The St. John's Red Storm finished a magical season on a bum note by losing their best all-round player followed by a first round thumping by Gonzaga in the NCAA Tournament. This meant the Storm lost three of their last five games including the tarnished win against Rutgers. Now head coach Steve Lavin bids farewell to his ten inherited seniors and says hello to a crop of freshmen considered the best recruiting class in St. John's history.
Names like Paris, Hardy, D.J. and a couple of Justins will forever be linked to the little basketball team which arguably ran off one of the most amazing and unexpected win streaks in a St. John's season. For five weeks, the Johnnies beat six ranked teams and, more importantly, brought respectability and pride back to the program.
In his first full recruiting class, Lavin has acquired the youngest group of players in the country and the youngest in the school's history. Some of these names will probably be on NBA draft rosters in three or four years, but for now, they belong to Lavin.
The incoming talent does include one of the greatest rosters of first names in college basketball. If next season's St. John's team is not filled with All-Americans, it will definitely make the All-Name team.
There's Nurideen, Jakarr and Norvel. There names are as colorful as their game. Nurideen Lindsay, the highly recruited JUCO transfer joins forward Jakarr Sampson from Akron and Norvel Pelle from California.
If that isn't enough, one of the new recruits sounds like he has little royal blood. Sir'Dominic Pointer, the 6'6' G/F from Detroit, will join a team that is already recruiting God's Gift Achiuwa of Erie CC by way of Lagos, Nigeria. The Vincentian fathers at St. John's might say that Achiuwa's moniker is fitting, only if 6' 9" player comes to the Queens campus.
There will be no seniors on next year's team. The Red Storm will cornerstone next year's team with it's two returning sophomores, Dwayne Polee II and Malik Stith after the ten upperclassmen from this year's squad graduate. It will be an inexperienced team with enough blue-chip talent to overcome a single injury. Something this year's squad couldn't after D.J. Kennedy went down.
"This group coming in, because it's one of the top classes in the country, has a high degree of expectation to play in the NBA," said Lavin. "You aspire to play at the highest level of basketball, but all those hopes and dreams can only come true being on a team that accomplishes things in terms of winning big."
Lavin hopes to build on this year's success. The Red Storm (21-12) finished with it's first NCAA tournament appearance since 2002, being ranked as high as No.15 and a storybook legacy for future teams to follow.
The incoming players, with NBA contracts on their mind, will probably learn the hard way about life in the Big East. The eight players will have to find out for themselves that they are not the only stars on the team and, to survive in the Big East, a different name must step up every game.
"You can't worry about who has what or how many point you have or how many assists you have, " said Polee. "You just have to give yourself to the team and do whatever it takes to win."
Even before this season, Lavin captured the hearts and imaginations of St. John's fans with the six top-100 prospects who committed to the Red Storm last fall. The expectations for his current team were only minimal and a bridge to bigger and better days in St. John's future.
This year's squad of no-names were only supposed to hold down the fort until the blue-chippers and tournament victories arrived next year and beyond, but something happened along the way. The team began winning big games and the excited fans grew fond of this gritty bunch. It was the first time, in a long while, the school could proudly shout "We Are St. John's!"
The names of D.J. Kennedy, Dwight Hardy, Justin Burrell and all the other contributors to the success of the 2011-12 Red Storm team will be reverberating around the campus until the big-name recruits arrive. The newbies have a tough act to follow.
The outgoing seniors did a lot of the dirty work and brought respectability back to St. John's. Now, Lavin and the new recruits will have to carry the load.
There are a lot of big expectations for next year. It might take some time for Sir' Dominic Pointer and the others to make a name for themselves.