Thirteen months ago, Philadelphia native Nurideen Lindsey committed to play for St. John’s.
At that time, he was part of an enormous ten-man recruiting class that was ranked among the best in the nation.
Then the pieces began to fall off, one by one.
Dwight Meikle was granted a release from his letter of intent and signed with Hampton. The NCAA ruled JaKarr Sampson, Norvel Pelle, and Amir Garrett ineligible for the first semester. Sampson and Pelle decommitted.
From the Class of 2012, point guard Jevon Thomas decommitted and signed with Dayton. Top 30 recruit, Louisiana forward Ricardo Gathers decommitted. Blue chipper Kyle Anderson turned down the Red Storm and signed with UCLA.
And the most striking blow was levied Thursday afternoon, when news broke that Lindsey, the leading scorer for the Red Storm in the team’s first four games, was transferring at the end of the semester.
“This was a mutually agreed-upon decision that Nuri’s pursuit of other opportunities is in the best interest of all parties,” said head coach Steve Lavin in a statement.
The news comes as the Red Storm have lost three straight and five of six, including 78-64 loss at home to Northeastern on November 26th.
Through all of this, Lavin continues to battle back from surgery to treat prostate cancer.
So, for reasons both within and outside of their control, there is turmoil in Queens. A program that, just one year ago, seemed to be on the fast track back to national prominence, is now experiencing some excruciating growing pains.
At the moment, St. John’s is left with seven scholarship players, only six of whom were recruited. Former walk-on Jamal White, who was awarded a scholarship at the beginning of the season, might begin to see minutes in the regular rotation.
The good news?
Forward Amir Garrett, currently at Bridgton Academy in Maine, is expected to join the team this month, pending clearance from the NCAA.
But even with Garrett back, that makes seven–count them, seven– Big East-level players, and a head coach who is working back to full health.
The bigger question will be how these setbacks affect future recruiting classes and the fan base that had seemed to be re-energized when Lavin took over last May.
Following the news of Lindsey’s transfer, the sophomore guard took to Twitter to apologize to fans and explain his situation.
“I am sincerely sorry if you guys feel like I let you down,” he said, in part. “I’ll always love and support St. Johns.”
His apology, which appeared to be carried out with the utmost level of class and professionalism, was met with a number of tweets that dripped with vitriol and outrage, many using words not fit for print.
Steve Lavin brought a St. John’s fan base back to life, after it had lain dormant for nearly a decade.
Confidence was boosted, ticket sales exploded, and the hashtag #InLavinWeTrust began circulating on Twitter. The Red Storm began occupying the back pages of New York City papers and morale was high.
Now there is a lingering feeling that things are not all right and a few bright signs need to show themselves before many are convinced otherwise.
If that negativity spreads and becomes the majority, the road back to the top of the Big East will be made that much more difficult.
But the fact remains: it’s only December.
Sampson, Pelle, and Gathers are uncommitted and St. John’s is still actively recruiting all three. Top 100 Class of 2012 forward Chris Obekpa is considering the Red Storm. Former Arizona forward Sidiki Johnson will transfer and the Red Storm could jump into the mix for his services.
Enormous expectations make for a bigger letdown.
Instead of factors on the basketball court, perhaps the Red Storm need a new foundation on which to build their reemerging program:
Bloodwork shows that Steve Lavin is cancer-free. Now go from there.
Daniel Martin is a writer and editor at JohnnyJungle.com, covering St. John’s. You can find him on Twitter:@DanielJMartin_