Jamal Branch, a 6'3" freshman point guard who transferred from the Texas A&M Aggies program, has chosen to continue his career at St. John's under Steve Lavin. The news was broken hours ago by the New York Daily News.
Branch, a guard from Arlington Grace Prep in Arlington, TX, was the #52 recruit in the RSCI composite recruiting rankings, originally chose Texas A&M over UCLA, Texas, and Kansas. Jamal visited St. John's this weekend with Steve Lavin while the team was winning in Cincinnati.
As stated earlier - it's not panic time. Jamal Branch's commitment helps stem the public relations tide of players decommitting from the Red Storm program, and shows that Steve Lavin still has recruiting pull. Branch had the option to rejoin Coach Turgeon in Maryland, but chose to join fellow Texan D`Angelo Harrison.
Branch will reportedly be eligible in the second semester of the 2012-13 season - much like Amir Garrett, after fall classes end. More, below the fold.
Labeled as an athletic guard with scoring acumen and defensive potential, Branch came to College Station with expectations that he would be groomed as the pilot of the ship in a year. In the 2012 season, he was to provide some scoring punch and slashing playmaking while adjusting to the college game.
But after he committed, Aggie head coach Mark Turgeon moved on to coach the Maryland Terrapins. New Aggie coach Billy Kennedy was diagnosed with early-stage Parkinson's Disease. Kennedy brought in his first big recruit - point guard J'Mychal Reese (and his Reese's father, a high school coach, was added to the staff).
There's a lot there to make a player uncomfortable; that is not the situation, the coach, or the role Branch signed his Letter Of Intent for. And meanwhile, an Aggie team expected to contend for a Big XII title in the last year as part of the conference has struggled to be a cohesive unit.
In 11 games, he averaged 18.6 minutes per game behind senior point guard Dash Harris, scoring 4.2 points per game, 2.5 assists (assisting on 26% of the team's baskets while on the floor), and 1.9 turnovers (32% of his possessions).
Branch's high total for assists was 6, in his opening game against Liberty. He had a season-high 10 points against Mississippi State in the 2K Sports Classic. And his highest turnover game was against the pressure of St. John's in the 2K Sports Classic's consolation game.
Branch's scoring was decent, though he drew few fouls (7 on the season), all in a three game stretch against Alcorn State, Stephen F. Austin, and Sam Houston State. His turnovers have to improve, though he had a single turnover in each of his final five games as an Aggie, including 17 minutes against Florida.
But his flaws belie a load of potential, and the vision to locate playmakers and create offense.
His presence will allow the staff to not worry about finding a point guard at this late stage of the recruiting cycle. And Branch should allow Phil Greene to play both guard spots, while affording the ability to apply pressure with small but dogged + athletic guards - as Lavin deployed at times last season.
Steve Lavin and the St. John's staff continue to recruit players to fill out the roster, with an eye on forwards Chris Obekpa, Jakarr Sampson, Ricardo Gathers, and JC Orlando Sanchez, and guards Darrick Wood, Felix Balamou, and Trahmier Burrell, from Troy, NY.