By Jon Rothstein
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On Monday, Steve Lavin landed his best interior recruit since he’s been at St. John’s when he received a verbal commitment from 6-foot-9 shot blocker Chris Obekpa out of Our Savior New American High School on Long Island. Here’s five things Obekpa immediately means for St. John’s.
FIVE THINGS CHRIS OBEKPA’S COMMITMENT MEANS TO ST. JOHN’S:
1. BLOCK PARTY
Other than Kentucky’s Nerlens Noel, no player in the 2013 class can block and alter shots like Obekpa. A cerebral defender with uncanny timing, the 6-foot-9 big man will do a tremendous job protecting the rim for the Red Storm, who are now positioned to be a legitimate factor in the Big East next season.
2. MATCHUP NIGHTMARE?
St. John’s associate head coach Mike Dunlap has done a tremendous job instilling his patented match up zone during the last two seasons and that defense will only be amplified with Obekpa in the middle of the floor. Two years ago, the Red Storm had quality length across the back end of their zone but lacked a dominant shot blocker — that will be different with Obekpa on the floor. The 6-foot-9 freshman along with sophomore forward Dom Pointer, JUCO transfer Orlando Sanchez, and freshman forward Jakarr Sampson should give St. John’s the personnel it needs to smother opponents with regularity and take away easy opportunities in the paint. Making three point shots consistently will be paramount when you play against the Red Storm next season.
3. DEPTH PERCEPTION
One thing St. John’s immensely lacked last season was solid depth and this addition only solidifies that aspect of the Red Storm program. Between Obekpa, Texas A & M transfer Jamal Branch, Sanchez, and Sampson, Lavin has added four players that should be able to immediately have an impact in the Big East next season. That quartet along with returning veterans Phil Greene, D’Angelo Harrison, Amir Garrett, and Pointer should make St. John’s a formidable adversary for most opponents.
4. ROSTER VERSATILITY
Don’t be shocked if you see St. John’s alter the way it plays depending on the opponent. A potentially devastating front line with either Pointer or Sampson along with Sanchez and Obekpa will likely be on the floor in long spurts but don’t discount the Red Storm playing their share of small ball. Lavin regularly used three point guard alignments when he was at UCLA and could do the same next season, next to an athletic forward and Obekpa on the baseline.
5. GREAT EXPECTATIONS
Stellar back to back recruiting classes have given St. John’s a solid core for the future while also raising the bar for the present. Even with the loss of Moe Harkless to the NBA, Lavin has set up a roster for the 2012-13 season that is capable of being in the NCAA Tournament discussion. Anything less than being involved in bubble discussions in early March should be considered a disappointment.
Your thoughts on Obekpa and the Red Storm’s chances next season? Be heard in the comments below…