How do u remember St. John’s basketball?
Do you remember the 80’s final four run? Chris Mullin, Mark Jackson and Lou Carnesecca and the magic at the Garden?
The basketball power in the mecca of basketball that was a power in the nations best conference?
What about the 90’s? The inner city tough guys like Ron Artest, Erick Barkley and Lavar Postell that took it to Duke at the Garden, made a run at the final four and were national championship favorites?
Those were my guys, the tough defensive minded ballers that did things “Queens Style” as Artest once uttered and couldn’t be out muscled.
Six months after moving to Maryland there was a Sweet 16 matchup between the Johnnies and the Terps that had Maryland fans over-confident. The locals were ACC snobs that looked at the Red Storm like they were pushovers. Hell my teacher, a NC State grad, laughed when I told him Ron Ron and company were gonna beat up the Terps. His response? Who’s Ron Artest?
6 blocks, 4 steals later (not to mention Barkley absolutely owning Steve Francis) everyone knew who he was as well as the Storm.
St. Johns was the school N.Y. ballers wanted to go to. We as fans were proud of the Johnnies, in a city that bleeds basketball we had a machine where the best wanted to play at. The citys best point guards stayed there, the games at the Garden were just as big as Knicks games.
Then it died.
The talent started leaving. Jamie Dixon and Jim Calhoun and others invaded the deep talent pool and took them to all corners of the states. Mike Jarvis’ style of play and coaching stopped resonating with the team. Yeah there was a Marcus Hatten here, an NIT title there but nothing was sustainable.
The Garden became Duke’s second home, the John Wall showcase, Gerry McNamera arena and St. Johns was slowly becoming like DePaul University was to Chicago; a once great city power that’s now a relic.
Coming into this season St. John’s hadn’t made the tournament since 2002 and the Norm Roberts era was the fail of fails. The school needed to make a splash and did so by hiring former UCLA coach Steve Lavin.
Lavin was a great recruiter that couldn’t live up to the glory days expectations in Los Angeles. Upon his arrival in Queens you could feel a shift in the program immediately. He inherited the most esperienced team in the Big East and his way of coaching, matched with their talent level, paid dividends. They jumped out to a 9-4 start with wins over Arizona State and Northwestern and a hard fought loss to Saint Mary’s.
However, where Lavin and company have truly made their mark is in the monster that is the Big East.
St. John’s does not lead the conference, but it owns it. Top teams that have played the Johnnies have all been buried under a fury of defense and a hungry team aching to bring the once storied power back to prominence.
They have delivered and then some.
Their list of wins is a laundry list of triumphs made for a top tier program sitting at its peak instead of a program trying to regain its mojo. Georgetown, Notre Dame, UCONN, Pitt and Duke have all been slain by the Red Storm in a one month span that has shook up the nation and eyes all eyes on New York.
The star has been senior point guard Dwight Hardy. While much has been made of Kemba Walkers heroics, Hardy has been just as clutch if not more for the Red Storm. He’s been the unstoppable force that has carried them to each victory and has them sitting pretty in the conference.
He dropped 33 against UCONN, 26 versus Georgetown and 19 yesterday against Pitt. Each time he answered the bell when the Johnnies needed an a play late in games or in yesterdays case a shot to win the game. Hardy is pouring his soul out in the first meaningful games of his career and his fellow seniors are following suit.
Justin Brownlee has been a beast on the inside housing Duke last month and putting up steady numbers in Big East play. D.J. Kennedy as been a excellent secondary score finding his touch when necessary and Justin Burrell has stepped up in key situations like yesterday with 15 points off the bench to aid Hardy.
But this is Hardy’s team. Despite Walkers dominant start to the season, and Ben Hansbrough’s revelation of a senior year it is Hardy who should walk away with the player of the year award. Not since Barkley in 2000 has a St. Johns player gotten this much attention and lived up to it. Without Hardy’s heart and will St. Johns wouldn’t be this revived. They might be an N.I.T. squad instead of a team that not one single team would have a delight in playing next month on the tournament.
But more than the players, the excitement is back for the program. Madison Square Garden is rocking on Saturday afternoons again. Basketball matters in Queens like it did during the Artest years and in the early 90’s before that.
Look at yesterdays game and the Duke game. I haven’t seen that place that nuts in a long time for a St. Johns game and it felt great. Basketball matters again to a school that bases its athletic legacy on one sport and to the best basketball school in a basketball city. Call me crazy but this may be the start of something big. Maybe the New York City point guard can return to prominence, maybe the next Lance Stephenson or Stephon Marbury will stay in state instead of bolt for other colleges, maybe St. John’s can return to being the power it was when Mullin and Jackson ran wild at Carnesecca Hall. The thought of it has me going crazy with anticipation.
Its well warranted anticipation. Watching yesterday’s thriller and the last month of upsets might be a heaping appetizer of things to cone. Lavin’s recruiting skills were on display this past year as St. John’s obtained the number 2 recruiting class in the country for 2011. Even after the heavily senior laden class leaves school this year it looks like the school is in good shape for a few years and might become a yearly contender in the Big East.
You can say their a one year wonder, that they got lucky with everyone getting road games against them. However, me being the crazed New York fan that I am, I see this as a preview. A preview of the return to glory the Artest era, the Mullin days, the return to the final four and the toughest team in the Big East. Look out world The St. Johns Red Storm are back!!