- Adam Finkelstein
Only a few months ago, St. John’s and second-year head coach Steve Lavin seemed to be rapidly trending in the wrong direction.
The Red Storm had just finished the season with a 13-19 record, did not own a signature commitment in the Class of 2012 and faced an uncertain future amid not-so-quiet concerns about Lavin’s health and prolonged absence from the team.
Faced with undoubtedly his biggest challenge since taking over the New York program, Lavin did what he does best -- he hit the recruiting trail and delivered in a big way.
Three months later, St. John’s suddenly has its momentum going in the right direction again. Not only is Lavin not going anywhere, but he’s put together a stellar recruiting class at the 11th hour, assembling what could legitimately be the Big East’s top incoming frontcourt with a trio of late commitments. It began when Jakarr Sampson (Akron, Ohio/Brewster Academy) recommitted following a year of prep school. Junior college star Orlando Sanchez (Bronx, N.Y./Monroe College) came next. Lavin got the late score he was hoping for on Monday with a commitment from ESPN 100 center Christopher Obekpa (Nigeria/Our Savior New American).
Obekpa was arguably the nation’s second-best shot-blocker in the Class of 2012 behind top-ranked player and Kentucky signee Nerlens Noel (Everett, Mass./Tilton), and one of only a handful of guys capable of being a starting center in the Big East from Day 1 in college.
While Obekpa’s defense and rebounding are far ahead of his offense, there are plenty of reasons to be optimistic about his potential on that end of the floor as well. He’s already an outstanding finisher, owning the strength and explosiveness to elevate through contact and finish in traffic. He also owns a naturally-soft touch that allows him to make open 12-footers with consistency. What he doesn’t have yet is a presence with his back to the basket. But given his size, touch and sharp learning curve, that should be something he can develop over the course of his college career.
Put the pieces together, and Monday was a huge day for Lavin and the Red Storm for a number of reasons. Not only did they land an immediate-impact big man but they punctuated what can only be described as the best comeback story the recruiting world saw this season. St. John’s is very clearly heading in the right direction once again.