While we know Steve Lavin is finally healthy and ready to coach a full season, we’re not quite sure how his relatively inexperienced players will mesh, or if they’re mature enough to compete night-in and night-out in what continues to be one of the most competitive conferences in the sport. We do know, however, that Lavin is a heck of a recruiter, and this St. John’s team does have Big East level talent.
While you constantly hear about senior big God’sgift Achiuwa (probably at times more so for his name than his game), sophomores Phil Greene, Amir Garrett, Sir’Dominic Pointer, and of course the team’s returning leading scorer D’Angelo Harrison, it’s been the freshmen bigs who have taken center-stage in the team’s first two exhibition games.
Three of the team’s least spoken about players heading into the season have been JaKarr Sampson, Christian Jones, and Chris Obekpa. As Greene and Garrett led the way with 17 points each in the teams exhibition opener, it was the freshmen trio that did the dirty work leading St. John’s to a 73-55 victory over Division-III Sonoma State. Sampson showed an impressive ability to score the ball, going for 14 points, but maybe more impressively, chipping in 7 rebounds and a game-high 6 steals. As Sampson impressed with his ability to cause turnovers, Obekpa put on a show of his own, blocking 7 shots to add to his stat-line of 4 points and 7 rebounds. Although he might have been slightly overshadowed by his teammates, Jones displayed toughness and efficiency, putting up 8 points and 7 boards, notching 2 blocks of his own.
Jones may have taken the backseat to Sampson and Obekpa against Sonoma State, but he led the team in scoring just three days later when the Red Storm dumped D-II Concordia 87-36. While Jones stepped up to the tune of 17 points and 10 rebounds, he may have once again been trumped by his teammates, as Obekpa went for 12 points, 14 rebounds, and 7 more (MORE!) blocks. Sampson once again proved he’s no slouch, adding 15 points and 7 boards.
Unfortunately, Lavin’s young bucks won’t be granted the opportunity to embarrass less than D-I competition again this season, but this has to be as exciting of a start to the season as Lavin, and St. John’s fans could have hoped for. Not only are these freshmen making a case for major minutes heading into the season, but Lavin feels he has the right guards in place to lead the team in Greene and Harrison. Yeah, sophomore leading freshmen is essentially babies leading babies, but young teams have shown they can win if talented enough, as proven by Kentucky over the past few seasons.
It’s tough to keep perspective about a team that’s been trying to get back on the right track for several years now, but if ever there was a year for optimism in Jamaica, Queens, this is it.
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