When former UCLA Head Coach Steve Lavin made his return this summer after a 7-year layoff, the doubters and skeptics criticized St. John’s for the hire. Lavin had been out of the coaching game since finishing 10-19 in 2002-03, and spent the past 7 seasons as an ESPN college basketball analyst.
This summer, he agreed to a 6-year deal worth at least $9 mill to take over a program that has been the doormat of the Big East for some time. Last week, Lav received a commitment from one of the top players in the 2011 class, Maurice Harkless.
Harkless is a tremendous coup for a program that has been criticized for losing local area kids, and his signing could open the floodgates for Lav and his staff.
Harkless is a 6-6 Ray Allen/Trevor Ariza hybrid, with serious hops. He has a poise and cool disposition on the court that would make John Wooden proud. He is a long, rangy defender with an exceptional ability to get to the rim. After turning out the St. John’s skills camp in June, Harkless became the top priority for Lav.
He has stardom written all over him, and may very well end up the best player that Lav has ever coached……
After committing to UCONN in the spring, Harkless reopened his recruitment in June, as UCONN was embroiled in a rules violation controversy in May. Kansas, Southern Cal, Oregon and Arizona all coveted his talents, but Lav’s recruiting pitch made his decision easy.
“I’d rather be a part of the building process and doing it in this city, Harkless said. Getting guys to stay home, you’ve got to be a good recruiter like Lavin. It’s in my city, St. John’s is a good school, and I want to play in my city.”
St.John’s now have commitments from the top wing-player in both NYC and Los Angeles(Dwayne Polee), and several elite players that are seriously considering joining Harkless.
Top recruits Norvel Pelle, Amir Garrett, Jakar Sampson, Naadir Thorpe, Nurideen Lindsey, Phil Greene, God’s Gift and Domonique Porter are high on the Johnnies, and Lav has the charisma and recruiting chops to close the deal on every last one of them.
Though maligned and hated on by media pundits from coast to coast, one cannot ignore Lav’s coaching resume. He had two #1 classes at UCLA and recruited scores of NBA players during his tenure. By and large he was a success, leading the Bruins to 6 straight NCAA Tourney berths while amassing 21+ wins in each of those seasons.
I played for Lav at UCLA and he does an amazing job at connecting with his players, forging relationships and bonds that extend further than the basketball court. He cultivates a family atmosphere within his program, and is a coach a player can confide in candidly, without fear of repercussions. He’s honest and upfront with his players, a rare trait among big-time coaches in today’s game.
The signing of Harkless could transform the perception of St. John’s basketball around the nation, but more importantly in the city of New York. Kudos Coach.