Thursday, March 11, 2010


By Tony Mangia

The first couple of weeks March used to bring the excitement of the Big East Tournament and the Sunday Selection Show on CBS onto my television screen but, for the past few years, I have paid no attention to these broadcasts. I am a St. John's alum. Since the early nineties, our March basketball memories have been barren as a Red Storm home game at the Garden. Combined with the lowly Knicks--who's management seems to run the team as well as politicians run the senate in Albany--basketball is dead in this city. Don't even get me started on the Nets and their pathetic belief that Jay Z is bringing Lebron James to Newark. New York basketball fans have little to cheer or even look forward to--I repeat, LeBron is not coming!

As a St. John's fan, the worst thing that could have happened against Connecticut in a first round tournament game occurred, the Johnnies won. The most die hard fan had to wince at the upset victory--even if it was against our number one nemesis, Jim Calhoun. Calhoun, the captain who rights the crooked ship that is the Huskies basketball team. Calhoun, the father-figure who suspends wayward players for the season only to reinstate them just in time for the Big East season opener. Calhoun, the coach who allegedly sends his assistant coaches to hang around verbally-committed high schoolers to re-direct them up to Storrs. This victory buys time for St.John's coach Norm Roberts, but, for how long?

Don't get me wrong, Roberts is a decent man. You hear him described like that a lot. He took over from New York basketball xenophobe, Mike Jarvis. Jarvis, who never met a local AAU player he liked, famously ran the program into the ground with player payoffs ($300 to a second rate center) and the infamous Pittsburgh stripper extortion plot--thank god for video phones! Roberts deserves better than to be canned--but he must go. How do fire a quiet, hard-working company man just for not keeping up with a grand tradition. How do you pink slip a New York guy with four returning senior starters? Jim Calhoun (whom Roberts hated for an alleged tampering violation) praised Roberts after the Huskies lost--probably because he knows he can raid the city high schools for prospects right from under Roberts' nose. It's a tough call.

Experts say Norm Roberts couldn't recruit. He did a pretty good job at Illinois and Kansas under Bill Self. Now he seems to lose two or three local blue chippers every year. St. John's is on nearly every highly recruited city school boy's wish list with other top basketball schools, i.e. Duke, Kentucky and the reviled Connecticut, only to fall out of contention. Every year fans would wait on bated breath until announcement day and then reality set in--no blue chipper would be destined to the Queens school. Maybe it wasn't all Robert's fault. The Jamaica campus isn't a destination college. They've rebuilt the training, dorm and gyms and it offers a 30 minute train ride to Manhattan and the shrine of basketball, Madison Square Garden. All nice enticements, but it's a commuter university first and doesn't have the dorm life of let's say Syracuse. Most of all, St. John's has lost it's tradition. It still lives through the old 'Redmen' teams of Mullin, Berry and Jackson. Ex- coach, Fran Fraschilla, was a great recruiter (Artest and Omar Cook come to mind) and he coached his teams into the tournament but he was run out of town for his aggressive style (allegedly pulling his pants down to motivate his team). He's a peach pie compared to Jarvis. No one has pulled in a blue chip athlete since Fraschilla's reign. Jarvis' success was based on Fraschilla's core players.

Norm Roberts had a tough challenge when he started. "We were at rock bottom," is how he modestly described the situation. The Vincentian fathers at St. John's needed an honest man with integrity and, in the back of their minds, local basketball ties but, after six years, his profile is still so low, I doubt most college basketball fans know his name--not even in media crazy New York. Legendary coach, Louie Carnesecca, still gets more camera time when he shows up at the games.

Roberts was never the best strategic coach, yet he proudly guided his team through two NCAA probationary seasons without complaint. One would like to say if the games were only one half long, the 2010 team would be 28-4. Roberts' team could go 20 minutes with anyone but the games are 40 minutes. This, sadly in Roberts' case, comes down to coaching.

At this writing, the wind is blowing towards Roberts' dismissal. The Big East Tournament is in it's quarterfinal rounds and the NIT teams haven't been announced. I don't want to see the coach flapping in that breeze. This year's team deserves to participate in the NIT at the Garden, but six years of 'wait until next season' won't do. St. John's University's basketball program is the cherry on top of New York's college teams. Fordham, Iona, and Manhattan all have history but without the prestige of a St. John's. College basketball survives without the Johnnies but, being in the country's largest market, it couldn't hurt to have a good, broadcast-worthy New York City team? I wish Norm Roberts the best and hope the next coach does as well as the # 17 St. John's women's team is doing. Go Redmen...oops go Red Storm!


Naomi Campbell--who James Cameron must have based the bodies of the Na'vi in Avatar on-- is still roaming the streets of New York. She allegedly slapped another underling who ignored one of her majesty's creeds. So how are those anger management classes working out for her? I thought she was on the "No Fly" list and had to submit to those new body scanning machines at the airport--looking for cell phones, i-pods and other high-tech weapons she can throw. Here's a reason to keep her for a while: put her on the under card of the 'in the works' Tyson-Holyfield fight. She could battle that Baylor women's basketball player, Brittney Griner, who punched an opposing player last week. Imagine that, 13 feet of women slugging it out and not an electronic device inside the ring.

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