I will be at St. John’s on Tuesday for their 2 p.m. season opener against Detroit, which is part of ESPN’s Tip-Off Marathon.
But it looks like the Johnnies will have a diminished roster, with as few as seven scholarship players potentially available to head coach Steve Lavin.
St. John’s is still awaiting word from the NCAA on Orlando Sanchez and Marco Bourgault, while Lavin may still opt to redshirt senior big man God’sgift Achiuwa and freshman guard Felix Balamou.
“We don’t have any updates, we’re just waiting to hear from the NCAA,” Lavin said Monday in reference to Sanchez and Bourgault. “We’ve done everything on our end in terms of submitting everything that needs to be submitted. I prefer not to play the speculation game, but unless we get word sometime today or early tomorrow, they won’t play tomorrow.”
Sanchez, a 6-foot-9 forward, and Bourgault, a 6-6 swingman, both attended Monroe (N.Y.) College but Lavin previously said there was no connection between their junior college and their current standing with the NCAA.
At issue with both players is both their overall eligibility and the issue of their class. Sanchez, 24, could end up being a senior or junior, while Bourgault, a Frenchman who previously attended Notre Dame Prep, could be a junior or a sophomore.
Meantime, Lavin is still mulling red-shirting Achiuwa and Balamou. The pair may or may not dress on Tuesday.
If those four don’t play, that leaves seven scholarship players, one of whom is sophomore guard D’Angelo Harrison, who will come off the bench after getting into Lavin’s doghouse during the preseason.
Harrison, whom I featured in this story last week, was benched entirely for the team’s exhibition win over Concordia last week after coming off the bench in the first game.
“His big thing is his controlling his emotion with refs and the calls they make, and he has gotten a lot better,” Lavin said. “Now he just takes things in and stays in the game without anything getting the best of him. He plays with a lot of intensity and a lot of passion, and you never want to take that away from him. I love the passion that he plays with.”
Harrison, who lead the Johnnies at 17 points per game last season, said he’s learned from the benching.
“I listened to what the coaching staff had to say and learned my lesson from not playing the Concordia game,” Harrison said. “I’ve basically been growing up these past few practices and being more of a leader on the team. I can’t let myself react to things and let my emotions get the best of me; being more mindful of some of the things I had problems with last year.
“I’m still going to be a leader of this team, that hasn’t changed. I’m one of the leaders, it’s not just me. I could come off the bench all year, that’s fine with, as long as I get to play and I’m going to be a leader no matter what.”
Even if that means playing what Lavin called “starter’s minutes” coming off the bench.
“It doesn’t bother me as long as I get to play,” Harrison said. “I might lose my starting spot because there are a lot of good players on this team, but I’ll be ready no matter what. Even if I’m the last man to get in the game, I’m still going to play how I always play.”
When the two teams played a year ago at Detroit, the Titans won 69-63 behind Moe Harkless’s 19 points and Harrison’s 15.
“It’s a real tough team,” said sophomore Sir’Dominic Pointer, a Detroit native. “They like to get in the passing lanes, pressure and run like we do. I told our younger guys to go out there and play hard and don’t let them out-tough us. They are just as athletic as us, so if we don’t box them out, they will be dunking on us and getting tip-ins all night. We have to go out, play our game, box out, and do what we do.”
Photo: St. John’s Athletics
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Adam Zagoria is a New York Times contributor and Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013.
He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.