St. John's Basketball: Are They Still Relevant?

By Joseph Nardone

Traditionally speaking college basketball has the same powerhouse programs year in and year out. Schools such as Kansas, Kentucky, Syracuse, and the like have been dominating the college hoops scene for years. Those schools also have the same thing in common, they are all headed by talented head coaches over the same time they’ve had success. Kansas has had Bill Self and Roy Williams, Kentucky has had Tubby Smith and John Calipari, while Syracuse has been headed by Jim Boeheim.

Sometimes it’s not necessarily the school that makes the program but the coach. When Kentucky was in its transitional phase that saw Billy Gillispie head the program, little success was seen. But before him they won multiple national titles behind Adolph Rupp and Tubby Smith. Even after Gillispie was fired and the Wildcats brought in Calipari the return to glory came with the new coach. While the brand Kentucky is national, the success of the program doesn’t rely on the brand but the ability of whoever is coaching and recruiting for it.

That brings us to St. John’s basketball. Historically speaking the Red Storm are a national power who lost its prominence sometime in the early 2000’s. St. John’s has the seventh most tournament appearances in the history of NCAA basketball. They also hold the record for most NCAA Title games without actually winning the championship. After a long history of winning, mostly under legendary coach Lou Carnesecca, the Red Storm fell on especially hard times after former head coach Mike Jarvis left the team in shambles.

Jarvis came to St. John’s and succeed immediately. Unfortunately for the Red Storm faithful it was his exit that proved long lasting. After Jarvis was fired during the regular season in 2003 it was reported he was fired for more than on the court issues. Allegations for paying a Red Storm hoops player surfaced and NCAA sanctions soon followed. From 2003 through 2010 the St. John’s basketball program was all but buried alive.

Than in 2010 something went right for the Red Storm. Up until than Steve Lavin was an interesting college basketball analysts on ESPN that some thought got a raw deal when he was coaching the UCLA Bruins. During Lavin’s tenure with UCLA the program saw elite talent, several tournament runs, and only 1 losing season in his 7 seasons as their head coach. It was that 1 losing season that cost him that job. Lavin than turned to TV as an analyst as a way to stay involved with the game.

Season after season basketball programs were firing coaches and year after year Lavin was declining job offers. It almost seemed as if Lavin was just as content as a talking head as he was as a laid back coach. Then out of nowhere, Lavin was hired to rebuild St. John’s in 2010. A move that paid immediate dividends to both the coach and the team. The first year of the Lavin era saw the Red Storm go 21-12 and making their first March Madness appearance in a decade.

The following year may have been a disappointment in some critics eyes. The Red Storm were an incredibly young team that also lost its head coach for the year while he was battling cancer. This will be Lavin’s third year at the helm. With talented recruits coming in  and a young team to build around, the question of whether or not St. John’s is still relevant is an easy one to answer.

As long as Steve Lavin is there.

Follow Joe on the Twitter machine if you dare @JosephNardone

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