Collegiate Basketball Is Back in NYC

Dan MarraContributor IApril 29, 2009

RALEIGH, NC - MARCH 20:  Luis Flores #3 of the Manhattan Jaspers drives to the basket during the second round game of the NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Tournament against Jamaal Levy #10 of the Wake Forest Demon Deacons at RBC Center on March 20, 2004 in Raleigh, North Carolina.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

It's normally only mentioned once a year, at the beginning of March.

This year though, the voices were a little louder, a little more persistent: How come New York City basketball is so bad? They have the best players in the country, but none of these colleges can convince any of them to stay home?

The voices only make their opinions known when the field of 64 (65) is set. They look around the teams and notice not one of them is located in the New York Metropolitan area. But it is a question worth exploring.

St. Johns has been bad since Mike Jarvis squandered all the talent Fran Fraschilla had acquired. Fordham? Have they ever been good? Iona had a good run a couple years ago, but they have never won an NCAA tournament game. Columbia, NYU—let's not waste our time. Hofstra should count, but they have struggled since the team moved to the Colonial Athletic Conference.

That brings me to Manhattan College. The school that has developed high-level coaches such as Steve Lappas, Fraschilla and current Seton Hall coach Bobby Gonzalez, has fallen on some hard times of late.

Former Pitt assistant coach, Barry Rohrssen has struggled to get and then maintain high-level recruits. He had a tournament-ready team his first year, but those players have since all transferred out, four of which have gone on to some premier schools—C. J. Anderson (Xavier), C. J. Lee (Michigan), Jeff Xavier (Providence), Brett Harvey (Loyola). 

It looked as though Rorhssen was on his way out the door as his top player from last year's team—Chris Smith (brother of NBA player J. R. Smith)—decided to transfer.

With his offensively-inept team losing its best player, Rorhssen was looking at one, maybe two more years left at Manhattan.

That all changed last week as Rorhssen landed his most heralded recruit and one of the top players to sign at these city schools in a number of years in Rico Pickett.

Two years ago Pickett was a freshman at Alabama, but the 6'3'' guard left at the end of the season and spent last year playing at Miami-Dade Community College. The three-star recruit had offers from UCONN and Florida, but turned them down to have a chance to play for the Jaspers and to play in Madison Square Garden.

"Surprised? Yeah everybody was a little surprised," Pickett told the Daily News' Dick Weiss. "But I just felt like Manhattan was the right fit for me. I was comfortable there. Coach (Rorhssen) also wanted me the most and I just want to come in there and help bring them back to where they were when they were going to NCAA tournaments."

Siena may still be the team to beat in the MAAC, but Manhattan has gained instant credibility with this signing. And with two more years of eligibility left for Pickett, this may give Rorhssen and the Jaspers the spark they needed in order to entice bigger and better recruits to play their collegiate ball in Riverdale.
Basketball in New York City may not be officially resurrected, but at least it's breathing.