St. John’s Media Day Opens Red Storm Season [PHOTO GALLERY]

On Friday, November 4th, 2011, St. John’s Media Day brought outlets from across the New York area to Carnessecca Arena to get a closer look at the 2011-2012 Red Storm.

(Photos Dave Krupinski/JohnnyJungle.com)

Freshman guard Phil Greene talks with reporters at St. John's Media Day.
D'Angelo Harrison is a Texan with something to prove at St. John's.
Nurideen Lindsey was swarmed with reporters at Media Day.
Another view of Lindsey taking questions from reporters.
Gene Keady is part of the group of four assistants that are filling in for head coach Steve Lavin.
D'Angelo Harrison takes questions on STJ-TV during Media Day.
God'sgift Achiuwa sits against the backdrop in St. John's media room to take questions.
Elder stateman, junior Malik Stith, takes questions in Taffner Fieldhouse.
Sophomore guard Nurideen Lindsey takes questions from Roger Rubin (right) and Lenn Robbins.

Media Present

Lenn Robbins – New York Post
Roger Rubin – New York Daily News
Marc Ernay – 1010 WINS Radio
Deborah Harris – Rivals
Quinn Rochford and Tim Dimas – SB Nation
The Torch – St. John’s Student Newspaper
WRED TV – St. John’s Student Television
WSJU – St. John’s Student Radio

Maurice Harkless: New Face of St. John’s Basketball Continues to Impress

Eighteen months ago, Maurice Harkless was a lanky, 6’8”, 185-pound rising senior from New York City with interest from high-major programs across the country.

That summer, in 2010, Harkless attended Hoop Group Elite camp at Albright College in Reading, Pennsylvania.

Reading is a skeleton of its former self since the booming manufacturing industry of the 1950s packed up and headed out of town, and is left, today, looking like a crumbling snapshot of where it was at its height.

But, when Harkless was in Reading, in front of hundreds of college coaches, he shone bright, justifying his ranking as a top 50 prospect in the Class of 2011.

Harkless has both the maturity and skills to carry the Red Storm. (Photo: Daniel Martin/JohnnyJungle.com)
Chris Harney, head coach at St. Mary’s College, whose Seahawks lost to Harkless and the Red Storm, 77-70, on Tuesday night, was working as a coach at camp and recalls Harkless as a stand-out.

“Even back then, I could tell he was a really good player,” says Harney. “He has a world of potential and clearly is the future of St. John’s. His composure is fantastic. He doesn’t look like a freshman out there on the court. With hard work, I definitely think he has pro potential.”

These days, Harkless keeps the baby-faced appeal, but lost the frailty in his frame and is poised to be the poster child, rather “poster man-child”, of Steve Lavin’s young St. John’s Red Storm.

After posting an impressive 14 points and 14 rebounds in just 25 minutes in St. John’s first exhibition vs. C.W. Post, Harkless had another double-double, with 20 points and 13 rebounds, against St. Mary’s.

“Coach said that it really kind of help because we needed a game like this,” said Harkless. “We needed a game where we could come together towards the end. We were losing with five, six minutes left and that kind of pulled us together. We had tighter huddles, we had more talking on defense. We became more of a team during that time.”

After being recruited as a small forward, the rulings of ineligibility handed down to fellow front-court recruits JaKarr Sampson and Norvel Pelle will force Harkless into playing more at the power forward and, perhaps, the center position.

His length on the block has been a complement to the brawn and muscle of God’sgift Achiuwa.

“I’m not really worried about the position,” says Harkless of his shift. “Even as a small forward or shooting guard in high school, I always rebounded. It’s not really different for me.”

“Coach Lavin and I watched him probably more than any player we watched last year on the [AAU circuit]…and one thing we noticed about him was he did rebound,” said assistant coach Rico Hines after the win over St. Mary’s. “He rebounded in traffic. I think people don’t realize how good of a rebounder he is. He’s a tough kid, people don’t give him credit for being that.”

