Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
LEXINGTON, Ky. — It was a tough ask for St. John’s.
Asking the undermanned Johnnies to go into Rupp Arena and win against the No. 1 team in the country without head coach Steve Lavin and with only seven true scholarship players was just too much.
St. John’s entered as a 23-point underdog to Kentucky and ended up losing by 22, 81-59, in the Big East/SEC Challenge.
The good news for the Johnnies is that help is on the way later this month in the form of 6-foot-7 wing Amir Garrett, who tweeted during the game that he expects to be “playing in about 3 weeks.”
Garrett, now at Bridgton (Maine) Academy, could potentially return in time for the Dec. 27 Big East opener against Providence.
Make no mistake.
Garrett isn’t going to come in and solve all of St. John’s problems. The team is now 4-4 and figures to struggle to finish above .500.
But every athletic, talented body will help.
“I bring energy,” Garrett told SNY.tv last month at the National Prep Showcase. “I can rebound from my position. I can hold my own. I play hard.”
The game was set up with the intent of matching Kentucky’s No. 1 recruiting class of Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Marquis Teague and Kyle Wiltjer against St. John’s No. 3 class, but it lost some of its luster after three St. John’s players were declared academically ineligible in September.
Who knows how much more competitive this game might have been had the Johnnies had some combination of Garrett, 6-10 Norvel Pelle and 6-8 JaKarr Sampson?
“We have seven guys that we’re using in a rotation trying to do that,” said St. John’s assistant Mike Dunlap, who coached the team while Lavin recovers from prostate cancer surgery. “It makes it difficult but not impossible.”
Kentucky coach John Calipari said there are advantages to playing with only seven guys because it breeds cohesiveness.
“Well, if I’m one of those seven I’m really happy because those seven are playing every minute,” he said. “And if the option is I play less minutes and we have more guys I imagine everybody in that room says, ‘We’re good with who we have.'”
The problem is when players foul out, like Lindsey did in this game, and in the Arizona loss, when both he and freshman guard D’Angelo Harrison fouled out.
“When they add guys that can give them some shooting, maybe some driving ability, I think you’re going to see a different team,” Calipari said of the Johnnies.
Pelle, Sampson and Garrett would’ve made for a different team — and a different game.
For the near future, the Johnnies should be thankful Garrett is expected back.
Adam Zagoria is a Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. A contributor to The New York Times and SportsNet New York (SNY), he is also the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker. His articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide. He also won an Emmy award for his work on the SNY mini-documentary on Syracuse guard Tyus Battle.
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.