March 13th, 2010...For one team of homegrown heroes, the ensuing 40 minutes represented the chance of a lifetime.
For Devin Ebanks (Long Island City, New York), Darryl Bryant (Brooklyn, New York), Kevin Jones (Mount Vernon, New York), Da'Sean Butler (Newark, New Jersey), and Wellington Smith (Summit, New Jersey), this game represented the ultimate homecoming. After all, they technically were the home team.
There was one problem with this fairytale. None of these guys actually played for the real home team.
As I watched the West Virginia Mountaineers take the court at MSG, I couldn't help thinking "Why aren't these guys playing for St. John's?"
I mean, if Butler and company left the bright lights of the Empire State for the sacred grounds at Cameron Indoor or the fabled halls of Lexington, my staunch opposition and slight disgust would not be as grounded. But these guys left New York to go to West Virginia .
West Virginia? Really? What are we, filming the sequel to October Sky?
For a team built upon as storied a tradition as the Red Storm, it's no secret that the past 10 years have been an absolute disgrace. Aside from an NIT Tournament victory in 2003, the Red Storm have been a complete non-factor in the Big East. A program once enamored with the fury of a hurricane now has trouble blowing over a tree branch.
Yea, the Mike Jarvis mess certainly didn't help the cause. But that was more than half a decade ago...Kobe and Shaq were still bff's. And LOST hadn't even started yet.
Since that time, St. John's has had more problems than Lindsey Lohan. The blame could be pinned to a number of different facets—lackluster coaching, the hovering stench of disciplinary problems, inconsistent play. The list doesn't end here. But among all of the topics on their college basketball report card, there is one subject in which St. John's has failed abysmally.
Recruiting has been just pathetic.
Just look at the West Virginia squad. Ten years ago, there is no doubt in my mind that all these guys would be wearing red. Instead, they're shunning the mystique of the greatest city on earth for Bob Huggins and the set of "We are Marshall."
New York offers one of the most premier recruiting grounds in the country. Notable NBA stars to come out of the Big Apple include Chris Mullin, Mark Jackson, and Ron Artest.
All of whom, by the way, donned the Red and White.
With the bevy of talent in flowing out of metropolitan area each and every year, it's simply inexcusable to let potential program-changers walk time and time again. St. John's is New York's team. They better start acting like it.
In the past few years, St. John's has missed out on a slew of homegrown stars. Letting these guys get out of the city is simply inexcusable. Especially considering where some of these superstars decided to go. Consider the following talents:
Sylven Landesberg (Class of 2008):
The 6'6", 205-pound forward attended Christ the King High School in Flushing, New York. A 2008 McDonald's All-American and New York State Mr. Basketball, Landesberg chose to play for the University of Virginia, a team mired in some struggles of their own. An ACC Freshman of the Year, a coaching change, and two bottom-feeder seasons in the ACC later, Landesberg has decided to take his 17 ppg and 5.5 rpg to the next level.
Lance Stephenson (Class of 2009):
The electric 6'5" shooting guard was one of the most successful high school basketball players of all time. A four-time city basketball champion for Lincoln High School, the 2009 McDonald's All-American and New York State Mr. Basketball holds the New York state record for career points scored. After heavily considering St. John's, the Brooklyn native shunned the Red Storm in favor of another Big East team, the relatively unproven and not-as-storied Cincinnati Bearcats. Stephenson emerged as the team's star in his freshman season and has also declared for the draft.
Tobias Harris (Class of 2010):
The 6'8", 220-pound behemoth has completely dominated Long Island basketball for the past four seasons, and is widely considered the Long Island's greatest high school player of all-time. The 2010 McDonald's All-American, who is rated as the nation's No. 5 prospect on Rivals.com, has chosen to attend the University of Tennessee.
If St. John's is to make even the slightest steps up the Big East ladder, it is essential that they land one of these prized recruits. Even if the next Lance Stephenson only stays for one year, he will set a path by which to follow. Once again, it will be "cool" to rep the NYC.
There's a new sheriff in town. If Lavin wants to restore St. John's to its rightful place atop the college basketball landscape, he's going to have to plant his own crops.
With a LeBron or Dwanye Wade potentially coming to the Empire State, the time is ripe for change. If St. John's is ever going to turn off the snooze button, it's now or never.
Sunshine is boring. Let's put the fury back in the Red Storm.