One returning player transfers, one prospect decommits, though he was not recruited by the current staff.
On an active Sunday afternoon of AAU ball, while college semesters are coming to a close and the NBA playoffs heat up... St. John's basketball was a little bit of the buzz on Twitter for all the wrong reasons.
Freshman guard/ forward Omari Lawrence, jewel of last year's recruiting class, and a positive step towards getting top New York City kids to play for St. John's, revealed his intentions to leave St. John's, which he has hinted at for weeks. According to his twitter, the news will be made public by the school on Monday.
Meanwhile, Norm Roberts' first recruit of 2011, point guard Davontay Grace of Thomas Jefferson High School in Brooklyn, told the New York Post's Zach Braziller that he will be decommitting from St. John's, and that there hasn't been much contact between new coach Steve Lavin and the player.
On one hand, today's news and rumors could be seen as a bad omen, a low moments in the program where up is now down, where hope becomes worry, where promise becomes emptiness. Omari Lawrence was a touted NYC recruit, a coveted player a year ago. Grace was a rising star in New York, and a guy who wanted to play at home, possibly bringing a few other players with him.
But on the other hand, this is the normal turmoil of a coaching change. Players see that they might be recruited over. Players see that they don't have a relationship with the new coach and his staff. Players see weeks of DNPs, of wearing the team jacket and pretending to listen in the huddle, cracking jokes with the walk-ons.
Losing Omari is unfortunate. Personally, I have been a big champion of the idea that his poor shooting this year was an adjustment process, like Sean Mosley's at Maryland. He showed some skills and great basketball IQ. Lawrence filled up the stat line in most games where he got 10 minutes of burn or more; a defensive rebound, an assist, a steal - he just made plays. His best game was the game at Madison Square Garden against Villanova, where he provided a real spark (and check out the HD-box score by Hoya Prospectus as well. Nice plus-minus.)
His shooting - from the foul line, and from the field - was poor, but he still managed to take 21% of the shots while he was on the floor (small sample size caveats apply; he only played 9.4 minutes/ game). Omari was no wallflower, and was obviously unhappy with his lack of playing time with the old coaching staff.
That said, the free throw shooting on Omari gives a prognosticator pause. Again, these are small samples sizes, but 4-12 from the free throw line does not inspire confidence that a player has a real eye for shooting. Lawrence's quickness from high school seemed to be missing, as was his leaping/ finishing ability.
On top of that, he projected to be the third man at his position, whether it be shooting guard or small forward. With a large class coming in 2011, Lawrence saw that he only had a sliver of a chance to get good, consistent run on the Red Storm. I think he would have gotten that run, but I'm not in his conversations with the coaching staff. I respect his decision to go, and he's mentioned it on social networking sites before Norm was fired, after Norm was fired, and after Steve Lavin was hired. Somehow, I don't think he wanted to stay and Lavin forced him out; it had to be mutual.
Losing Davontay Grace is unfortunate, if only for the bad publicity of losing a recruit. But recruits' behavior after a new coach is hired at the school they commit to can be all over the place. Moreover, with Lavin's national focus for recruiting and his history of enrolling talented players... I can see why Grace would decommit, or why St. John's would cool on Grace.
Davontay may turn into a solid player, a Levance Fields-type of bull; but reports seem to indicate he's a Eugene Lawrence-type; tough, but not able to make enough shots to transform that toughness into impact play in the Big East. If he works on his shot-making and improves his quickness, he could be a sleeper out of New York.
Good luck to Omari and Davontay for having faith in the coaching staff and wanting to bring St. John's closer to prominence. And for the fans, this is not a sign of terrible things to come; the core of the team seems on board with Steve Lavin and is working out with the new assistants. And the staff is hoping to bring in French forward Remi Barry with the scholarship that used to be Omari's.
Fingers crossed that that LOI (or Financial Aid Agreement) gets signed... and that Remi is as good as Omari is at his next school.