St. John’s has not been to the NCAA Tournament since 2011, Steve Lavin’s first year as head coach. Following that season the Red Storm were forced to replace ten seniors, an unparalleled task in college basketball.
“After our first year we didn’t have one single returning player with D-I experience and that’s unprecedented in my career as an assistant, head coach and broadcaster,” Lavin said. “I don’t know if it will ever happen again at this level.”
Lavin and his staff responded to this challenge by securing a recruiting class ranked third best in the country, comprising of seven players: Sir‘Dominic Pointer, Maurice Harkless, D’Angelo Harrison, Amir Garrett, Phillip Greene IV as well as junior college transfers Nurideen Lindsey and God’sgift Achiuwa.
Since then, Harkless, Garrett, Lindsey and Achiuwa have moved on from St. John’s, leaving Pointer, Harrison and Greene to try to get the Red Storm back to the NCAA Tournament.
In the group’s first three years together they failed to do so, in large part due to inexperience. However, Lavin sees the growth of his team. “We’re closer, every year we’ve gotten a little bit closer,” he said. “So I think this group has learned.”
It is the one blemish on a recruiting class that has produced two 1,000-point scorers in Pointer and Greene, one 2,000-point scorer in Harrison and an NBA Draft pick in Harkless.
“It means everything,” responded Harrison in regards to an NCAA Tournament berth. “It’s the only thing I want to do, the only thing we haven’t done as a group.”
What this group has done, in the eyes of Lavin, is stabilize the St John’s program. “They’ve undeniably, incrementally made progress year after year and as a result they’ve put St. John’s in a position where we are competitive again after going through a decade or more not being competitive,” Lavin explained. “We are back to being a competitive program and that was the goal.”
The next, and final, step for this class is to punch a ticket to the Big Dance. “Now we have work to do because we want to send them out as they deserve, on a high note with an NCAA tournament appearance,” said Lavin.
St. John’s currently sits fifth in the Big East with a record of 19-9 (8-7) with three regular season games remaining, including a showdown with sixth-ranked Villanova in the final game of the season.
In College Basketball Talk’s latest edition of bracketology the Red Storm are a nine-seed and the players know that a strong finish to the season will eliminate any doubt of a tournament berth.
“We go 3-0 in these last three games, we will be worried about where we are going instead of are we in,” said Harrison, a finalist for the Senior CLASS Award. “We finish the season on a high note and once we get there we know we can make noise. We just have to get there first.”
Coming down the stretch this is the focus for St. John’s. The individual accomplishments of these players are well documented, but they have not quenched their thirst for postseason success.
Big East Player of the Year contender Sir’Dominic Pointer summed it up, “As long as we make the NCAA tournament, that’s all that matters. These awards, they come, they go, the tournament stays with you forever.”