Sunday, May 9, 2010

It's All Coming Together For Johnnies

Steve Lavin may have worn jersey No. 1 when addressing media last month at Citi Field, but Dwayne Polee is recruit No. 1 for Lavin just five weeks after taking over as coach of St. John's. (Photo courtesy of the author's personal collection)

Almost two months ago, it seemed as though St. John's was in relative obscurity. All it took for the Johnnies to vault back into the national limelight was a big-name coach and a big-name prospect, who will both make their debuts at Carnesecca Arena this November when the Red Storm return to the court for the first time since their heartbreaking last-second loss against Memphis in the NIT last March.

In what was considered a steal from a recruiting perspective, new St. John's head coach Steve Lavin landed Dwayne Polee out of Westchester High School in Los Angeles, where he helped guide his team to back-to-back state championships while nearly averaging a double-double per game. (20.9 points and 9.8 rebounds a contest) At 6-7 and 190 pounds, Polee can be compared to the likes of Tracy McGrady and Kevin Durant when they came out of high school; and all involved with St. John's basketball are not only hoping that Polee is the real deal, but also that he turns out to be as good as the aforementioned former NBA All-Stars.

Ironically, Westchester was the school from which Lavin signed his last recruit at UCLA, Trevor Ariza, who has gone on to win an NBA championship and now plays for the Houston Rockets. "Dwayne is well-schooled in fundamentals and in the ways of winning games," said Lavin of his newest player. "He is also a great competitor with an insatiable drive to improve his superior athletic gifts." Polee, who initially committed to USC in a package deal four years ago when his father was hired by new UTEP coach Tim Floyd to be his director of basketball operations, reneged from his verbal commitment to the Trojans after Floyd was fired; and praised Lavin in much the same fashion that his new coach did when talking about what Polee could bring to the table in Queens.

"I am so excited to be coming to St. John's, and I am really excited to help make The Garden an exciting place to be again," gushed Polee after officially announcing his decision to attend St. John's, which has seen attendance at Madison Square Garden drop precipitously from their heyday in the 1980s and 1990s. Polee is regarded by some as the biggest recruit the Johnnies have signed since Ron Artest, who took the Red Storm to the Elite Eight in 1999. St. John's has not been to the NCAA Tournament since 2002.

"Coach Lavin was very straightforward with me throughout the process, and I believe that he and the staff at St. John's can really make me the best player I can be," said Polee about Lavin's successful effort to bring him onto a team that returns nine seniors and will only lose one player (Anthony Mason Jr.) from last season, when the Johnnies went 17-16 under Norm Roberts.

Polee should be in the mix at the small forward and shooting guard positions, and based on his high school stats, could combine with senior D.J. Kennedy to form a dynamic duo sooner than later.

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