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.
To say that this is a critical recruiting weekend for head coach Steve Lavin and St. John’s would be a massive understatement.
The Johnnies have six seniors on their current roster, including guards Jamal Branch, D’Angelo Harrison, Phil Greene and Sir’Dominic Pointer, and could also lose junior big man Chris Obekpa and/or sophomore point guard Rysheed Jordan to the pros.
Lavin and company need a dynamic recruiting class in 2015 to help offset some of their losses and help pave the way for the future. They already missed out on a couple of targets when guard Malik Beasley chose Florida State and junior college wing Tank Efianayi recently picked UCF.
Beginning with their Red Storm Tip-Off Friday night, St. John’s will host several recruits, including a trio of five-star 2015 players in Roselle (N.J.) Catholic guard Isaiah Briscoe, Our Savior New American forward Cheick Diallo and Baton Rouge (LA) shooting guard Brandon Sampson. All three players could potentially wait until the spring to commit, although Briscoe — whom St. John’s sent four staff members to watch on Thursday — may pull the trigger early.
“To get Cheick Diallo, who is probably the best 4/5 in the country, and to get Briscoe, who is probably the best 1/2 in the country, it would be a signature statement if St. John’s could get either of them and especially both of them,” longtime New York recruiting guru Tom Konchalski told SNY.tv.
“And especially, part of the criticism has been that they’ve recruited nationally, they haven’t recruited in their own backyard. Well, getting Cheick Diallo, he’s the best player in New York State, and Isaiah Briscoe is the best player on the other side of the Hudson.”
Lavin is swimming with the sharks for these two local players.
The 6-3 Briscoe recently visited UConn and Kentucky back-to-back before hitting Seton Hall and then Missouri this past weekend.
If Lavin were to beat out Kevin Ollie and John Calipari for Briscoe — a player who willed his team to the Peach Jam championship this summer — it would be huge.
George Briscoe, the player’s father, told me he’s not discounting the Johnnies and said Lavin and the staff have worked extremely hard.
“I’m not just jumping because others are recruiting my son. You can print that because Lavin and the St. John’s family has been at Isaiah’s games, at the home, they’ve been at this thing for a couple of years now,” he said.
“Oh no, we’re going to St. John’s. St. John’s has been great to Isaiah and they’ve been recruiting my son off their ass.”
As for the 6-9 Diallo, he is also considering Kentucky, Kansas, Iowa State and Pittsburgh, with Kansas and Iowa State the perceived leaders.
So Lavin has some stiff competition.
Still, the Johnnies have a connection in that Obekpa also went to Our Savior.
As for the 6-4 Sampson, he is also considering LSU, Cal, USC, UCLA and Texas A&M and will visit USC next weekend.
His coach, Jeff Jones, told SNY.tv that Sampson is “seriously considering” St. John’s and also mentioned that he’s a potential “program-changer.”
There’s a lot at stake for St. John’s heading into the November early signing period, and the spring late period.
If Lavin can land at least one of these players, it would be a signature statement.
If he misses on all three, it would show that he can’t keep the area’s best players from going elsewhere.
“St. John’s promotes itself as New York’s team,” Konchalski said. “Well, it’s gotta have New York-area players to be New York’s team and they’ve also go to have quality players who can keep them a perennial [NCAA] tournament aspirant. But they have to have New York players. Even if you take out-of-area kids, that’s fine. But if they really want the backing of the New York public, they need New York area players.”
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.