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“I’m going to take it all the way to New York and play for St. John’s,” Harrison said as he donned a “I Love NY” hat on his head and that seals the deal for another top recruit coming to St. Johns and joining Lavin’s “Ark”.

The 6’3″ guard from Missouri City, Texas chose The Red Storm over Baylor, Oklahoma State, and Big East Rival Marquette.

Harrison joins Maurice Harkless and JaKarr Sampson as the third recruit to join the 2011 St. John’s recruiting list in the past two months. Coach Lavin had an in-home visit with D’Angelo Harrison in Texas on Tuesday.

“Coach Lavin is a very straight up guy and he had a plan for how I would fit. Plus, he told me what I needed to hear and not what I wanted to hear,” said Harrison.

Harrison is one of the best shooting guards in the country scoring 20.9 points during his 2009 high school season at John Foster Dulles High. The 44th ranked player in the 2011 recruiting class is a lethal from the perimeter and explosion off the dribble. Not only can he shoot and take the ball to the rim aggressively, he can also come off and fight through screens something that opens Lavin’s play book even more.

In this high tempo offense that Lavin seems to be putting together, Harrison will cause a lot of match up problems for defenses who have to worry about the lanky slashers in Harkless and Sampson and now Harrison around the arc waiting to rain threes.

Don’t look now folks but St. Johns is now #9 in the Class of 2011 Team Basketball Recruiting Rankings and seemly ready to add even more talent very soon. Nurideen Lindsey could be the next to join the back court with Harrison as well as the big man out of Long Beach, California, Norvel Pelle.

The storm is coming. Can you feel it?

-Tim Dimas

@TimmyD_WSJU

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Picture uploaded by Mason Jr.'s friend and current St. Johns Center Sean Evans (@shizzy5)

Former St. Johns Red Storm star forward Anthony Mason Jr. has “taken his talents to South Beach” after reaching an agreement with the Miami Heat yesterday.

Tweet from the Official Miami Heat Twitter account announcing the news.

Mason Jr. attended and played for St. Johns University for the past 5 years. In 99 career games in which he started 86 of them he averaged 10.7 points, 5.2 rebounds and 2.1 assist. Mason Jr. is the son of NBA great Anthony Mason.

Anthony is right at home in Florida, where he was born, but still has to make the final cut October 15 but has made a lot of people at the University very proud by getting the invite to join a team that is loaded with all-stars LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.

The WSJU guys would like to wish Anthony a great deal of success in Miami and will keep everyone updated on his status throughout the season.

-Tim Dimas

@TimmyD_WSJU

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Jakarr Sampson, the highly touted 6’8″ swingman from Akron, Ohio, has given his commitment to Steve Lavin to wear Johnnies red and white in 2011.

Attending St. Vincent-St.Mary’s (OH) (LeBron James’ alma mater) for his first three years of high school, Sampson is spending this season at Brewster Academy (NH) before heading to Queens next season. He announced his decision on ESPNU, choosing St. John’s over Louisville and Tennessee. That means, for the first time in recent memory, St. John’s stepped into the ring with recruiting giants Rick Pitino and Bruce Pearl and came out with their man.

Sampson is a consensus Top 50 player by experts across the country and is considered by some, including ESPN Insider Recruiting, to be in the Top 25. There is no doubt that a new era is dawning in St. John’s basketball. Just a few weeks ago, when Forest Hills High (NY) forward Maurice Harkless committed to SJU, talk was that the Red Storm had landed their biggest recruit in a decade. Now, with Sampson on his way, rhetoric is the same. In a matter of weeks, Steve Lavin has managed to outdo himself and, amazingly enough, still has 8 more scholarships to fill for the Class of 2011.

It is now clear the type of player Lavin prefers: the long, slender swingman with athleticism and versatility. His first recruit as St. John’s head coach, current freshman Dwayne Polee Jr. (6’7″, 185lbs), Harkless (6’7, 200lbs), and now Sampson (6’8″, 200lbs) will undoubtedly create big mismatches in the open floor when they all take the court together in 2011.

Scouts point to Sampson’s athleticism as the major catalyst for the rest of his game. Because of his size and length, in combination with his quick first step, he can beat defenders off the dribble and finish above the rim, as well as do work with his back to the basket. On the defensive end, he is regarded as a solid shot blocker and can guard three positions on the floor, thanks to his versatility and natural athleticism. He probably needs to add a considerable amount of muscle to his frame to be more effective at the Division I level, along with polishing his skills under heavy defensive pressure.

