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Freshmen Filled Future: A Look Ahead

March 24, 2011

Steve Lavin is "pumped" for his 2011-2012 recruiting class

 

An overall successful season for the St. John’s Redmen Red Storm left a bad taste in the mouth of the fan base as the team fell victim to the Gonzaga Bulldogs in the first round of The NCAA Tournament.   It was the first time since 2002 that St. John’s had earned the right to compete for a national championship, a notion that seemed like a fantasy about three months ago.  Nevertheless, the quality wins kept mounting, and the nation’s top teams kept falling, and The Johnnies captured the hearts of many en route to an NCAA Tournament bid.  Despite many frustrating moments, fans like myself will never forget the 10 graduating seniors, as they returned St. John’s to the forefront of college basketball. 

But as the saying goes, all “good” things must come to an end.  It’s now time to turn the page and welcome the number two ranked recruiting class in the country, as Steve Lavin has branched out to all coasts to secure the top talent available. 

“The group coming in, because it’s one of the top five classes in the country, has a high degree of expectation to play in the NBA,” said Head Coach Steve Lavin in Lenn Robins March 19th article in the New York Post.   “You can aspire to play at the highest level of basketball, but those hopes and dreams can only come true being on a team that accomplishes things in terms of winning big.”

Hoping to ease the transition to Big East basketball for the incoming class will be soon to be Sophomore Dwayne Polee and seldom used guard Malik Stith.  Polee started every game for St. John’s this season, but was often an afterthought in the offensive game plan.  He started the season off strong with 16 points against St. Mary’s, but never really stamped his freshman season again until he dropped 12 points in the loss to Gonzaga.  The lone bright spot fans could take out of that defeat was seeing Polee creating his own shot, driving to the basket with ease, and showing glimpses of being a demon on defense.  Expect him to be a leader to the freshmen next season while continuing to develop his game that earned him the Los Angeles Player of the Year honors in High School. 

There have been rumblings that Malik Stith could transfer, and I think it’s obvious to most that his talent level will not equal what St. John’s can put on the floor in 2011-2012.  Stith provided valuable minutes at times for The Johnnies this season, but his offensive game never really developed into a Big East calibur guard.  Best case scenario would be that he turns into what Malik Boothe was for St. John’s this past year, a defensive stopper that can penetrate and dish. 

NOTE:  St. John’s seniors Dwight Hardy and Justin Burrell will compete in the State Farm Slam Dunk & 3-Point Championships on March 31 in Houston, Texas, the site of the 2011 Final Four.

THE 2011-2012 RECRUITING CLASS  –

The Skinny:

8 incoming Freshmen, 6 rated in the top 100 players in the country, plus the top JUCO player in the nation.

 

Maurice Harkless: 

 

Convincing the top NYC talent to come to Queens was never the strength of Norm Roberts, and Coach Lavin knew he had to tap back into that market to be successful at St. John’s.  Welcome Maurice Harkless of South Kent High School (CT), by way of Queens and Forest Hills.  The 6’7 forward is considered the most versatile of the incoming freshmen, and chose St. John’s over Kansas, Arizona, USC, and Florida.  He originally committed to Jim Calhoun and UConn, before reopening his recruitment in June of 2010 after an NCAA investigation found that UConn committed eight major rules violations.  According to Scout.com, Maurice is  “equipped with all the tools to be a successful basketball player. He has great size for his position and impressive all around ball skills. He’s developed a strong mid-range game and is becoming better at getting to the rim.”

According to Harkless, “It’s in my city….St. John’s is a good school, and I want to play in my city.”

 

 

 JaKarr Sampson-

“In the words of Lebron James, I’m going to take my skills and talents to St. John’s.”

Considered by some the most talented of the bunch, 6’8 Jakarr Sampson was Lavin’s second recruit and further showed that Lavin could recruit all over the country.  Sampson, who hails from Lebron James’ St. Vincent-St. Mary’s High School, chose St. John’s over Baylor, Louisville and Tennessee.  He is rated the 8th best Small Forward in the country and is the 35th ranked player overall.  Sampson’s AAU coach, Don Anderson, said the Johnnies are getting a potential future pro.

“A pro,” Anderson said. “He brings everything. He’s got all the tools. He has the athleticism. He has the length, the basketball smarts. And he’s coming into his own. He’s just 17.

Most scouts agree with Sampson’s head coach, as JaKarr is considered a natural small forward that can also play the post because of his size.  He’s best off the dribble, however, with a quick first step that will allow him to beat most defenders to the basket.  He’s also a great shot blocker and can defend the two through four positions.

   

Sir’ Dominic Pointer-

 

This 6’6 wing from Detroit, Michigan is considered the best defensive forward in the country.  Rated a top 50 recruit nationally, Pointer chose the Johnnies over Michigan and West Virginia and will bring athleticism and perimeter defense to Queens.  Pointer was also just noted by Rivals as one of the “most underrated High School players in the country.”   He averaged 16.3 points,  5.8 rebounds,  3.0 steals and 2.8 assists per game this season. 

