Best case/Worst case for St. John’s

20 Sep

By Bobby Bancroft
National Hoops Report

It’s been nothing but good times in Queens, N.Y. since Steve Lavin arrived last May.  On the court he led St. John’s to a surprising fifth place finish in the Big East which resulted in the Red Storm’s first appearance in the NCAA Tournament since way back in 2002 when Mike Jarvis was still in charge.  Off the court he signed nine players – seven freshmen, one sophomore, and one junior – that resulted in the third best recruiting class in the country according to Rivals.  After so many years in the college basketball wilderness, St. John’s is finally back in the spotlight.  The extra media attention continued this week but for all of the wrong reasons.

On Thursday St. John’s sent out a press release that Amir Garnett, JaKarr Sampson, and Norvel Pelle, three incoming freshmen all ranked in the Top 100, had been ruled ineligible for at least the 2011 Fall Semester by the NCAA.

What this means is that when their season starts on November 7th against William & Mary, Steve Lavin will only have eight scholarship players at his disposal.  Junior point guard Malik Stith, former walk-on guard Jamal White, and six freshmen will responsible for replacing 96 percent of last season’s scoring and 97 percent of last season’s rebounding.  That’s a tall order for any class.

Now it’s not completely uncommon to have a player ruled ineligible before the season starts but to have it happen to three players in the middle of September is anything but normal.  Of course having nine players in a recruiting class isn’t exactly an everyday occurrence either.

At first glance Norvel Pelle is literally the biggest loss.   The 6-foot-10 center from Compton, CA is the lone five-star recruit of the class.  Pelle is rated as the number one center by Rivals in the Class of 2011.  He was also expected to contribute immediately for a team that has loaded up on wing players.  His absence will likely cause Lavin to rely on smaller, quicker lineups.

Amir Garnett is a small forward that last played for Findlay Prep (NV).  His story is unique in that he was drafted by the Cincinnati Reds and was awarded a $1 million bonus upon signing.  There is speculation that he might forgo basketball as a result of this hiccup but both Garnett and his dad tried to dispel those rumors via Twitter after the ruling hit the internet.

JaKarr Sampson, another small forward, first played his prep basketball in Akron, OH at St. Vincent-St. Mary’s, a school made famous by LeBron James.  He finished his career at Brewster Academy (NH) and has been linked to a possible return if his eligibility can’t be cleared up.

The best case scenario for the Red Strom is that Garnett, Pelle, and Sampson are all cleared to play for the second semester.  It would mean that they would only miss the first ten games, none in the Big East, and be eligible to play on December 21st against Texas Pan-Am at Carnesecca Arena.    Of course that first game would be their only opportunity to work out all of the kinks before their Big East opener against Providence just six days later.

The worst case scenario is, let’s see, how can this be put gently?  The worst case scenario is that Steve Lavin will be bringing a butter knife to a gun fight in what is an unforgiving 18-game Big East schedule that provides virtually zero time to learn on the fly, especially with only eight scholarship players, none of which have any real experience.

Here is what looks to be the most difficult games during the First Semester:

Nov 17 – Arizona (2k Sports Classic Semifinal)

Nov 18 – Mississippi State or Texas A&M (2k Sports Classic Final or Consolation)

Dec 1 – at Kentucky (SEC-Big East Challenge)

Dec 5 – at Detroit

Dec  17 – Fordham (Lost last season 84-81 on the road)



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