Since Harkless committed to the Red Storm in August of 2010, there were indications that he would be the face of a new era.

He was the first domino to fall in Lavin’s 2011 recruiting class, was a New York City star who had decided to stay home, carries himself with maturity beyond his years, and, to add to the storyline, he had, months earlier, withdrawn a commitment from rival UConn to join the Red Storm.

At Big East Media Day, assistant coach Mike Dunlap called Harkless an on-the-court leader of this team.

Following the close win over St. Mary’s, with Harkless sitting between his teammates D’Angelo Harrison and Nurideen Lindsey, he seemed to fit the part.

“Honestly, I think we’re ahead of where I thought we’d be,” he said into the microphone, with his deep voice reverberating through the media room. “We came together and we became a team a lot quicker than people would think. That’s the only way we’ll be successful is if we all stick together and have each other’s back on and off the court. I think we’re doing a real good job doing that.”

Official St. Mary’s (MD) Preview: Even In His Absence, Lavin Still Present With Red Storm

Throughout this preseason for the Red Storm, the focus has been on homework, in all its forms.

The most obvious is in the classroom, where six of the eight scholarship players are working through their first semester at a Division I institution.

Last Tuesday’s 110-80 over Division II C.W. Post, though impressive in some areas, leaves the Red Storm with “homework,” and much to improve upon.

Big man God'sgift Achiuwa was a force inside in St. John's first exhibition vs. C.W. Post. (Photo: Daniel Martin/JohnnyJungle.com)
But, in the prolonged absence of head coach Steve Lavin, who is still recovering from successful prostate cancer surgery, these young members of the Red Storm have taken another assignment upon themselves: to see their coach through until his return.

“We check on Coach every day to see how he’s doing,” said sophomore guard Nurideen Lindsey, who had 16 points in the Red Storm win Tuesday night. “We let him know that he’s definitely still here with us. We work every day extremely hard for Coach Lav. He’s our leader. It’s kind of a homework assignment for us. Every day.”

Lindsey says players communicate with Lavin through text message and, though the second-year coach may be leaving out specifics, he still makes his presence felt.

“He’s the ultimate confidence coach,” says Lindsey. “I’ve never met anybody, let alone a coach, who instills the confidence in people that he does.”

St. John’s has been using a platoon of assistant coaches Mike Dunlap, Tony Chiles, and Rico Hines, along with special assistant Gene Keady, to fill Lavin’s vacant seat at the end of the bench.

Dunlap maintains that all practice schedules and itineraries are run through Lavin, with constant communication between the coaches, as well as video footage of each practice being sent to Lavin for his input. Gene Keady also visits Lavin to update him on the state of the team.

“With those forms of communication, we’ve pretty much pulled him into the gym. They have a statue of him upstairs,” Dunlap jokes. “We put him at center court, we talk to him, we feed him, we water him, he’s there.”

This young group is Lavin’s first full class of recruits and it appears the same strong personal communication and family atmosphere that drew many of these players to Queens is carrying over, even in Lavin’s absence.

“He checks on us on a regular basis, like besides basketball,” says freshman guard Phil Greene, who burst onto the scene with 20 points against C.W. Post. “He asks about our families and ‘How’s everything going with school?’ So, he really steps away from basketball sometimes to communicate with us.”

On the court, St. John’s will face Division III St. Mary’s College of Maryland on Tuesday night, a blossoming powerhouse that lost in the D-III Elite 8 last season.

Led by head coach Chris Harney, the Seahawks return eleven letter winners from last season, despite losing their top two scorers from a year ago.

Among those returning is 6’5” senior forward Mikey Fitzpatrick, who garnered interest from Columbia and Colgate coming out of high school, and was offered a walk-on spot at the Citadel.

Taking what was seen in the exhibition against C.W. Post, the Red Storm head into Tuesday with a simple task: continue to become a single unit.

“Our objective, more importantly, is to push to continue to improve,” says Dunlap. “[By being afraid of injury] that means we’re operating from a base of fear and, regardless, we cannot do that.”

