Column: With full roster, great expectations for Lavin and St. John's to win

In his third year as head coach of St. John's, the expectations for Steve Lavin's young team will be greater than ever.

Just as management would when operating a business, Steve Lavin immediately implemented short- and long-term plans when he was hired for the St. John's basketball job. After putting together a well-regarded and experienced coaching staff, he made sure the ten existing seniors were on track to graduate on time and were in position to succeed in their final year in Queens.

Those seniors earned a trip to the NCAA Tournament, breaking a nearly decade-long drought for the Red Storm.

But more importantly (and what St. John's fans care most about) is moving toward what Lavin said he'd accomplish over a longer period of time. He made clear that after three years, the Red Storm would be in position for sustained success at the national level.

For the second season in a row, St. John's will have a fresh look come October. The Red Storm will once again overhaul at least half of its playing rotation, filling the personnel void that left the Johnnies playing five freshmen and a JUCO junior in every game for the last month of last season.

And no one's shoulders will have to bear a larger portion of the Gotham-sized expecations more than Lavin himself. More, below the fold.

Steve Lavin was hired to rebuild the St. John's program, and that's what he's done - one step at a time.

His 2011 recruiting class, which included upcoming NBA first round draft pick Moe Harkless and a shooting guard in D`Angelo Harrison who could quickly become one of the Big East's most lethal scorers, set the foundation. His 2012 class, headlined by mega shot-blocker Chris Obekpa and the high-flying forward JaKarr Sampson, could be the final piece.

When Sampson, Norvel Pelle, and current Johnnie Amir Garrett were deemed academically ineligible in September of last year, Lavin was essentially given a pass. It was considered by most as simply a 'high risk, high reward' situation gone awry - though some ran for the proverbial lifeboats, overreacting to a setback.

But with two of those three student-athletes and a center possibly even more talented than Pelle now in the fold, the memories of that unfortunate turn of events can be put on the backburner.

Sure, the Johnnies have lost Harkless (nearly a quarter of the team's total scoring) to the NBA Draft. But the prevailing feeling is that necessary improvements and quality additions will replenish that productivity, and then some.

Alongside Obekpa and Sampson, Lavin has diversified his roster this offseason. By also adding junior college transfers Orlando Sanchez and Marco Bourgault to provide an athletic interior player and a shooter, respectively, and by signing Obekpa's OSNA temmate Felix Balamou as a developing but athletic wing/ guard, St. John's will have depth at every position next season.

Point guard Jamal Branch will join the team in December, and Harvard transfer shooting guard Max Hooper will be eligible in 2013. Darrick Wood's commitment status remains only verbal as of now, and academics could force the lanky wing to reclassify for the 2013-14 season while staying loyal to the Red Storm.

With Monday's news that Obekpa intends to join the Red Storm in the fall, the climb is that much closer to being completed. Lavin, who missed 28 of 32 games in 2011-12 recovering from prostate cancer surgery, is once again proving why he is one of the best recruiters in the country.

Even with all of the off-court positives, St. John's fans know that everything is exclusively about winning. They know that Lavin has accumulated talent good enough to bring the Red Storm back to prominence.

Lavin will have a lot of firepower in 2012-13. But it may not be until the following season that we begin to see the Johnnies' return to prominence. This season will more likely serve as a template (hopefully with a good number of wins) of the team we will see for years to come.

Come the opening tip in November, the Johnnies will have a full and talented roster, their inspirational and tactical leader back on the sidelines, and, at least for some, an entire year of Big East experience under their belts. But with more resources come greater anticipation and added pressure. It's the name of the game, especially in New York.

And the fanbase knows that it's his job to put hammer to rock, and make sure it all happens.

Did last year's unfortunate academic issues and Lavin's time away set the program back from achieving its set goals? What are your expectations for the 2012-13 Red Storm?

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