Thursday, February 17, 2011

The Return of New York Hoops

I have to say, it is really nice to see basketball making such a comeback in New York. And I'm not just talking about the run the Knicks are having either. Sure, they are probably going to make the playoffs as the six-seed in the East and if they get Carmelo Anthony it would really solidify them as one of the “good teams” (though you'd hate to lose a guy like Raymond Felton). The real surprise lies in Jamaica, where the St. John's Red Storm are looking more and more like a tournament team. The latest ESPN projections have the Johnnies in as a seven-seed, carried by their quality wins over ranked Big East opponents UConn, Notre Dame, and Georgetown, and the blowout of then third-ranked Duke. Road wins at Marquette and Cincinnati are impressive as well.

Often forgotten, St. John's has historically been a force in men's college basketball. They are the 7th winningest team, totalling over 1600 wins, have 27 NCAA tournament appearances, and have the most wins among teams to have never won the big dance. They have, however, won the NIT six times. Lou Carnesecca is a coaching legend. Chris Mullin, Mark Jackson, and Ron Artest have all gone on to have very good NBA careers. So what happened to St. John's?

There was a time (not long ago either) when St. John's could recruit some of the top players from New York City high schools and keep them in the city for college. As programs like Connecticut and Pittsburgh grew, however, many of these players left New York for other schools. Players like Kemba Walker, Connecticut's star guard who went to Rice High School in Manhattan, go to the programs that are now the big names, forgetting that St. John's was also once a powerhouse. Even the starting point guard of the Florida Gators, Erving Walker, went to Christ the King High School in Queens, the same as Lakers forward LaMar Odom. Speedy Claxton, Stephon Marbury, and Jayson Williams are all products of New York, a city where basketball is in the culture from school playgrounds to Rucker Park to Madison Square Garden. It's about time the Johnnies returned to prominence, and this team, coached by Steve Lavin, could be just the spark needed to do so.

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