“We’ve been practicing and I think we got a lot better defensively. We’ve understood each other’s role and we’re starting to know our personnel a lot better,” said Lindsey. “I think we’re going to come out and we’re going to play a lot more under control. Play our style of basketball, but just a lot more poised.”

And with the season slated to begin November 7th vs. William & Mary, Lavin’s coaching, though from a distance, will continue to be the guiding principle.

“There’s attitude things that [Coach Lavin] absolutely loves,” said Dunlap. “He doesn’t like guys going to their shorts and grabbing their shorts. We’re going to do it periodically, but we can harken to his voice and highlight his voice and say, ‘Hey, when “The Chief” comes through the door, that’s not going to be acceptable.”

Here’s to The Chief’s speedy recovery.

St. Mary’s Chris Harney, St. John’s Steve Lavin, And a Chance Encounter In Houston

Chris Harney’s car has 188,000 miles on it.

He drives that 1993 Toyota Corolla to work every morning to his job in St. Mary’s City, Md., about two hours southeast of Washington, D.C.

Harney comes from a family of Irish immigrants. His Brooklyn-bred father, Raymond, worked for the New York City Public School system for 32 years. A generation before, his grandfather worked as a security guard and his grandmother worked as a hotel attendant.

Here in 2011, there are aspects of Harney’s job that are not unlike the blue-collar work of his father and grandparents.

Some days, he washes clothes, other days he is washing cars or selling cupcakes.

But Harney is not a custodian. He does not work at the local gas station, nor is he a small-time baker.

Chris Harney is the head coach at a blossoming Division-III powerhouse, St. Mary’s College of Maryland, a team that has gone 72-15 overall in the past three seasons and made the Division-III Sweet 16 three of the past four years.

Chris Harney has built a strong program at small, Division III St. Mary's. (Photo: smcmathletics.com)
The clothes he washes are his team’s practice gear and those cleanly scrubbed cars and homemade cupcakes help to raise money for his program.

“You have to wear a lot of hats,” says the two-time Capital Athletic Conference Coach of the Year. “I’m not complaining. I really relish it. I’m like a Border Collie. I always have to be working.”

This is Division-III college basketball.

Trade the Division-I roadtrips in fancy hotels for a night in the Comfort Inn–free continental breakfast and all. There are no multi-million dollar facilities, just a humble, newly renovated gymnasium that finally looks collegiate.

Even on the bench, there is no staff of handsomely paid assistant coaches, player development personnel, or recruiters.

Harney’s staff is composed entirely of volunteers.

That makes this low-budget operation driven mostly by pride and hard work, the sacrifice of “individual” for a shot at collective glory.

“When we recruit, we don’t have that scholarship to offer,” says Harney, speaking to Division-III’s lack of athletic scholarships. “So, instead, we have to sell the experience; the experience of possibly cutting down the nets, being at a close-knit college with a beautiful campus, playing in games where you see your professors and friends in the stands.

“It makes recruiting really different because we don’t have the resources to cast a wide net, like Division-I or II. I’ll tell you, we do it the old-fashioned way. I’ve driven all over to see recruits. I’ve slept in my car. I can tell you every sub on the [local deli] menu because I lived off that for a summer,” he says with a laugh.

Harney may lack tangible assets that come with the constraints of Division-III, but he has a spoil of riches that are inherent to St. Mary’s: a vibrant campus that sits alongside the Chesapeake Bay waterfront, with small class sizes and an engaged student body, all of which he uses as selling points.

“It’s different because we have to focus and identify possible recruits, based on both skill level and attitude,” he says. “I don’t always like putting it this way, but it’s like picking a horse at The Derby. Once you commit to that guy, you hope he comes to your program.”

And with that philosophy, Harney has gone from having a 9-16 team in his first season with the Seahawks to having a 25-6, Elite 8 team in 2010-2011. Just as he and his coaching staff have built the program through a dedication of their time, his players have as well.

