Tuesday, October 23, 2012

A Closer Look At St. John's

Following record-setting freshman season, D'Angelo Harrison has his eyes set on bigger and better results in year two at St. John's.  (Photo courtesy of Newsday)

In an offseason where UConn's chances under a new coach were chronicled recently, one of their fiercest rivals brings their coach back for the full season as they prepare to return to their newfound success.

Last season's 13-19 record may not seem like much for St. John's after the hoopla that attracted all kinds of fans to the Red Storm on their way to an NCAA Tournament appearance two years ago, but given the extenuating circumstances, it was as good as finishing with a trip to the regionals.  An unheard-of six-man rotation that forced the team to play an all-freshman lineup at times, coupled with a coach who spent the year recovering from prostate cancer treatments, combined to deal the Johnnies one of their most crippling blows since the 2003-04 season that ultimately cost Mike Jarvis his job and handed the program a black eye that took several years to heal.  However, as they say around these parts, the show must go on, and the Red Storm has made every effort to turn back the clock to the 2010-11 campaign that turned head coach Steve Lavin into even more of a celebrity than he was upon arrival to the Big Apple.

Lavin enters the upcoming season without the services of forward Moe Harkless, who declared for the NBA after just one season and is now a member of the Orlando Magic; but the coach, ever the optimist, is confident that this year's incarnation of the Red Storm will be just as, if not more, promising.  "I'm pleased with the progress we've made so far," Lavin said at the team's annual media day this afternoon.  "We're a young team, and that makes it interesting.  We're just trying to accelerate their learning curve with game situations."

Shooting guard D'Angelo Harrison will be the go-to guy this year following a rookie season in which the Texan broke the school record for most points scored by a freshman.  Expect Harrison, a combo guard in high school while being recruited, to even run the point at times this season while Texas A&M transfer Jamal Branch waits to become eligible, which happens in December.  "When he has the ball in his hands, good things happen," said Lavin of Harrison.  "He's seeing it with more clarity, and the judgments are better."

Joining Harrison and Branch in the backcourt this year will be incumbent sophomore Phil Greene, as well as international imports Felix Balamou and Marco Bourgault, two of seven newcomers.  The strength of this team, however, will be the added depth in the frontcourt behind returning starter Amir Garrett and fellow incumbents God'sgift Achiuwa and Sir'Dominic Pointer, with JaKarr Sampson finally along for the ride after being declared ineligible last season and subsequently re-signing with Lavin last season.  In addition to Sampson, gifted shot blocker and fellow highly touted recruit Chris Obekpa; whom Lavin refers to as the "fastest processor" out of all the freshmen he has coached, will see major minutes up front, as well junior college transfer Orlando Sanchez, who at 6-9 provides the Johnnies with instant size on the front line.  Late signee Christian Jones will also make an impact right away, and the latest in a long line of long and athletic Lavin wings is being hailed by his coach as "one of the more consistent players" in terms of decision making and on-court judgments.

Following two exhibitions, the Red Storm will open their 105th season in program history with a 2pm matinee against Detroit on November 13th at Carnesecca Arena, a rematch of a game last year that the Horizon League champion Titans won on their home court.  St. John's then takes the court in the Charleston Classic for three games against the likes of teams such as College of Charleston and potentially even Murray State and/or Butler before returning home on November 21st to face Holy Cross, with Florida Gulf Coast coming to Queens three days later.

Two more home games await the Red Storm, starting on November 29th against South Carolina in the SEC/Big East Challenge and later with NJIT, (December 1st) prior to a road trip to Lavin's hometown to meet the University of San Francisco on December 4th.  Four days later, the Johnnies make their Madison Square Garden debut when they take on Fordham in the Holiday Festival.  A week off for final exams is next up before a meeting with Glenn Braica and St. Francis inside Brooklyn's Barclays Center, with UNC Asheville next at Carnesecca on December 21st, which will be St. John's final nonconference game before opening 2013 at the Pavilion on January 2nd against Villanova.

A January 5th trip to Cincinnati precedes three straight home dates at Madison Square Garden against Rutgers, (January 9th) Georgetown (January 12th) and Notre Dame. (January 15th) St. John's then heads to Chicago to face DePaul, with Rutgers up next on January 23rd at the RAC.  Two home games against Seton Hall (January 27th at the Garden) and DePaul (January 30th at Carnesecca) take the Johnnies into the month of February, which they open at the Verizon Center on the second of the month against Georgetown before hosting UConn and new coach Kevin Ollie four days later at the Garden.

After hitting the road for Syracuse (February 10th) and Louisville, (February 14th) the Red Storm play their final game on campus on February 20th against USF before welcoming Pittsburgh into the Garden four days later.  St. John's opens March with road battles against Providence (March 2nd) and Notre Dame (March 5th) before concluding the regular season at the Garden on March 9th against Buzz Williams and Marquette.

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