- Eamonn Brennan, ESPN Staff Writer
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Last season, newly hired St. John's coach Steve Lavin took the recruiting world by storm (sorry), when he replaced a 10-senior 2011 team with the third-ranked incoming 2012 class, one built on the back of eight total commitments, six of which ranked among ESPNU's top 100 players.
Since then, things have not gone well. Lavin fought and won a bout with prostate cancer, but attempted to return to the bench too soon, necessitating a much longer absence that caused many to (perhaps unfairly) wonder about his long-term status with the team. As Lavin recovered, his young team was taking its licks, struggling to a 13-19 overall record and a 6-12 mark in the Big East. Meanwhile, the Red Storm's recruiting stalled. After a nightmare season on and off the court, would Lavin be able to regain his once-furious momentum?
As of Monday, that question received a rather forceful response. The answer? Yes. The proof? The commitment of 6-foot-8 forward Chris Obekpa, the No. 77-ranked player in the class of 2012 and one Red Storm fans are hoping will be able to contribute as a defender and shot-blocker as early as this fall.
Whether Obekpa is ready to bang in the Big East as a freshman could be a key factor for a team that will still primarily feature sophomores, but more than that, as ESPN Insider Adam Finkelstein writes, it's a sign that Lavin's recruiting momentum is officially back on track:
Three months later, St. John’s suddenly has its momentum going in the right direction again. Not only is Lavin not going anywhere, but he’s put together a stellar recruiting class at the 11th hour, assembling what could legitimately be the Big East’s top incoming frontcourt with a trio of late commitments. It began when Jakarr Sampson (Akron, Ohio/Brewster Academy) recommitted following a year of prep school. Junior college star Orlando Sanchez (Bronx, N.Y./Monroe College) came next. Lavin got the late score he was hoping for on Monday with a commitment from ESPN 100 center Christopher Obekpa(Nigeria/Our Savior New American). [...]
Put the pieces together, and Monday was a huge day for Lavin and the Red Storm for a number of reasons. Not only did they land an immediate-impact big man but they punctuated what can only be described as the best comeback story the recruiting world saw this season. St. John’s is very clearly heading in the right direction once again.
The 2012 class may not approach the depth and talent of 2011's marquee haul, but St. John's is positioned quite well to compete both now and in the near future. We'll see if Lavin's return to the bench helps solidify the development of all those talented young players. In the meantime, though, if Red Storm fans were concerned about the roller-coaster ride that was the 2011-12 season affecting, they can rest easy. Despite the setbacks, the trajectory of Lavin's program remains positive.