“There’s definitely more sacrifice at this level,” says 6-5 senior forward Mikey Fitzpatrick, who was named a team captain for this upcoming season. “We’re students first and my primary focus is to graduate. But then, you’re paying to play in D-III. You have to pay tuition and you sacrifice your Christmas break and weekend is probably full.”

Fitzpatrick has started on and off for the Seahawks for three seasons and is majoring in Human Studies with hopes of being a schoolteacher. He was recently accepted to the St. Mary’s graduate program and will be a graduate assistant for Coach Harney next season.

“Our top assistant coach’s wife just had a baby,” he continues. “You really appreciate the time they spend away from their family. They’re paying their own dues through the process and you can definitely appreciate it.”

___________________________________

Abraham Lincoln once said, “I will prepare and some day my chance will come.”

Chris Harney has prepared, as the 188,000 miles on his car and the hours spent in the college’s laundry room could attest to, and, while at the Final Four in Houston this past Spring, his chance finally came.

While at the Final Four with part-time employer The Hoop Group, an organization well-woven into the basketball community as organizers of camps and AAU tournaments, Harney had a chance run-in that would change the course of his team’s 2011-2012 season.

“There is always a lot of networking that goes on down there,” Harney begins the story, which is quickly becoming St. Mary’s folklore. “Rob Engemann, who runs tournaments for Hoop Group, called me up and said I should come out to a restaurant and get something to eat.”

As the story goes, St. John’s head coach Steve Lavin was friends with the restaurant’s owner and was hanging out in the restaurant that night. Harney struck up a conversation with the owner, who soon introduced him to Lavin.

“Coach Lavin and I get to talking, and the friend jokingly goes, ‘You guys should play each other in an exhibition,’” Harney recounts. “At that point, both of their exhibitions were filled, so he said he’d give me a call if something changed.”

“The way I took it, it was kind of a ‘We’ll call you, don’t call us’ kind of thing,” Harney laughs.

A month had passed and Harney says he had almost completely forgotten about the possible arrangement. Then he got a phone call.

“I was in my office around four o’clock one day and the phone rang,” says Harney. “I pick it up and I hear, ‘Hey Chris, it’s Steve Lavin. I was wondering if you still wanted to do that game.’ I was shocked.”

Lavin, who played Division-II college basketball at San Franscisco State before transferring to Division-III Chapman, put the plan into motion and the Red Storm are set to play St. Mary’s on November 1st at Carnesecca Arena in Queens.

““I pick it up and I hear, ‘Hey Chris, it’s Steve Lavin. I was wondering if you still wanted to do that game.’ I was shocked.” -Chris Harney

“It says a lot about him. In a time of big names and big salaries, most guys wouldn’t have remembered to call. It speaks volumes about him,” says Harney.

“It’s a pretty big deal for us,” says Fitzpatrick. “We try to take it seriously. It’s a privilege to play a team in the Big East. We don’t want to take it lightly.”

St. John’s defeated Division II C.W. Post in their first exhibition game, 110-80, on Tuesday night, and the coaching staff says they will be approaching this game the same way.

“I think [St. Mary’s] will come in and test their talents against a D-I team,” said St. John’s assistant coach Tony Chiles. “We’ve scouted as much as we could have. They’re going to come in and play us tough.”

But, for the St. Mary’s Seahawks, this trip to New York isn’t just about playing basketball. Harney has made it a point that this will be about an overall experience for his team, both on the court and off.

The team plans to stay two days and tour Manhattan, including Ground Zero at the World Trade Center site.

“It’s about the journey, not the destination,” Harney says. “We’re making the trip to have them experience New York. A lot of our guys are from Baltimore, so they’re used to the city, but, I mean, New York is New York. There’s really no other city like it.”

St. Mary’s played an exhibition against The Citadel last season, but Harney sees this as an even bigger stage, and rightfully so.

“We’ll be David versus Goliath, no doubt about that. But this is great, even outside the game. It creates a buzz–a buzz in recruiting, a buzz for St. Mary’s, and, really, a buzz for Division-III, as a whole. We just want to go up there and play well.”

