Moe Harkless Will Leave St. John’s, Declare for NBA Draft

This post also appeared on NBCSports.com’s CollegeBasketballTalk.

After a period of speculation that followed St. John’s season-ending loss in the Big East tournament, freshman forward Moe Harkless has made it official: he will hire an agent and head to the NBA draft.

The announcement came at a Monday afternoon press conference at Madison Square Garden in New York City, as Harkless sat alongside his mother, Rosa, and St. John’s head coach Steve Lavin.

“It has been my lifelong dream to play in the NBA, and I am excited to have that opportunity to make the jump,” Harkless said in a press release. “I would like to thank Coach Lavin, our staff and my teammates for being there for me throughout the whole season.”

Harkless was named the Big East Rookie of the Year and averaged 15.3 points and 8.3 rebounds for the Red Storm this past season. Against Providence, he set the scoring record for most point by a freshman in a Big East debut, hanging 32 points on the Friars.

The record was previously held by Allen Iverson and Troy Murphy.

Over the course of the season, Harkless developed more aggressiveness and learned to use the physical gifts that he was granted with his 6-8, 210-pound frame. At Cameron Indoor, he scored 30 points and grabbed 13 rebounds in a loss to Duke.

Scouts project Harkless will go anywhere from 13th to 25th in the first round and, despite his ability to pull out of the draft by April 10 under NCAA rules, he expressed his desire to gain representation and remain in the pool.

Though the Red Storm will be losing their best player, the move is positive for Steve Lavin’s recruiting efforts, especially in New York City.

Harkless came to St. John’s as a Top 50 player, but few saw him as a one-and-done. With his move to the NBA, Lavin can now use that as a recruiting tool to attract players who are looking to make the shift from high school to college to the NBA.

The Red Storm have two players committed to their 2012 class so far: Felix Balamou of Our Savior New American (NY) and ultra-athletic forward JaKarr Sampson of Brewster Academy (NH). Sampson returns to the Red Storm after being ruled ineligible at the beginning of the 2011 season. Lavin has made it known that he is looking to bring three more prospects on board during the spring signing period.

Brewster Academy’s JaKarr Sampson Recommits to St. John’s

JaKarr Sampson Commits to St. John's

JaKarr Sampson is headed back to Queens.

After being ruled ineligible at the beginning of the 2011-12 school year, Sampson returned to Brewster Academy for a prep year.

Though he took time to look elsewhere, Brian Snow of Scout.com is reporting that Sampson will return to St. John’s in the fall of 2012.

He was being courted by Baylor, Kansas, Providence, and others.

Sampson is an ultra-athletic wing and the most important target for St. John’s in the Class of 2012. His commitment to return to Queens signals a turn for the better and fruits of labor for Steve Lavin’s inroads on the recruiting trail.

In the fall of 2011, in the wake of Nurideen Lindsey leaving the program and the decommitment of Darrick Wood, Norvel Pelle, Ricardo Gathers, and Sampson, himself, questions were raised about the direction of the program.

It took time, but the questions are being answered. All of the behind-the-scenes work by Lavin and his staff, as St. John’s completed its strong 2011-12 season, is culminating in this grand stage performance, beginning with Sampson’s recommitment.

Sampson was dominant at Brewster this past season, leading his team to a national championship and showing why he is more than worthy of the high-major interest he was garnering.

He is St. John’s third recruit for Steve Lavin in the Class of 2012. Felix Balamou committed last week, while Texas A&M transfer Jamal Branch will be eligible in the second semester of the 2012 season. Lavin has said that the Red Storm are looking to sign five players during the spring signing period.

Moe Harkless Wins Big East Rookie of the Year

NEW YORK– After a while, it looked like a foregone conclusion, but it became official on Tuesday night: Moe Harkless is the Big East Rookie of the Year.

Harkless received his award from Big East Commissioner John Marinatto on Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden, hours after the Red Storm’s season came to a close with a 73-59 loss to Pittsburgh.

He stepped to the podium after receiving the award and, with the stoic reservedness we’ve come to expect from the Queens native, he thanked the committee for his selection and his teammates for support, then paused.

“I really don’t know what else to say, man,” he said with a smile.

The 6-8 freshman averaged 15 points and almost nine rebounds for the Red Storm this season, notching 11 double-doubles and eclipsing the 20-point mark seven times.

For St. John’s, he is the second Big East Rookie of the Year in the program’s history.

As was expected, after the presentation, he was showered with questions about his future at St. John’s and a possible move to the NBA.

“I haven’t had a chance to sit down with my coaches, family, and teammates,” he said, maintaining that he is undecided about his future.

He was surrounded by his teammates as he took questions, and, as he explained one of his answers, someone yelled out, “One more year, Moe!”

Harkless’ decision will come in time. For now, it remains a waiting game.

St. John’s Holds Off UCLA, Beats Bruins, 66-63

This story could start with any number of ledes.

There’s the Steve Lavin storyline, and the fact that he coached the Bruins for seven seasons before becoming a broadcaster in 2003.

You could also go with the fact that UCLA has underachieved, having been chosen to win the Pac 12, but look on their way to a berth in the NIT.

But on Saturday night, the strongest stoyline seemed to be that St. John’s simply came out and won. Against a UCLA team that will now most likely need to win the Pac 12 tournament to make the NCAAs, St. John’s held their ground in the second half and got the win, 66-63.

Let’s take a look at some of the Red Storm’s ups and downs in their win on Saturday afternoon.

Lasting Impressions

D’Angelo Harrison Was On

D’Angelo Harrison led the way for the Red Storm with 22 points on 7-of-19 shooting. But it wasn’t just his ability to hit from long distance that made the difference. He was attacking the rim, which helped to free up space down low and create shots for others. With Moe Harkless having an off-shooting game, Harrison’s presence was important.

More Fluid Offensively

Starting with Harrison, St. John’s was able to dribble penetrate and attack UCLA’s defense better than they have in a few of games. There were no long, painful stretches of broken offense, which helped them to keep the lead through the entirety of the game.

Sir’Dom, Sir’Dom

Pointer had one of his best all-around games of the season, finishing with 13 points and seven rebounds, and was the defensive presence that he has been all season. As with Harrison, who stepped up, Pointer did as well.

Still Problems Defending on the Block

When UCLA big man Josh Smith got the ball on the block, he was nearly unstoppable. He finished with 13 points on 6-of-7 shooting. It makes sense, as the Red Storm have had trouble with size all season, but credit St. John’s for adjusting and denying Smith the ball down the stretch.

Malik Stith Leaves Team, St. John’s Now With 6 Scholarship Players

Junior guard Malik Stith will be leaving the St. John’s team, but will continue his degree at St. John’s, head coach Steve Lavin announced in a press release on Wednesday.

“For personal reasons Malik has chosen to no longer participate as a member of our basketball team. Beginning next week he will no longer be an active student-athlete, but he will continue to add value to our basketball family while working toward completing his St. John’s degree,” said Lavin in the release. “We’ll miss Malik’s contributions on the court but we are pleased he will continue as a member of our basketball program in his new capacity with the Johnnies.”

“For personal reasons I have chosen to step aside as a member of the St. John’s basketball team,” said Stith. “Right now I feel that I need to do what is best for my family. I am grateful for the opportunities given to me at St. John’s and pleased to be able to continue to make progress toward my degree. Coach Lavin and I have met and talked over the past couple days about my future and the interest I have in contributing to the team as a student.”

Stith was a member of former head coach Norm Roberts’ final recruiting class in Queens, which also included the now-graduated Dwight Hardy and Justin Brownlee and Kansas State swingman Omari Lawrence.