, respectively, in our Consensus Class of 2011 rankings -- would be ineligible for at least the first semester.

"The NCAA Eligibility Center informed us this afternoon that after a review, these three PSAs cannot qualify at this time," said Director of Athletics Chris Monasch said in a statement. "The University has been proactive and diligent in assisting in the reviews for each of our incoming men's basketball student-athletes. We will continue to review what avenues the student-athletes may have to achieve their initial eligibility."

"We will continue to work with the NCAA in an effort to review Amir, Norvel and JaKarr's cases regarding their eligibility. Our student-athletes and their families have been patient and cooperative throughout this review process," added Lavin. "We are hopeful that Amir, Norvel and JaKarr will be able to join us on the court this winter, and in the classroom when the 2012 spring semester begins."

What happens from here is unclear. The official statement is that all three players will try and earn their eligibility for the second semester, but whether that actually happens is a different story. Garrett has a contract with a $1 million signing bonus to play baseball in the Cincinnati Reds' organization, a sport where he may actually be a better prospect. Sampson has yet to enroll at St. John's, so there is talk that he will head back to Brewster Academy for another season and try to enroll at St. John's in 2012-2013. As far as Pelle is concerned, the rumor that made its way through twitter this evening is he may never suit up for St. John's.

Let's assume the worst case scenario -- none of the three ever set foot on the St. John's campus. While it will damper some of the expectations of St. John's fans heading into the season, this is not as bad of a result as you think. Simply put, talented recruiting class and all, the Johnnies were headed for a long season full of growing pains. Even with those three in the fold come Big East play, finishing in the top half of the conference and making the NCAA Tournament would have been a very impressive feat for a team that literally returns a single player. Winning with freshmen is not an easy thing to do. When UConn overhauled their roster following the 2006 season -- when they lost their top six players from a team with a seven-man rotation -- the Huskies brought in a loaded recruiting class and promptly finished 11th in the Big East.

The 2011-2012 season was about laying the groundwork for the future of St. John's basketball under Steve Lavin. Without Sampson, Pelle or Garrett, Lavin's uphill battle gets just that much steeper.

But that doesn't change the fact that he is still bringing in six talented recruits. And those six kids, who are going to be thrown into the fire from the first time they put on a Red Storm uniform, will have to grow up quickly. Its not ideal, but Lavin will still get the foundation that he needs to build his program on.

And in the end, that is what this season was supposed to be about in the first place.


Jon said...

Good stuff, well said...

Anonymous said...

Thanks for cheering me up... a little.

greyCat said...

A good read Rob. The problem facing the Johnnies next season now that Garrett, Sampson and Pelle are off the table (and maybe gone?) is that Coach Lavin is down to seven scholarship players. They cannot even scrimmage without walk-ons. With the six remaining players (four of whom are freshmen) as the nucleus, the squad could be a little worn out by late February. The Red Storm has no hedge against injuries either.