St. Mary’s also looks to these games to earn extra money for the program, and St. John’s will be paying the Seahawks to make the trip to Queens, as is standard practice with preseason exhibitions.

“We’ve only been a four-year institution since 1970, so our oldest alumni are just now reaching retirement,” says Harney. “We don’t have a ‘Daddy Warbucks’ who can cut us a big check and fundraising is so tough during the year. These games help and we’re really grateful for that.”

The Seahawks may not be used to the opulence that high-major Division-I basketball carries with it, but they more than make due with what they have.

Harney and St. Mary’s have built a foundation for a successful future at the Division-III level, all while scrapping funds together like an old-school handyman, willing to do any job, so well as it can help pay the bills.

“We make it work,” says Harney. “It’s champagne tastes on a seltzer water budget.”

St. John’s Phil Greene: Exhibition Shows Freshman Finding His Niche With Red Storm

For as much depth as St. John’s lacks in the frontcourt to begin the 2011-2012, the backcourt is made up of a strong foursome that will compete for minutes.

But, in St. John’s first exhibition, it wasn’t sophomore Nurideen Lindsey, a man challenged Wilt Chamberlain’s scoring record at Overbrook HS (PA), or freshman D’Angelo Harrison, who averaged over 30 points during his senior year at Dulles HS (TX) who stole the show.

Greene is finding his role on this St. John's team as a multi-talented scoring threat. (Photo: Daniel Martin/JohnnyJungle.com)
Instead, it was 6’2” combo guard Phil Greene who put up 20 points on 8/10 shooting, including 4/6 from three-point range, as a surprise spark in St. John’s 110-80 exhibition win over C.W. Post.

“I just wanted to go out and play hard,” said Greene. “My teammates got me open shots, which opened up the three. They had confidence in me, so I just wanted to play hard and play my game and let the game come to me.”

The Chicago native is showing himself to be a legitimate three-point shooter off the bench for the Red Storm, a complement to the slashing ability of Lindsey and Harrison.

“He’s a pleasant surprise in a lot of areas,” said St. John’s assistant coach Mike Dunlap, who sat in for head coach Steve Lavin, who is still recovering from surgery. “[Greene] and [freshman forward] Dom Pointer are two guys that, as the season unfolds, will just continue to ascend because they have a set of skills that are unique. But, Phil has been a pleasant surprise in practice as far as how good and mature his game is.”

Greene was impressively opportunistic in his 27 minutes, reading the C.W. Post defense and understanding where he fit.

On one play early in the second half, point guard Malik Stith led a fastbreak down the right side of the court. Greene drifted to open space on the left wing and spotted up beyond the three-point line. Stith found him with a cross-court pass and Greene knocked down the jumper.

“I shoot when it’s time to,” said Greene. “Like I said, my teammates they did an excellent job of penetrating and kicking and looking for the weak side, which got me open, so that’s how I got a lot of my shots today.”

Stith’s assist was one of the team’s 24 on the evening, to go along with just 10 turnovers.

“A big part of our offense that coach emphasizes is ball movement, swinging the basketball,” said Lindsey, the junior college transfer. “We have a lot of versatile guys that can play a lot of spots on the floor, so I wasn’t surprised at the assist number tonight.”
Greene is carving out his own niche, fitting between Lindsey and Harrison’s driving ability and God’sgift Achiuwa’s presence down on the block.

Achiuwa, himself, shot 10/13 from the field, on his way to a team-high 21 points.

“[Greene] going to get a lot of those shots because they’ve got to take care of D’Angelo and Nuri creates his own problems, so he’s going to be on the backside of the defense a lot and you’ll see that he can go unnoticed at times,” said Dunlap.

Physically, Greene says he is adjusting well to the pace of the game at this level, though he still sees room to grow.

“I kind of expected it to be the way that it was,” he said. “It’s college, so it’s going to be faster and stronger. But, we’re ballplayers and we adjust to things real fast. We just come out and compete.”