For the first time in a long time, St. John's is making waves in the Big East and to a lesser extent across the country, but what they're doing on the court this season is just the beginning.
When you consider that the Johnnies have defeated Pittsburgh, Connecticut, Notre Dame, Marquette, and Duke in the last few weeks it's easy to see why Steve Lavin's squad is currently ranked in the Top 25 and has become a team that many think can make some noise in this year's NCAA tournament.
Although these lofty expectations probably would've seemed a little too ambitious before the season started, players like Dwight Hardy, Justin Brownlee, and D.J. Kennedy have made them a reality. They have transformed St. John's into a contender in the Big East and a team that is deserving of some national attention as well.
At the same time, what this veteran St. John's team has been able to accomplish on the court has been nearly as impressive as what Steve Lavin has been able to do off of it.
As we all know, college basketball is as much about succeeding in the present as it is about preparing for the future, and it's evident that coach Lavin and his staff have done a fantastic job of juggling both tasks this season.
In just his first year at St. John's, the California native has put a once proud basketball school back on the map after nearly eight seasons of virtual irrelevance in the Big East. Not only is the team performing on the court, Lavin and his assistants have been busy assembling one of the top recruiting classes off of it. All of this has taken place while Lavin has brought an excitement and credibility to the program that it's been lacking for the past few seasons.
When you couple Lavin's time as the head coach of UCLA with the work he did at ESPN, he's an extremely recognizable face who has plenty of connections around the college game that have allowed him to make a splash at St. John's in less than a years time.
Lavin also brought the legendary Gene Keady out of retirement when he added the former Purdue head coach to his staff.
Keady was a fixture at Purdue for 25 years and not only became the face of Boilermaker basketball for a quarter century, but also gave Lavin his first coaching job when he hired him as an assistant back in 1988. Together, Lavin and Keady bring two extremely bright basketball minds to St. John's and they also provide the program with instant credibility due to how long they've been around the game.
Thanks in large part to the extensive experience that both Lavin and Keady have on the recruiting trail, St. John's has assembled a nine player class that's currently ranked second by both Rivals and ESPN.
While it's extremely impressive that the recruiting exploits of Lavin and Co. have St. John's 2011 freshmen class being mentioned with the likes of Duke, Ohio State, North Carolina, Kentucky, and Texas, perhaps the most impressive thing is they were largely assembled before the Red Storm had played a single game under Lavin.
Some of the top high school players in the country like Norvel Pelle, Jakarr Sampson, and D'Angelo Harrison were signing on with St. John's in September, October, and November before anyone knew for sure how the team was going to look on the court this season.
And while there's no doubt that a school like St. John's can offer a lot to a young basketball player, the fact that some of the most sought after recruits in the nation spurned teams like Michigan, West Virginia, Washington, UCLA, Tennessee, Louisville, Baylor, Arizona, Marquette, Kansas, and UConn to sign with St. John's says a lot about how bright the future of this team figures to be.
After news of their epic recruiting class broke, there's been plenty of talk about how Lavin's charismatic demeanor will likely be able to keep some of New York City's most talented high school players from leaving. As St. John's continues to build off of the success they've experienced this season, it seems more realistic with every passing day.
But tapping into the local talent pool is far from St. John's only option in recruiting. Because of Lavin's west coast roots and well-known persona in basketball circles around the country, the Johnnies figure to be a major player at the national level as well.
The fact that Lavin and his staff were able to secure commitments from players who hail from places like; Michigan, Chicago, Ohio, Texas, and California in their inaugural recruiting class shows that the Johnnies have a reach which extends far past the five boroughs and should only allow this program to ascend to greater heights.
Of course, St. John's and Steve Lavin still have a lot of work to do if they're going to resurrect this program, but there is no denying that what's been done, both on and off the court, has already begun to lay the foundation for what very well could turn the Red Storm into a national powerhouse once again.
The fairly unexpected success that St. John's has experienced on the court this season seems far from over, but even if the Johnnies season were to end today, it would still have to be considered a huge success when you take into account what Lavin, his staff, and his players have already accomplished.
St. John's has proven that it once again has the potential to compete with the blue bloods of college basketball both on and off the court, which should have fans going crazy in Madison Square Garden for years to come, regardless of how things shape up for Carmelo and the Knicks.
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