Pointer is a highly skilled athlete that separates himself from the pack with his ability to consistently finish near the basket.  He’s great in transition and also has excelled as an offensive rebounder.   According to scouts, his mid-range jumper has greatly improved and he possesses “Big East toughness.” 

  

D’Angelo Harrison

One of the deadliest shooters in High School, D’Angelo Harrison comes in as another top 100 recruit for Steve Lavin.  Hailing out of Texas and Fort Dulles High School, D’Angelo is currently averaging 38 points per game and can score from anywhere on the floor.  It is rumored that he has Jimmer Fredette range and having a consistent three-point shooter is a must for any high-level college team.  Harrison can also beat defenders off the dribble due to his elite quickness and has been known to get to the foul-line consistently. 

 

  

Norvel Pelle-

 

One of Lavin’s highest rated recruits , but also the rawest, Pelle comes in as the #2 rated Center in the country and 19th rated player overall according to Rivals.  It was only fitting that Lavin went back to his California roots to grab Pelle, who chose St. John’s over Washington, California, Kansas, Arizona, and UConn.  Pelle is considered an elite prospect with tremendous NBA star potential but will need to improve his offensive skills, specifically his low-post game.  Nonetheless, Pelle is excellent in transition and according to scouts can get down the floor better than any other big man in the country.

Norvel should wreak havoc in the Big East as a shot-blocker right away, and with a little coaching could turn out to be St. John’s best recruit in years. 

 

Amir Garrett-

Amir Garrett is no stranger to winning, as he comes from the  powerhouse High School program Findley Prep in Las Vegas, Nevada.   The 6’6 Garrett is another Top 100 recruit nationally, ranked 62nd according to Scout.com.   

“Garrett is a special talent. His length, explosiveness, quickness, and highly skilled game make him an ideal fit for our system of play,” said Lavin in a statement with ESPN.com New York.  “Amir was clearly the most tenacious prospect that we evaluated in the 2011 recruiting class and his highly competitive nature will be critical as we build our program.”

Garrett is another superb athlete who, like a lot of his fellow St. John’s recruits, thrives in transition.  He is also a tough defender who can shut down smaller guards.  Garrett is another small forward for Lavin and the Coach has made it clear that he wants plenty of long, athletic players to execute the match-up zone defense.   Amir chose St. John’s over Oregon, UNLV, Cal and Kansas. 

Nurideen Lindsey-

 

Considered the top Junior College player in the country, Nurideen Lindsey should take over the Point Guard role for SteveLavin next season.  It was thought that Lindsey might test the NBA waters, as he’s projected as an early second round pick in some mock drafts, but all indications now point to the 6’4 guard arriving in Queens next season.  He will be one of the upperclassmen next season, and should provide leadership and big time scoring. 

 Lindsey is not a pure Point Guard, but handles the ball and distributes well enough to excel at the college level.  After averaging close to 38 points per game his junior year at Overbrook High School, and threatening Wilt Chamberlains records, Lindsey missed his senior season after dropping out of school due to academics and the death of his brother.  He has rebounded nicely at Redlands Community College, and is considered the best clutch scorer in the incoming Big East class. 

 

 Phil Greene-

This 6’3 guard was one of Steve Lavin’s final recruits, and could provide some minutes as a backup point guard next season.  Greene played his High School ball at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida. 

“He loves New York and he loves Madison Square Garden,” IMG Head Coach Vince Walden said. “That was his dream school. He wanted to go to St. John’s.”

“He went out there and he just called me and said coach this is where I want to be.”

Greene’s best skills are his elusive speed and high basketball IQ, according to scouts.   He is not a great outside shooter, but his elite passing skills should translate to the college game. 

The Chicago native chose St. John’s over West Virginia, Arizona State, Oklahoma State, Kansas and Oregon.

 Dwight Meikle-

Probably the least heralded recruit for Steve Lavin, Dwight Meikle is a 6’9 forward out of Uniondale, NY who currently is the roommate of fellow recruit JaKarr Sampson at Quality Education Academy in North Carolina.  Meikle could provide some much-needed size for the Red Storm next season but some analysts consider him a “work in progress.”  Nevertheless, his High School coach thinks otherwise: 

 “He’s very, very skilled and long,” Isaac Pitts said. “He’s 6-9 and can stretch the defense and shoot the 3. He can put it on the floor. He’s got an inside/outside game. He’s a tremendous offensive skilled player.” 

Scouts consider his strengths to be his perimeter game and ability to create his own shot.  Considered a sleeper by many, Dwight must improve his defense and passing ability to be successful in the Big East.

Top 10 Recruiting Classes, according to ESPN:

1. Kentucky

2. St. John’s

3. Duke

4. Ohio State

5. Texas

6. North Carolina

7. Arkansas

8. Arizona

9. Louisville

10. Syracuse

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