And, as mentioned before, the Johnnies are far from done. Eight scholarships remain open and, according to a source, Lavin has eight to ten players on his big board that he has had from the beginning and is confident that he could get a commitment from any of them. Lenn Robbins of the New York Post reports that “sources told The Post that forwards Amir Garrett (No. 51) of California; Dominque Pointer (No. 81) of Winston-Salem, N.C.; and center Norvel Pelle of California, the No. 2 center and No. 19 recruit overall; all could be headed to Queens.”

Perhaps it is true: national recruits are once again seeing red.

-Dan Martin

@Dan_MartinWSJU

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Steve Lavin, in keeping with his agenda to cultivate the basketball talent in New York City, landed his first big recruit of the Class of 2011. Maurice Harkless, the 6’6″ star swingman who averaged 16.5 points and 11.5 rebounds last season at Forest Hills High School (NY) will be wearing St. John’s red and white in 2011 after spending this season in prep school, at South Kent (CT).

“It’s a situation where I call it the St. John’s Noah’s Ark,” Lavin said in a phone interview with SNY.tv earlier this year. “We’re going to need two of every position.”

It looks that Harkless will be the first to step aboard, giving St. John’s two talented, uber-athletic swingmen when paired with Class of 2010 recruit Dwayne Polee Jr. “I always wanted to look into St. John’s but they weren’t that good in the past few years and with a new coach I feel like it’s a brand new opportunity and the coaches are hungry,” Harkless told SNY.tv after his announcement. “I’m in New York. I can represent my city in my city.”

By the sound of it, it looks like St. John’s has completely revamped its national image by bringing Coach Lavin to Queens.  A close advisor to Harkless, Nate Blue, speaking to Johnnyjungle.com, said, “[Former head coach] Norm [Roberts] would take people in New York City to make my people happy. Lavin appeals to kids from New York City to California. Its national.” Name recognition can go a long way. The key to scoring high-level recruits can sometimes be as simple as getting a foot in the door, and that is what Lavin’s resume at UCLA allows. Once that happens, a strong business proposal can make all the difference, which Lavin also seems to do well, according to Blue. “When we met with Norm last year, it was more of a desperation thing. When we’ve sat down with Lavin, he was calm and had a plan.”

Harkless is ranked in both the ESPN Top 100 and the Rivals Top 50 of recruits for the Class of 2011. NBE Basketball Report raves of his ability to use his size and length to get to the basket, likening him to former West Virginia forward and current Los Angeles Laker Devin Ebanks.

Expected to sign during the early signing period in November, will Harkless be able to do some recruiting of his own and bring other top players along with him? It was a factor in his decision, according to Blue, speaking to Johnnyjungle.com, “We got a threat from a Big East coach yesterday that if Mo committed to SJU, he would be double and triple teamed on a team of nobodies.” Clearly, there is a sense of confidence in this decision, confidence that other integral pieces will be added, either through the work of Lavin or Harkless himself, to build a contender.

Said Blue in closing, “There’s going to be a lot of help coming to SJU in the next few weeks. I won’t tip my hat, but there’s more coming soon.”

-Dan Martin

@Dan_MartinWSJU

Special thanks to Johnnyjungle.com for quotes and updates

@JohnnyJungleSTJ

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There’s something to be said about the importance of name recognition. It most certainly isn’t everything, but, at the same time, it is nearly impossible to ignore.

With St. John’s basketball in the middle of a nearly 10 year doldrums, it seemed time to turn to a coach with just that: notoriety and the ability to draw positive national attention. Though he is years removed from the slick, greased-haired, comparably young man who graced the sidelines at UCLA, Steve Lavin’s name still demands respect in the ranks of college basketball. Where former Red Storm coach Norm Roberts failed to dig in his heels and attract big-time recruits, early indications are that Lavin can finally turn the tide.

During Robert’s reign, the philosophy was, use Roberts’ ties to Queens and the New York area to keep the fruits of the Big Apple in the city to star in the lights of Madison Square Garden. Though blue-chip players like Connecticut’s Kemba Walker and Indiana Pacers draft pick Lance Stephenson seriously considered St. John’s for a time, they ultimately decided to take their talents elsewhere, adding to the disappointment that has plagued the last six seasons in Queens.

