St. John's Starts New Year Four Days Early

December 29th, 2011

The 2011 pre-Big East season was one St. John’s fans will want to forget.

First came word that three members of the Red Storm’s talented freshmen class would be academically ineligible to start the season. JaKarr Sampson – the 32nd-ranked recruit, according to ESPN – and Norvel Pelle – ranked 77th – each de-committed upon word they would not be allowed to play during their first semester at St. John’s.

Cincinnati Reds draftee Amir Garrett, who was the 99th-rated incoming freshman, was also ruled ineligible for the first semester, although he decided to attend St. John’s for the second semester and became eligible on Dec. 21.

Current high school senior Ricardo Gathers – the 30th-ranked high school senior – also backed out of his verbal commitment to the program in the off-season.

Then came worse news. St. John’s coach Steve Lavin was diagnosed with prostate cancer and had surgery on Oct. 6. He has been declared cancer-free but has been replaced by Mike Dunlap on the sidelines until Lavin regains enough stamina to return.

On the court, St. John’s had to replace 98 percent of its scoring and 96 percent of its rebounding from a year ago – and it showed early. The Red Storm began the campaign 4-5, including losses to Northeastern and Detroit Mercy. With all of their missing parts, the played much of the early season with a 6- and 7-man rotation.

St. John’s 2011-12 season began with as much tumult in one semester as most programs have in a decade, but on Tuesday, things began to turn around in the Big Apple. A corner appeared to be turned.

Led by freshmen Moe Harkless and D’Angelo Harrison, the Storm opened Big East play with a 91-67 victory over Providence. The story wasn’t St. John’s third-straight victory, as big as it was. The story was how it happened.

On one night, Red Storm fans got a glimpse into an exciting future.

Harkless scored a Big East freshman-record 32 points and seemingly grab every rebound in sight. Harrison scored a season-high 25 points and scored them in nearly every conceivable fashion. Fellow-freshmen Phil Greene and Sir’Dominic Pointer added a combined 18 points.

“We were obviously happy that these young guys could learn that if they play a certain way, we could get a Big East win,” Dunlap said after the win over Providence.

“It was just a matter of time for everything to click, and I think right now we’re starting to click and can still get a lot better,” Harkless said.

Harkless leads the Storm at 15.7 points, 8.5 rebounds and 1.8 blocks per contest. His game has been compared favorably to Ray Allen’s college game, and with his skill-set, most experts believe he will continue to improve each year.

“Moe Harkless is a terrific player,” Providence coach Ed Cooley said. “He is a great player. He’s definitely the face of the Big East. He’ll go down as one of the better players in the conference when it’s all said and done.”

With such little experience. it’s hard to imagine the Red Storm have many nights like Tuesday this year. But behind Harkless and Harrison, it may not be long before St. John’s returns to the glory days of its past.