In the nearly eighteen months that have passed since Steve Lavin officially took the reins as the head coach at St. John’s, there has been a reinvention: a reinvention of personnel, a reinvention of image, and, most importantly, a reinvention and infusion of a new energy into a long-dormant fanbase.
Though not without its setbacks along the way, the 2011 Red Storm Tip Off on Friday night at Carnesecca Arena will mark the official beginning of a new era in St. John’s basketball. As much as last year’s successes helped to change the basketball culture, this will be Lavin’s “first team,” one that he crafted almost entirely by hand, and will lead into the future.
And for all the optimism about this new beginning that rightfully surrounds this program, the statistics say that it won’t be easy.
The Red Storm will be replacing over 96% of their scoring and 97% of their rebounding from the 2010-2011 season, filling the void with six players who have never played a minute of Division I basketball, a point guard who has been predominantly a backup thus far in his career, and a former walk-on, who was recently awarded a scholarship.
One Top 100 signee has decommitted and two others have enrolled at prep school to work toward eligibility for the second semester.
St. John’s non-conference schedule, the bulk of which takes place prior to the second semester, was rated as the toughest in the Big East, according to ESPN, with matchups against Arizona and UCLA, along with road games against Duke, Kentucky, and pesky mid-major Detroit.
But, if these last 18 months have shown anything about the attitude of this program in the face of adversity, it is that they are without fear, all embodied in their head coach, Steve Lavin, who will be making an appearance at Red Storm Tip Off, just over a week after undergoing prostate cancer surgery.
Aside from the fact that he took a team he inherited to the program’s first NCAA Tournament in almost a decade, that he turned a dry recruiting base into a pool overflowing with interest from Top 100 prospects, or that the Red Storm are now, once again, in the national college basketball conversation, Lavin has brought back fans that have long become disinterested, and that new fire should be on display at Tip Off.
This is the second year that the event has been held at Carnesecca Arena, a night meant to be something of a pep rally for students, a showcase for fans, and a preliminary run-through for the players. There will also be filler entertainment, including a performance from Harlem-based rapper Vado, as well as give-aways, and contests.
Tip Off will also showcase the women’s team, led by head coach Kim Barnes Arico. The veteran-led ladies team will begin their push for a third-straight NCAA Tournament berth.
A number of St. John’s recruiting targets will be in attendance, including 2012 Red Storm commits Darrick Wood of Bridgton Academy (ME) and Ricardo Gathers of Riverside Academy (LA). Amir Garrett, who was one of three from the Class of 2011 to be ruled ineligible, but is currently at Bridgton, will be in attendance. Norvel Pelle of Phelps School (PA), another of the three, is also expected, according to Wood and indications on Pelle’s Twitter page.
Also expected to be in attendance are the following:
Chris Obekpa | 6’8″ F | Our Savior (NY), 2012
Jason Boswell | 6’6″ F | Trinity Catholic (CT), 2013
Jermaine Lawrence | 6’8” F | Cardozo (NY), 2013
Tyler Wilson | 6’1” G | Cardinal Hayes (NY), 2013
Dayshon Smith | 6’0” G | Putnam Science (CT), 2013
Jaquan McKennon | 5’9″ G | St. Raymond (NY), 2015
Doors open at 7pm. Tickets are free, but space is limited.