Thursday, June 28, 2012

I Can Get You To The NBA

Moe Harkless stands to become 60th St. John's player in NBA history when he is selected in tonight's draft.  (Photo courtesy of New York Daily News)

This submission comes from Rumble In The Garden columnist Quinn Rochford.

The day St. John's fans have been patiently waiting for has finally arrived.


When Moe Harkless walks across the Prudential Center stage and shakes David Stern's hand on Thursday night, it won't just be a 19 year-old kid realizing a childhood dream. A bearing weight will be pulled off of an entire program's shoulders - one that has kept a team and its fans grounded for 11 years.


Harkless, who is projected to be drafted anywhere in the mid- to late-first round of the NBA Draft, decided to leave St. John's after one season to turn professional. The fanbase, at first, gave a mixed reaction, claiming the forward was not quite ready to make the jump now.


But as Harkless has impressed mightily in pre-draft workouts with a bevy of possibly suitors, his stock has rapidly risen and St. John's fans have quickly gravitated to the positive, excited end of the spectrum.


Once the NBA team hat is put on, once Moe Harkless shakes Stern's hand and poses in his draft day suit, his captivating smile lighting up televisions across America, Harkless will have proven the "haters" wrong.


He will be a first round selection. And it's the best thing that could have ever happened to Steve Lavin's Johnnies.


If you're questioning just how important Harkless' draft selection is to St. John's, look at these facts.


The Red Storm have not had an NBA draftee since 2001, when the Orlando Magic chose Omar Cook (also a one-and-done) in the second round. On top of that, St. John's hasn't provided the NBA with a first round pick since Erick Barkley went to the Portland Trailblazers in 2000.


But, the landscape of basketball has changed dramatically in a decade. When St. John's last had players drafted, it was nice to see one of your own make it to the league. Sure, it helped recruiting and meant the staff was developing talent.


Getting players to the NBA was never the sole measurement of a successful basketball program. Now, in the age of Derrick Roses, Blake Griffins, and Anthony Davises, it means everything.


When coaches enter the living rooms of prospective high schoolers, they have much to sell. A chance to play on ESPN, to be treated like a king, to compete at the highest level - it's all desirable. But nothing means more to an aspring basketball player than the words "I can get you to the NBA."


Whether you think it's good or bad, elite college basketball has transformed into a virtual development league for aspiring pros. With the rule that high school seniors must wait at least one year before entering the NBA Draft, players have entered the NCAA on a strictly temporary basis.


Young kids all over the world watched LeBron James capture his first title, and every one of them wished they could be him. With a multi-million dollar contract, a South Beach lifestyle, and never-ending national praise, they know James has it all. And they're right.


When St. John's hired Steve Lavin, they knew what they were getting. Lavin brings that unique Hollywood style to New York, but more importantly, his ties to the pros are strong. He's had his players get drafted many times before during his days at UCLA. Now he can say he's done it in Queens.


Along with sending his top assistant Mike Dunlap to the NBA as a head coach, Lavin has now placed the Red Storm on the map. Even with playing in the same building as the Knicks, the association of St. John's with the NBA had been lost for a long stretch of time. And combined with barren win columns, the Red Storm lost ground in the hearts and minds of New Yorkers, and in the eyes of major-conference basketball.


You can sell whatever you want to get kids to come to your school. Heck, you can sell the NBA to anyone - but if you can't prove that it is realistic with concrete results, you are just one of the masses. When Moe Harkless gets selected by whomever on Thursday night, St. John's will make that huge step forward.


So, Johnnies fans, when you hear Harkless' name called by David Stern, you should applaud. Applaud for the young man, for getting the opportunity to live a dream.


And applaud for the bright future unfolding.

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