On August 10, 2011, just about 11 months ago, the first article went up on this site titled “Hope Springs Eternal“. At the time, St. John’s boasted the number three recruiting class in the nation with a total of six ESPNUTop 100 prospects as well as two junior college transfers. Looking back at the article, you can really get a sense of what went wrong (and right) and how much has changed in the time span of a year.
In that first article, I took a stab at analyzing the possibilities of a starting five that would consist of entirely new players. The headline at the time accurately described the feelings of Red Storm fans who were fresh off of the success of Steve Lavin’s first season and eager to try out all this talent that had decided that Queens, New York was officially a “place to be”.
We can now look back and see that three of those players didn’t qualify academically one transferred, and the one player with prior experience left. This resulted in a 6 man starting rotation and an idea of hope that was quickly going nowhere but south. Fast-forward to the summer of 2012 and Steve Lavin has again pulled off the unimaginable, picking up a stellar recruiting class for this season. Add to this, having the positive problems of having to replace a coach and player who have both moved onto the NBA ranks and you can once again see that the aforementioned hope may indeed have gotten its spring back.
Now that both the good and the bad has been rehashed from 2011/2012, the time seems right to do it all over again. It’s time to talk about that optimism, about a possible starting five, and about a bench that, it would appear, will indeed have some semblance of depth.
The point guard spot is in a unique position this season for the Red Storm as it will most likely undergo as type of transformation throughout the season. The season will undoubtedly start with Phil Greene directing things.
Greene, who saw his time at the point skyrocket following the departure of Nurideen Lindsey, averaged 7.8 points and 2.9 assists in 31.1 minutes last season. He developed exponentially after being placed in the starting role and developed greater court vision as well as an ability to pull up and hit the jumper at the right time.
Jamal Branch, who transferred last January from Texas A&M, has been practicing with the team since his arrival on campus and will be eligible to play right before Big East action gets underway in December. A former ESPNU Top 100 player, he will most likely be mixed into the starting role with Greene. The biggest reasoning for this is that Branch has been hailed as a “true point guard” with an ability to get his teammates involved.
D’Angelo Harrison is the incumbent at the shooting guard position this season and it doesn’t look like there is any realistic chance of that changing. Averaging 16.8 points in 35.4 minutes last season, Harrison led the team in scoring ahead of Moe Harkless. Many of his three pointers came in big spots or in clutch streaks that would give the Red Storm a surge late in a game. The 6’3″, 202 pound rising sophomore could potentially look to move to the professional level if he can replicate last year’s results.
Following a late arrival at St. John’s due to academics, Amir Garrett gave the Johnnies a boost as Big East play got under way last December. The 6’6″ wing showed marked improvement from his first appearance against UTPA all the way through the Big East Tournament. A strong finisher at the rim, Garrett has shown his great defensive skill as well which is an important tool on a Steve Lavin team. The athletic forward is currently playing minor league baseball in the Reds organization, but plans to be back on campus in the fall for his sophomore campaign.
Jakarr Sampson originally committed to St. John’s before being declared ineligible last September along with Garrett and Pelle. Following a lengthy recruiting process, Sampson saw it fit to stick with the Red Storm as an incoming freshman in 2012. Described as a Moe Harkless type player with more athleticism, look for Sampson to fit in as a combo forward especially when Lavin looks to go with speed in the frontcourt. The 6’8″ Prep National Championship MVP possesses impressive defensive skill aided by a long wingspan as well as raw offensive talent.
Christopher Obekpa decided to take his talents to Queens following a long recruitment from Cincinnati and St. John’s. The 6’8″, 225 pound incoming freshman can be expected to see major minutes in the frontcourt especially when the Red Storm go with the speed driven lineup. The athletic big man helps fix a size problem that St. John’s experienced a season ago especially in Big East play, big and athletic forwards dominate the conference versus true centers.
The St. John’s bench promises to have much more depth not only in bodies, but also in talent. Steve Lavin has built a team that has a lot of parts that can be interchanged with each other at any time and judging by his past history, he will most likely use that to his advantage. Having a full roster means that the Red Storm will be in a better position to take advantage of the wing type athleticism that Lavin employs. Whereas the same players needed to be on the court for the majority of time a year ago, the Johnnies will be able to send out fresh legs quite often to help disrupt their opponent on both ends of the court.
Sir’Dominic Pointer went beyond the call of duty in 2011/12 as he took on a much larger role than what was expected of him. Recruited to be more of a defensive specialist, Pointer was called on to provide more than just pressure and steals with the depleted roster. This season, look for the long forward to return to that top skill set, coming off the bench at crucial times to shut down an opponent’s offensive game.
God’sGift Achiuwa experienced moments of success and failure as the largest member of St. John’s last year. He appeared overwhelmed at times trying to be the immovable force down low, especially in Big East play. Gift should find himself in more of a role-playing position this season as he won’t be required to do all the heavy lifting by himself.
Orlando Sanchez is another player who will add to the Red Storm’s height this winter. Standing at 6’8″, 210 pounds, the Junior College transfer averaged 10.2 points and 7.8 rebounds this season.
The Red Storm didn’t have much success from behind the arc, shooting just 28.3 percent from three in 2011/2012. A few incoming shooters will look to change that including Felix Balamou, Darrick Wood, and Marco Bourgault. Bourgault, while not a true shooting guard, possesses great shooting ability as an athletic wing type.
The final member of the 2012 roster is newly added recruit Christian Jones. Jones, a 6’7″, 220 pound, can play both forward positions, IMG coach Loren Jackson told Adam Zagoria in an interview. Jones also told Zagsblog that he chose St. John’s because of their up-tempo style of play. This keeps everything along the same line of the “Steve Lavin” type of speedy and athletic forwards coming to Queens.
Heading into the third season of the Lavin tenure in Queens, following some growing pains and excitement, this group of 13 players will look to make the final push to get St. John’s back on the national scene. Judging by this roster and the renewed optimism of the fan base, it appears that this may indeed be the right time for that aforementioned hope to spring if not eternally, at least long enough to see a promising season through to its conclusion.
You can follow Kieran on Twitter - Follow @Kieran_Lynch