Highly regarded 2012 recruit Chris Obekpa decides to stay local with college decision, spurning Cincinnati and committing to St. John's. (Photo courtesy of Adam Zagoria's Zags Blog)
For the last three months, despite the number of schools that were rumored to be interested in Chris Obekpa, it always came down to two. From the moment Kentucky cut down the nets in New Orleans to celebrate their national championship and shifted the nation's attention to the spring signing period, it was either going to be Cincinnati or St. John's that landed the services of Obekpa, a power forward whose ability to block shots belied his tender age. Through most of this period, it seemed as though Mick Cronin and the Bearcats employed the advantage in the Obekpa sweepstakes thanks to assistant coach Darren Savino, whose vast ties to the New York recruiting scene and AAU coaches make him one of the most valuable pieces to Cronin's staff. However, as any St. John's fan will be quick to tell you, Steve Lavin should never be counted out when he pursues a prospect.
Obekpa proved that just about two hours ago, ultimately rejecting the overtures from Cronin and Cincinnati when he tweeted the aforementioned picture of himself wearing St. John's apparel with the caption "Keeping my talent in the Mecca," a reference to the nickname of Madison Square Garden, where the Red Storm play half their home games every season. Moments later, college basketball insider Jon Rothstein became the first to confirm this commitment; one that both establishes the Red Storm as a contender in the upcoming season and solidifies their recruiting class just three months after St. John's completed one of their most difficult seasons in program history, competing with just six scholarship student-athletes that comprised the youngest roster in the school's 104 seasons of competition.
Obekpa, a 6-8 power forward from Long Island, comes to St. John's by way of Our Savior New American School, located in Suffolk County. Obekpa immediately becomes a vital component of St. John's defensive schemes with his blocking talent, and should get more than just a few chances to augment his offensive ability as well. The big man also has one of his teammates joining him in Queens, as guard Felix Balamou has already signed with St. John's out of Our Savior, and will also be donning red and white this season. Obekpa and Jakarr Sampson should combine to replace Moe Harkless, the reigning Big East Rookie of the Year who is projected to be a first-round pick in this month's NBA Draft.
Likened by Jon Rothstein to Theo Ratliff, the college basketball insider proclaimed that Obekpa will be an "absolute menace" in Lavin's matchup zone system. Despite his still-developing offensive skill set, the prospect already carries the reputation of being a "game changer" on defense. Obekpa will join Sampson and 6-9 forward Orlando Sanchez as the three frontcourt additions to a deceptively strong recruiting class that includes Obekpa's teammate Balamou and French sharpshooter Marco Bourgault in a backcourt that also acquires the services of Texas A&M transfer Jamal Branch once the point guard regains his eligibility in December.
Steve Lavin has always credited his "hammer to rock" philosophy as the force that has enabled him to keep St. John's relevant since replacing Norm Roberts two years ago. Tonight, it took one big man to bring the hammer down and throw a rock in the path of the competition as St. John's looks to make their way back into the Big East's upper echelon.