St. John's win a secondary concern tonight

December, 15, 2012
12/15/12
9:36
PM ET
The game wasn’t the story on Saturday.

About three hours before tipping off against St. Francis of Brooklyn at the Barclays Center, St. John’s -- along with the six other basketball-only schools in the Big East -- officially announced it was leaving the conference.

The move had been predicted in recent days, but was still historic. And it certainly overshadowed the Red Storm’s 77-60 victory over the Terriers, improving their record to 8-3 on the season.

“Coach talked about it with us,” said sophomore guard D’Angelo Harrison, regarding the pregame news. “We’re focused on this season, and we’re just gonna keep playing. After this season, we’ll figure out what the schools are gonna do.”

There are reasons for St. John’s fans to be excited. Harrison pumped in a game-high 25 points -- his eighth 20-point game already this season. Freshman swingman Jakarr Sampson had another double-double, with 21 points and 12 boards. And fellow freshman Chris Obekpa blocked nine shots, after swatting 11 in the Red Storm’s previous game.

“We were able to pull away because of our ball movement on offense, and then defensively our pressure I think wore St. Francis down,” said coach Steve Lavin.

St. John’s has one more non-conference game, versus UNC-Asheville on Friday, before beginning Big East play on Jan. 2. But most fans are probably more concerned right now about the program’s fate beyond this season.

The school’s hierarchy did its best to reassure the fanbase both before and after Saturday’s game.

"We’re excited about [the move], because we believe that we can now play a role in shaping something kind of new and different in the world of collegiate athletics,” said Rev. Donald J. Harrington, the university’s president. “We’re convinced this will be better for our student-athletes and our fans."

“For us, it’s a move that we’re confident is gonna work out well for St. John’s,” said Lavin.

But the truth is, no one really knows how this will affect St. John’s, and the other six schools departing along with it: Georgetown, Villanova, Seton Hall, Providence, Marquette and DePaul.

All we know for sure is that it represents a seismic change. St. John’s was one of the founding members of the Big East. The conference has been its home since 1979.

But St. John’s does have a long and storied basketball history, which extends far beyond that. And Lavin called upon that history Saturday, as one of the reasons he remains confident in the program and its future.

“The reason I came to St. John’s was that long list of things that make it unique and special, going back over 100 years," Lavin said. “The tradition, the heritage, the recruiting base, Madison Square Garden, New York City in and of itself, really positions us for long-term success.”

The Big Apple and the Garden will always be attractive, no doubt. But tradition goes only so far these days when it comes to star recruits, who grew up in an age of NBA draft early entries, and have their eyes on the pros while still in high school.

Athletic director Chris Monasch maintains St. John’s is still capable of becoming a perennial NCAA tournament team again.

“I feel very confident about that,” Monasch said. “Just because we have all the things in place -- we have the tradition, we have the history, the commitment, the location, the leadership from our president and our board, and a coaching staff in place for us to be successful in the long term.”

But the pressure is on that coaching staff more than ever now. Without the Big East to help sell the program, Lavin will have to rely even more on his up-tempo style of play and his magnetic personality to reel in future stars.

This isn’t the same job he signed up for back in 2010. But it’s the job in front of him now, officially, as of December 15, 2012.

The game has changed.
Kieran Darcy is an ESPNNewYork.com staff writer. He joined ESPN in August 2000 after graduating from the University of Pennsylvania, where he played four years of JV basketball.
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