Now, notice the stark contrast in the words of Lavin. At his introductory press conference, he expressed the importance of not only recruiting in the New York area, but reaching across the country to find the best players for the system and the program as a whole. And it seems that this was not just lip service. Just five weeks into his time at St. John’s, Lavin went out and got a commitment from supremely athletic forward and (might it be mentioned) Los Angeles High School Player of the Year Dwayne Polee Jr. of West Chester High School (CA). Not a small job, especially considering the fact he was able to draw him all the way from the West Coast in just over a month.

The big test, though, will be whether Lavin can recruit strongly within the Class of 2011. With nine open scholarships to work with, he is essentially building his own team from scratch. Luckily for St. John’s fans, early indications are that the right man stepped in at just the right time. As of August 28th, ESPN Insider Recruiting lists 8 players in the ESPN Top 100 of the Class of 2011 as being interested in the Red Storm.  In the dreary recent history of recruiting for the Johnnies, to have this many quality players even be considering coming to Queens is more than bright news.

A great deal of this success can be chalked up to the fact that Steve Lavin’s prior success gets St. John’s foot in the door when it comes to recruits. The previous strategy was to have a coach (Roberts) who represented the city, a man who grew up there and could speak from experience. But, on a countrywide scale, it failed. Many high school players see the Division I college stage as an audition for the next level. They want a coach and style that will propel them into the national spotlight and, hopefully, gain the attention of scouts. What richer resume than Lavin’s? Having recruited and coached successful NBA players like Baron Davis, Trevor Ariza, and Earl Watson, among others, he has gained national respect among many circles.

But Lavin won’t be alone. He smartly hired a qualified and respected staff to play the recruiting field. His first hire was Bronx native and former Drexel assistant Tony Chiles, a man who understands and can play the politics of New York City basketball. Alongside Chiles, Lavin also brought in his first player recruit at UCLA, Rico Hines, and a man with NBA assistant coaching experience, Mike Dunlap, rounding out a solid cast of coaches to move forward into what has become a tougher and more competitive recruiting field than ever.

Granted, this is the honeymoon period for Lavin. His team has yet to step on the floor this season and it will take far more than one quality recruit to lead the Johnnies back to the NCAA Tournament. But, things are very much so on the mend at the corner of Union and Utopia, and it will be very interesting to see how Year One unfolds.

– Dan Martin

@Dan_MartinWSJU

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After six long, strenuous, and at times, very painful years under Norm Roberts, St. John’s basketball finally seems to be back on the right, winning track that you would expect from a program with such a rich history.

Let me preface all of this by saying that Norm Roberts is a great man, one who took the Red Storm from embarrassment and shame back to respectability. I have talked to him in press conferences and personally and he is everything you could ask for in a class guy. He did exactly what he was brought here to do–get this program back to even keel after the scandal that nearly sank the entire ship. His job was to recruit not only quality players, but quality kids, that would represent St. John’s on and off the court. He did that.

With all of this said, the six years under Norm Roberts seemed quite a bit like a romantic relationship, full of ups, downs, and in-betweens.

It began with a honeymoon, promise of brighter days in the future, a rich recruiting center in New York City, and a guy who had New York ties to cultivate the fruits of NYC basketball.

But, as the losses mounted, the excuses did too. He didn’t have the players yet. They hadn’t developed yet. And that all culminated this year. His boys had finally grown into juniors, matured, and ready to make a run in the weakened Big East. Result? A season that limped to a 17-16 finish and a first round exit in the NIT.

The last year of the Norm Roberts era encapsulated everything that the relationship had been. It had the “I Love You”‘s: a 9-1 start, beating Temple and Siena on neutral ground and almost beating Duke at Cameron Indoor. It had the “I Can’t Stand You”‘s: going 6-12 in the Big East, many times leading at halftime and losing that lead in the second half.

Those losses felt like setting up a dinner date, hyping it the whole day, and getting stood up, left to drink at the lonely bar until you finally give up and go home. And then it happened again. And again. And again.

Then, finally, St. John’s said “enough” and parted ways with Norm. As is just standard operating procedure, they played the “it’s not you, it’s me” card, but it’s clear they had their eye on bigger prizes.

Pursuing Billy Donovan of Florida, Paul Hewitt of Georgia Tech, and others, all seemed gloomy. Some began to miss Norm after two weeks of being “single”, but St. John’s continued to pursue and pursue.

