Monday, January 29, 2007

State of the Storm

Good morning. Today we have a special straight from the nasty nas-ness of New York City, an update on one of the most prestigious programs ever, that of my beloved St. Johns Red Storm. (This weekend marked the birthday of one of St. John's many star-crossed athletes, Omar Cook, who was an exceptional point guard. Happy Birthday, Omar. You broke my heart and I'm a little bitter but I'll get over it when St. Johns returns to glory. [Footage of Omar Cook in his All-America slam-dunk contest here])

St. Johns is pretty much the center of college basketball and toughness in general on the East coast. St. Johns alumni include the Schwab, D.M.C., Mario Cuomo, and John Franco. The basketball program, the fifth winningest of all time, has turned out 48 NBA players [59 according to wikipedia(?)], including Ron Artest, Mark Jackson, Kevin Lougherty, Chris Mullin, Billy Paultz, Felipe Lopez, Malik Sealy, Jayson Willaims, Dick McGuire and, uh, Bill Wennington [it was even featured on the cover of LIFE magazine when that was a really, really big deal]. Six members of the Red Men/Storm are enshrined in Springfield. Great coaches to come through St. Johns include Lou Carnesseca, Joe Lapchick (three championships with the Knicks), and of course Mr. Norm Roberts. (The baseball team is also pretty good, having been to six world series, and the soccer team has gone to the NCAA soccer tournament 15 years running, winning the chip in 1996.) ["Of all my memories of people who have helped me, none are greater than those of Mr. Lapchick." -Bobby Knight]

St. Johns Basketball has seen a uniquely high level of honor and tragedy. Malik Sealy was just finding his game in the NBA when he was killed in a terrible automobile accident. Chris Mullin's career descended into alcoholism from which his game never fully recovered. Jayson Williams was acquitted of murdering his driver with a point-blank shotgun round. Bill Wennington got minutes on national TV despite sucking.

Along with that tragedy, St. Johns has been one of the most frequent upset victims of 1990's NCAA tournaments. Most recently, in 2001, they fell in the game that would cement Gonzaga as the premier mid-major contender (story here). In 1998, they fell to the Detroit Titans, an embarrassment of fantastic proportions. In 1992, they lost to the Tulane Green Wave in another crushing loss. Bill Simmons would have a field day with these things on his gut-check loss-o-meter thing. (By the way, I hate Gonzaga. Have a look at this little ass-kisser's site to see why St. Johns' loss was so tragic. I can't think of words to describe the hate I have for this little rat.)

As if that weren't enough, St. Johns players in the past few years have been acting like a bunch of jerkoffs. Most famously, Elijah Ingram (who could have been really, really good), Abe Keiya (who never played) and Grady Reynolds, (who was solid) decided it would be fun to bring a 38-year old stripper back to their hotel room and give her the treatment. I doubt that the players raped her, which she alleged; they probably just didn't pay the ho. Either way, though, it was a very stupid thing to do and brought down sanctioning that lasted for years. They played with 7 players at times at the end of that season, in which they did not win one Big East game. (To be fair, there are a lot of decent teams that couldn't win one Big East game.)

Darius Miles was going to attend St. Johns, but didn't, opting for the draft. The aforementioned Omar Cook left school too early, as did Erick Barkley. Jarvis left after not getting enough recruits. St. Johns was just hurting.

Norm Roberts, a Kansas man formerly of the Roy Williams staff, was the man the administration brought in to rebuild the program. Norm played high school ball with Anthony Mason, and then played for Queens college. "Quite gangster" describes him adequately. To date, he has been doing an admirable job, considering the sanctions he had to start under and the unbelievably unforgiving schedule of the Big East, the roughest and toughest league in the NCAA. He is classy, gets pretty good recruits, and seems to preach defense and toughness, so I like him a lot.

That brings us to where we are today. The 2006 season is about more than halfway through, with the conference schedule at almost the halfway point. St. Johns is 12-9 with a 3-5 conference record, which at this point means they are better than UConn and only one half game behind Villanova, who was the class of the Conference last year. St. Johns just followed two huge wins over Notre Dame (20th in the country) and Syracuse with an ass-slapping at the hands of the #9 team in the country, Pitt. They have three really hard games left, against Georgetown, Syracuse, and Duke. Really, all of their games left are tough, but if they go on a winning streak, there is a legitimate chance they could make it into the NCAA tournament for the first time in forever.

The important players on the team are Lamont Hamilton, Avery Patterson, Anthony Mason, Jr., Eugene Lawrence, and Daryll Hill. Lamont is a big man who scored 38 in a game this season and has a dynamic post game. Patterson is a gunner of a guard who is streaky, short, and very New York for a kid from North Carolina. Mason Jr. is tough, does everything, and is jacked. He is a sophomore and I predict that he will be an animal within two years. Lawrence is a do-everything point guard from NYC who sometimes flirts with triple doubles and being fat. Daryll Hill used to be the best scorer in the Big East before his knee got terminated, though he still shows flashes.

I hesitate to make big predictions for my favorite team, but I think there is a legitimate chance that they will shock the conference this year. They played Texas to a one-point loss, and when they hit their shots, they seem to be really good. I thought they were just starting to hit their groove when they beat ND the game before last, and despite the clubbing they received from Pittsburgh, I still think they might be on to something. They did have stretches of extreme suckage earlier this year, losing to Illinois State and Hofstra, and they've lost tough ones to Seton Hall and Depaul, but I remain hopeful. God owes them for all those upsets, and New York City needs some hope from the NCAA basketball world before they forsake it altogether.

(By the way, one random thing I like about this year's team is that Emeril came to visit them. While I enjoy cooking, I'm not Emeril's biggest fan, but reading the story about it, I noticed something that made me think to myself, wow, that is one gangster motherfucker. You see, Emeril came and cooked for the basketball team. That's him on the right with that big smile on his face, and a bunch of people who look like they have pretty much nothing to do with St. Johns. Anyway, Emeril was doing his cooking and everything and in the article about it, there's this picture of a St. Johns practice where Darryl Hill, in full practice attire, just breaks out a hoagie. He was probably like "dog, I gotta eat something while I'm doing all this practicing and shit, can one of you team managers get me a hoagie?" I am taking this opportunity to officially propose that he be nicknamed Hoagie Hill.)

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