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Rothstein: Promising Future Has Now Become The Present For St. John’s Basketball

Maurice Harkless

Maurice Harkless

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By Jon Rothstein
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The waiting is over.

After nearly a year of anticipation, the fabled recruiting class put together by Steve Lavin and his St. John’s staff will finally make their official debut Monday night at Carnesecca Arena against William & Mary.

Check below for five questions entering the season for the Red Storm as well as a breakdown of their first-year group along with the team’s arduous non-conference schedule.

FIVE QUESTIONS ENTERING THE SEASON FOR ST. JOHN’S

1. CAN A GROUP OF FRESHMEN WIN IN THE BIG EAST?

It’s certainly possible but history suggests it’s not likely. Jay Wright’s first recruiting class at Villanova featured Allan Ray, Randy Foye, Curtis Sumpter, and Jason Fraser and it took that core until their junior season just to reach the NCAA Tournament. In 2006-07, UConn had a freshmen class of A.J. Price, Jerome Dyson, Doug Wiggins, Stanley Robinson, Curtis Kelly, Hasheem Thabeet, along with Jeff Adrien as a sophomore and they finished 17-14 and missed the postseason. The hope for St. John’s should be to lay the necessary foundation needed so this group of first-year players can evolve into a solid unit over time.

2. WHEN WILL STEVE LAVIN RETURN?

No one knows for sure but one of Lavin’s greatest strengths is communication and you can be sure he’s still doing that regularly with his staff and players. One of the first things Lavin said when he took the job was the importance of putting together an “All-Star” staff and that should benefit the Red Storm during this transitional period.

3. JUST HOW GOOD IS MAURICE HARKLESS?

There are times when he looks like the next Rudy Gay. There are others when he doesn’t. No one has ever questioned Harkless’ overall talent but it’s going to be interesting to see how he reacts to adversity. Somewhere along the way and maybe as early as Monday night against William & Mary, the Red Storm are going to be punched in the mouth — how will Harkless respond? And can he play at the same level for 40 minutes? If he does, he’s one of the best freshman in the conference.

4. HOW IMPORTANT IS THE MATCH UP ZONE?

Beyond critical for a number of reasons. First, because it was the key to the Red Storm’s success last season. Second, because St. John’s only has eight scholarship players. Top assistant Mike Dunlap will have to preach as the team’s defensive coordinator the importance of staying on the floor without fouling — it will be a major key to any hopes this team has of remaining competitive.

5. WHAT FIRST YEAR PLAYER IS MOST IMPORTANT?

Without question, God’s Gift Achiuwa. Lavin said after signing the JUCO big man that he was one of the more pivotal recruits in the entire class because of the two years he already has under his belt at the collegiate level. For St. John’s to have a chance in the Big East, they’re going to have to rebound — and that’s directly related to Achiuwa.

MEET THE NEWCOMERS:

MAURICE HARKLESS: Skilled forward is the most highly touted member of the class but does he have enough gun powder in his diet to get it done in the Big East?

PHIL GREENE: Savvy floor general was under recruited coming out of high school. Strong, burly, and sporting a high basketball IQ, Greene eerily resembles current NBA point guard Earl Watson, who played for Lavin at UCLA.

D’ANGELO HARRISON: Knock down shooter could be St. John’s best long range bomber since Bootsy Thornton. Think former Arizona guard Salim Stoudamire.

GOD’S GIFT ACHIUWA: JUCO big man will be thrown to the wolves as the Red Storm’s lone interior presence. There will be times this season where Achiuwa feels more isolated than Tom Hanks in Cast Away.

NURIDEEN LINDSEY: Combo guard can get a shot any time he wants but will need to facilitate for his teammates if this team is to surprise in the Big East.

DOM POINTER: A freak athlete with the potential to be an incredible defender, Pointer should be able to flourish in the Red Storm’s 2-3 match up zone. Versatile forward is cut from the same cloth as former San Diego State forward Kawhi Leonard, who was a lottery pick last June.

WAITING ON:

* Both players below are currently academically ineligible.

AMIR GARRETT: Southpaw can play multiple positions and would replace some of the athleticism for the Red Storm that were lost when Dwayne Polee transferred to San Diego State. Has some Stacey Augmon in his game. Could still be eligible for this season’s second semester.

NORVEL PELLE: Lanky big man might not be an immediate Big East contributor because of his lack of strength but should be a nice piece down the road. Think a lefty Stromile Swift.

BREAKING DOWN THE NON-CONFERENCE SCHEDULE

11/7 WILLIAM AND MARY: Many coaches believe this is the sleeper team in the CAA. Tribe coach Tony Shaver returns a unit that boasts experience and outside shooting — two causes of concern for St. John’s. Keep an eye on freshman Marcus Thornton, last year’s Gatorade Player of the Year in the state of Maryland.

11/17 ARIZONA: The Wildcats’ youth and inexperience could make this a decent match up for the Red Storm on the first day of the Coaches vs. Cancer Tournament at MSG. Sean Miller has two special freshmen guards in Josiah Turner and Nick Johnson plus some of the ancillary pieces from last year’s team that reached the Elite Eight.

11/18 TEXAS A & M OR MISSISSIPPI STATE: Regardless of what happens against Arizona, St. John’s is going to have to play a team that will be in the NCAA Tournament. The Aggies could be the best team in the Big 12.

12/1 AT KENTUCKY: John Calipari could have six first-round picks on his roster.

12/5 AT DETROIT: The Titans are the favorite to unseat Butler in the Horizon League.

12/17 FORDHAM: The annual crosstown showdown with the Rams could have more sizzle this year as part of the Holiday Classic at MSG. Tom Pecora has rebuilt Fordham’s roster quickly, thanks to three terrific first-year guards in Bryan Smith, Fatty McMillan, and Jeff Short.

1/28 AT DUKE: Is it ever easy to win at Cameron Indoor?

2/18 UCLA: Bruins big man Josh Smith is bigger than the T-Rex in Jurassic Park. Seriously.

How will the Red Storm fare this season? Make your prediction below.