And then, out of the woodwork, came the glamourous, Hollywood guy with the slick look and sweet talk that swept them off their feet. Steve Lavin, former UCLA coach and ESPN broadcaster, conveniently had a desire to coach again. It was like the one you’d had a crush on for years was finally single when you were. St. John’s fell in love at first sight and Lavin did as well. It seemed to be a match made in heaven.

And thus far, it has been nothing short of heaven. After forward Ron Roberts decommitted, Lavin jumped in and signed highly-touted recruit Dwayne Polee Jr. and is, according to SNY’s Adam Zagoria, the front runner for French-born and supremely-talented forward Remi Barry.

For the skeptics who point to Lavin’s tumultuous career at UCLA with questions, there is one thing you must understand. The expectations for any basketball coach at UCLA are absolutely ludicrous. It is one of those jobs, like coaching the Lakers or managing the Yankees, that carries so much weight that, one bad season, and you’re done. Anywhere else, he would have been regarded for the fantastic coach that he is.

He took the Bruins to six NCAA tournaments in seven years, including four Sweet Sixteens and an Elite Eight. How does that compare to Norm Robert’s track record of one NIT in six years?

The other question was recruiting. After all the time he spent at ESPN, would recruits still look at him as a coach? Well, it seems to me that, if anything, ESPN has amplified his star power. It only took five weeks and he has already nailed down a three star prospect and is in the running for another kid, Barry, who is said to be NBA-ready in two years.

Seems to me to be a closed case.

Some ask, will he be able to recruit in New York? I can answer that one of two ways, a hypothetical and a concrete way. 1) If his recruits win ballgames, does it really matter where they come from? And 2) The network of coaches and assistants he is bringing in, Tony Chiles from Drexel and Moe Hicks from famed Rice High School and a legend on the AAU circuit, will instantly make SJU a contender with UConn and other Tri-state area schools, I assure you.

So what does this mean? It seems St. John’s has left good-charactered but unreliable Norm Roberts for the sleeker, glitzier Steve Lavin. There is very little doubt to me that this is an upgrade and, when St. John’s travels to Los Angeles in February to take on the Bruins, UCLA will look at their Ex and remember exactly what they let go.

-Dan Martin

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What would you most likely be doing five weeks into your new job? Probably still figuring out how to use the copy machine and awkwardly trying to hit on that girl from payroll you’ve had your eye on. How about making a move for your boss that is considered the biggest in a decade?

Well, that’s exactly what Steve Lavin has done in his short time at St. John’s. Maybe it’s the Hollywood charm, the ESPN name recognition, or the long track record of churning out NBA-caliber talent, but something allowed Lavin to swoop in at the last minute and steal highly touted forward Dwayne Polee Jr.

Rumored to be the best dunker in high school basketball, Polee’s 40 inch vertical leap should have fans at both Madison Square Garden and Carnesecca Arena on their feet this coming season. After averaging 20 points and 8 rebounds, the Los Angeles Times named him City Player of the Year.

But where does Polee fit into the mix? Other than his near-freakish vertical leap, scouts says he has a solid mid-range game and ability to get to the basket. It seems Lavin understands the pieces he has to work with this year, because Polee fits perfectly into the run-and-gun, athletic style the Red Storm already implement.

There is no doubt that this signing is big, not only for the player St. John’s is getting, but also as an indication of the recruiting weight that Lavin’s name carries. If after only five weeks Lavin was able to swipe a Three-Star prospect all the way from the West Coast, imagine what he’ll be able to do with a year.

Everything Lavin is doing continues to make the hiring look more and more ingenious by the day. Not only did the Red Storm upgrade from former commit Ron Roberts, but it puts them in perfect position for next year, when seven scholarships will open up for the filling.

Lavin continues to surround himself with assistant coaches and personnel that have New York ties, all in an attempt to keep talent in the city. Things are really looking up for this program, all courtesy of the man with the slicked-back hair, Steve Lavin.

St. John’s will try to make one more last-second signing, shifting their attention to another California prospect, French-born forward Remi Barry. Scouts say after as little as two years, Barry could be NBA-ready. SNY’s Adam Zagoria reports that, according to an unnamed AAU coach, St. John’s leads Barry’s other choice, California, in the race for his signature.

-Dan

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