Coming into this season much was expected from the St. John’s Red Storm’s freshmen class. Head coach Steve Lavin nailed many of the nation’s top recruits and they were expected to play right away. Jakarr Sampson was considered his top recruit in that class with having his game changing ability compared to “One and done” Johnnies star from last year Moe Harkless.
Some of the other freshmen on the team have come up bigger than expected. Especially Chris Obekpa, who has set the St. John’s single game block record, swatting away eight shot attempts in the Johnnies’ season opener against the Detroit Titans. Unfortunately for Sampson, and his high expectations, so far his season can be best described as a disappointment.
But it’s only two games after all; overreacting to how poorly he’s played might be an injustice considering he is just a freshman. However, it’s exactly the way he’s trying to force his offense that is troubling.
Sampson is 3-14 from the floor while averaging a robust five points per game. Sampson was not only penciled in as a starter when recruited but many St. John’s faithful assumed he’d be the second or third scoring option on the team. In the season opener, it was clear that Sampson knew what people expected of him and he forced his shots, going 1-7 from the floor.
The second game against the Charleston Cougars wasn’t any better. Sampson was still looking to force his game and went 2-7 from the floor. It was one of his made field goal attempts that shows his troubles. Sampson got a rebound, dribbled down the court with his head down while he had open teammates, and forced his way inside for a very contested lay-up. Granted, it went in but it wasn’t a high percentage shot despite being so close to the basket.
Lavin must feel slightly different about the young freshman. Lavin increased his minutes from 18 in the first game to 35 in the second. It shows that Lavin must be happy with something Sampson is doing on the court. It’s the same aggressiveness I’ve been talking about. Despite his offensive woes, Sampson is averaging 8 rebounds, 1.5 blocks, and only one turnover a game. Lavin has made a decision that his positives on the defensive side far outweighs whatever negatives he’s currently bringing on the offensive (plus he’s not turning the ball over).
Luckily for the Red Storm, sophomores Phil Greene and Amir Garrett have improved on offense. Both are averaging over double figures a game and are highly efficient with their shot selection. Greene and Garrett combined are averaging 28 points per game, shooting over .550 from the field (.500 from distance) and only turning the ball over two times per game.
Along with Greene and Garrett, the Red Storm have also obviously relied heavily on D’Angelo Harrison (21.5 ppg). It’s a nice luxury to have in the early goings that your three returning starters are all carrying the team on their back. The only worries here are those three guys are all guards and, furthermore, Greene and Garret have similar playing styles. Teams can design defenses to stop just guards, making St. John’s an easy team to game plan for.
St. John’s desperately needs more from their big men going forward. Despite the early acclaim of Obepka, he’s not expected to be an offensive threat. St. John’s simply needs a consistent force on the offensive end and that’s where Sampson needs to fill in.
It’s very early, so all of Sampson’s struggles can be chalked up to freshman jitters. If he can get his game settled in and ready to go for the conference schedule, St. John’s will be alright. But with players ineligible and redshirted, the Johnnies have no depth (especially inside) and need Sampson to be better than the player everyone was expecting him to be.
No pressure or anything Sampson; the success of the Red Storm season just relies heavily on you. Like I said though, no pressure…
Joe covers the Big East for Rant Sports. Follow him on Twitter if you dare @JosephNardone