After their most successful season in a decade, St. John’s will look to continue their resurgence with an almost completely new roster.
Following a senior-laden run to the NCAA tournament last year, St. John’s reloaded with the third-ranked recruiting class, looking to continue the momentum the program gained in the first year under coach Steve Lavin. The Johnnies this year will be the youngest team in 104 years of St. John’s basketball and will rank among the youngest in NCAA Division I history.
With only junior guard Malik Stith returning, St. John’s will have to replace 96 percent of its scoring and over 97 percent of its rebounding this season. And the green Red Storm will have to do this without three top recruits to begin the season.
Freshman Amir Garrett, Norvel Pelle and JaKarr Sampson have been declared academically ineligible for the fall semester. All three ranked among the top 75 prospects in the nation.
If the players are reinstated on December 19 – the earliest date they can rejoin the team – they will have missed the team’s first 12 games. The first game they would be eligible for would be the December 21 match-up with Texas-Pan American, giving the team just one week of practice and a single game to develop chemistry before beginning their Big East slate – which will again be among the toughest in the country.
After playing one of the most difficult schedules in the nation last year, the Johnnies will once again be tested early and often. St. John’s will match up with 16th-ranked Arizona just three games into the season that features 17 games against teams that made last year’s tournament and 11 teams that are currently ranked – including four of the top six teams in the nation. St. John’s out of conference schedule has them facing three of college basketball’s most historic teams. The school will travel to Kentucky to face the 2nd-ranked Wildcats and visit Cameron Indoor Stadium to face #6 Duke who will be looking for revenge after the Johnnies knocked off the 3rd-ranked Blue Devils last year at Madison Square Garden. The Red Storm also match up with #20 UCLA – where Lavin manned the sidelines for seven years – at MSG.
The Red Storm received 11 votes in the first preseason ESPN/USA Today Coaches Poll. The Big East Coaches Poll was not as positive, voting the Johnnies 12th in the 16 team league.
Besides missing three top recruits, the Johnnies may have to begin the season without their coach on the sideline. Lavin underwent surgery to treat his prostate cancer earlier this month and while the surgery was a success, there is no guarantee he will be ready for the first game on November 9. He was not on the sideline for their first exhibition game against C.W. Post.
“My return to coaching duties will be dictated by the healing process,” Lavin said.