St. John's to be an experiment in youth

May, 23, 2011
5/23/11
11:40
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It's not often you see a hoops program graduate 10 -- yes, 10 -- seniors in one season. Same goes for a team with a recruiting class that features nearly as much quantity (eight signed players) as quality (the No. 3-ranked class in the country, according to ESPN's recruiting analysts). And, for that matter, it's not often you see a team that returns just one upperclassman, especially when that team didn't undergo some sort of forced mass exodus in the wake of some sort of NCAA infractions scandal.

Now here's what's really rare: In 2011-12 one team will be each of those things. That team is the St. John's Red Storm.

[+] EnlargeSteve Lavin
Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty ImagesSteve Lavin's St. John's team will be tested early in the nonconference schedule this season.
Steve Lavin's program was already set to endure some massive turnover this offseason. That turnover became even more pronounced this weekend, when freshman Dwayne Pollee -- one of two returning upperclassmen from last year's team -- announced that he would leave St. John's and continue his career as a transfer at another program. Polee cited a family health issue that caused him to want to move closer to his hometown of Los Angeles, according to a release from the school.

The move will leave Lavin with only one returning player, junior forward Malik Stith, from 2011's surprisingly successful senior-laden campaign. Stith averaged 12.2 minutes per game in 2011; he was a solid reserve and a promisingly efficient distributor, but his limited minutes didn't exactly promise a star turn in his third season next fall.

In other words, if you thought St. John's was going to be a fascinating bunch already, that sentiment is only going to grow. How quickly can a team that is equal parts talent and inexperience adjust to the rigors of college basketball? Can that group -- which features six players ranked in the 2011 ESPNU top 100 -- come together in time to compete in the Big East? Lavin's rebuilding project is already way ahead of schedule, and last season wasn't the ugly holdover year many predicted. But will all this inexperience be too much to overcome? How long are freshmen going to be freshmen? And what does that mean for the efficacy of recruiting? Can programs successfully reload with young talent every year?

This theory, if you are so generous as to call it that, has gotten its most high-profile tests at Kentucky and Memphis of late. But for all their youth, none of John Calipari's or Josh Pastner's teams have had to deal with the type of roster turnover and dearth of returning veteran leadership that St. John's will in 2011-12.

That makes St. John's one of the most intriguing, exciting and potentially frustrating teams in the nation next season, one that should draw interest from far more than the reinvigorated Red Storm fan base. In many ways, the Red Storm are going to be a live, ongoing basketball experiment, one that should be well worth the watch.

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