If you read this site or follow on Twitter, you know that Saturday's preseason game came with a jack-in-the-box surprise - four players - three newcomers and one returning athlete - were held out of the game for precautionary reasons. Essential newcomers Marco Bourgault and Orlando Sanchez sat in black sweatsuits with Jamal Branch (eligible in December after his transfer from Texas A&M) and Max Hooper (eligible in 2013-14), listening in the huddles and looking forlorn.
And returnee God`sgift Achiuwa was seen giving tips to Christian Jones while in his sweatsuit.
The roster uncertainty adds to recruiting uncertainty - how will St. John's bring in one or two players if the only graduating player (God`sGift) is still on the roster?
The post game press conference adds some more detail.
Quotes from Steve Lavin on the classification issues of Marc-Antoine Bourgault and Orlando Sanchez
"It's been a process, so it's not like we're suddenly surprised on Orlando and Marco. You've kind of got to gather information and present [to NCAA]....
"With Marco and Orlando, we're waiting on a ruling regarding their eligibility and we expect to hear at some point in the next week or so on that ... Their eligibility plays with the redshirt decision, so there are a lot of moving parts as we assess our personnel based on the decision the NCAA comes up with regarding Orlando and Marco...
"There are two separate issues, with Orlando it's related to age and eligibility, and with Marco it's about being reinstated. It's just like the waiver appeal process that we go through, so it's nothing out of the ordinary and we're just waiting to find out what the determination will be."
Pico's note: Sanchez' issue makes some sense - the NCAA may have an age limit on participation based on how many years a player has played the sport. I haven't been able to find a hard and fast rule on how that works - but remember that Norm Roberts' recruit Phil Wait entered as a sophomore, despite not playing a year of college in the US. He was 21 when he came to the Red Storm.
Orlando's age - 24 years old - may be the issue for Sanchez. Will the Red Storm consider redshirting him if he's considered a senior? Unlikely, but it's hard to tell. Sanchez could be a huge part of the team - his skill set allows the Johnnies to better share the ball, to have an experienced, athletic finisher in the paint, and will provide a stronger defensive rebounder than anyone on the roster.
Marco Bourgault's issue is a bit more amorphous, but remember that he did enroll at Montana State and was taking classes when he was deemed ineligible - that could be part of the issue, along with his redshirt year at Monroe College after his knee injury. Bourgault's shooting will help the team spread the floor and open lanes for the wings.
Quotes from Lavin on Felix Balamou and God'sGift
"It's two separate things; with Gift and Felix we're trying to figure out whether we would redshirt them for different reasons, and if they play five seconds in an exhibition game, it wipes the year out. We're still evaluating them everyday in practice ... Felix and Gift won't play in the exhibition on Tuesday night either.
"All along I've thought about the possibility of redshirting Gift and Felix. And of course Branch doesn't come back until December, so that plays into everything as well.
"If we think that someone at this stage because of where their game is at, or because of our roster and the other players isn't going to contribute in a great way, that makes more sense to redshirt somebody. You're looking at the individual and what's best for him, but also at our program and where we are.
"Usually it becomes pretty clear, which I think it will in the next week or two, based on all the pieces on the table, and looking at that composite view."
"And with Gift, he's in a position where he can graduate in December - and then be done with his Master's [degree] at the end of his fifth year. So he's also unique from that standpoint. He's a scholar. As a result, he sees some of the value - not only working on his game, but walking from St. John's with not only his undergraduate but his MBA."
Pico's note: Felix Balamou was expected to be depth on the floor, but an extra year of practice could be good for him. Walk-ons Jamal Brach and Khadim Ndiaye could provide a few minutes of relief in case of injury or extreme foul trouble; and Amir Garrett and Sir`Dominic Pointer can play in the backcourt as well.
Regarding God`sGift Achiuwa, his status is interesting. It's true that he wouldn't see the floor as much as last year. His athleticism is very good, but his limitations mean that others (Sanchez/ Chris Obekpa/ JaKarr Sampson/ C. Jones) could all supplant him on the court. And Lavin is right - he could benefit from a year, academically, and get his graduate degree paid for.
As a senior without a redshirt season in his past, under current NCAA rules, he could likely find a way to transfer to another university and play a fifth year for another program if playing time still seems scarce.