Steve Lavin has had an up-and-down three seasons as head coach of St. John's. When Lavin was hired in April 2010, he made an immediate impact in the merciless Big East. A Cinderella-story 2010 season put the Red Storm back on the map and into the NCAA Tournament.
The program took a tough step backward in 2011 when Lavin was diagnosed and sidelined with prostate cancer. The team was without Lavin for all but four games that season, and finished with a subpar 13-19 overall record.
After a successful recovery, Lavin came back to work in 2012, albeit without the programs top overall player and current Orlando Magic small forward Maurice Harkless. With once academically ineligible JaKarr Sampson and rim-protector Chris Obekpa filling the void in the frontcourt, the Johnnies returned to an above .500 record in 2012 and an NIT appearance
In 2013, the Johnnies have a deep, experienced roster to work with and have a chance to make some serious noise at Madison Square Garden. The new Big East is here, and St. John's is prepared to head back to the big dance.
Twenty-four-year-old Orlando Sanchez has been officially ruled eligible to play for the Red Storm in the 2013-14 season. According to Lenn Robbins of the New York Post, the NCAA originally refused to waive it's bylaw on players over the age of 21 last season. Sanchez was forced to sit out the entire 2012-13 season, leaving St. John's with a lack of big men.
At 6'9", Sanchez could be an excellent compliment to center Chris Obekpa, providing a strong offensive low-post presence to Obekpa's superb shot-blocking ability. Sanchez is regarded as one of the most talented players on the St. John's roster. Along with strong post play, Sanchez has above-average ball-handling skills and great athleticism. This could potentially allow Steve Lavin play JaKarr Sampson at the small forward position, giving him an opportunity at his true position.
With assistant coach Mike Dunlap leaving for the NBA, St. John's half-court offense looked stagnant at times last season. The Johnnies would rely on a combination of transition offense and isolation to sneak back into games—a sometimes tough feat to accomplish in the Big East.
Jim Whitesell, the former St. Louis Billikens associate head coach, will provide great x's and o's for a team coming in with some excellent shooters. Red Storm fans can expect to see consistent open looks for perimeter shooters, such as Marco Bourgault and Max Hooper. D'Angelo Harrison, pending a lifted suspension, could greatly benefit from Whitesell in off-ball guard scenarios.
Rysheed Jordan was the No. 17 player on ESPN's Top 100 recruiting list for 2013, and for very good reason. Coming out of Roberts Vaux High School in Philadelphia, Jordan averaged 26 PPG and 6 APG. Red Storm fans will quickly learn to love this freshman on both ends of the court.
Jordan is an explosive point guard who will get to the paint and finish or display his excellent passing ability off the dribble penetration. St. John's has been lacking a true point guard, and this pickup should be beneficial to everyone on the floor. At 6'3", Jordan has the size and ability to defend both guard positions with excellent athleticism. It shouldn't be long before he is starting for the Johnnies.
Chris Obekpa emerged as a top shot-blocker last season in the NCAA, behind only first-round NBA draft selection Nerlens Noel.
Obekpa proved to be a dominating force defensively in the paint. Although Obekpa's presence was felt, he was still sometimes cautious of succumbing to foul trouble early with the Red Storm's lack of forwards and centers. With senior God'sgift Achiuwa coming back from a redshirt season, Obekpa can look to be even more aggressive defensively, causing havoc for opponents.
Obekpa showed inconsistencies on the offensive end of the floor throughout last season. Look for the penetration from freshman Rysheed Jordan to give Obekpa some high-percentage looks in the paint and a ton of highlight-reel dunks.
JaKarr Sampson came into the 2012 season at St. John's and immediately proved his worth. After being ruled academically ineligible for the 2011 season, Sampson recommitted to the Red Storm and averaged 14.9 PPG and 6.6 RPG in 2012-2013. He earned Big East Rookie of the Year honors.
There's some good depth at forward this year for the Johnnies, with Sampson, Orlando Sanchez, Sir'Dominic Pointer, God'sgift Achiuwa and Chris Obekpa. This should give Sampson a chance to play a little more on the perimeter at the small forward position, with an opportunity to slash or pull up for a mid-range shot.
Sampson will prove to be the Red Storm's most valuable player this season, with tremendous upside on both ends of the floor. Look for Sampson to be in the running for Big East Player of the Year.