On August 30th, new St. John's coach Steve Lavin didn’t have a single commitment. And the kicker? With over half of the team graduating, he needed nine.
Fast-forward to mid-October and the Red Storm have five verbal commitments. But not just any commitments, they have five impact players ready to suit up.
Credit Maurice Harkless, a four-star wing and highly regarded wing, for being the guy to get it rolling.
“I figured when I committed that it would start up the class,” Harkless told Scout.com. “I thought people were waiting for someone to commit first. I trusted the coaches to do their job and they are doing their job.”
Harkless’ blind faith was exactly what the Red Storm needed. A New York native, Harkless provided a spark to a school that has struggled to get the local kids to stay and play for the hometown school.
For years the state's top players have opted to go out of state. Lance Stephenson didn’t stay home, neither did Tobias Harris, Kemba Walker or Durand Scott.
“A lot of guys don’t really want to stay local,” Harkless admitted. “I’m the first New York guy to stay in New York.”
To that point, not one top 100 player from a New York high school has made their roster going back to 2002.
Harkless Was St. John’s First Verbal
In fact, Anthony Mason, a native of Tennessee, is the only four-year high school top 100 prospect they have scored since that date.
“From the outset our thinking related to our recruiting was to be strong in our backyard in the New York and New Jersey area in terms of securing our share of the best talent,” Steve Lavin told Scout.com . "Yet also being able to have a strong enough presence and recruiting prowess in other regions of the country."
“We want to show that it is a myth that St. Johns can’t keep the best players that are in our backyard at home,” he added.
This year they’ll add one top 100 player from New York and three top 100 players scattered across the country. Joining Harkless is Jakarr Sampson, the highest rated player of the bunch, as well as four-star wings D’Angelo Harrison and Dom Pointer.
Throw in Junior College scoring sensation Nurideen Lindsey, who popped for St. John’s on Tuesday, and Lavin is easily en route to a top 10 recruiting class.
With the bulk of his team, which was picked to finish sixth in the Big East this season, departing next spring, this is exactly what Lavin needed.
A west coast guy, many thought it would be tough for the former UCLA coach to recruit players to St. John’s.
Lavin is proving the skeptics wrong. He’s made in-roads in the New York scene, but he’s also using his national connections to make an impact.
“If you depend exclusively on your backyard, the danger in that is when there is a down cycle of talent it can cost you your job,” Lavin said.
“It’s a balance of not being overly reliant on your backyard, but also being able to get your share of the best players that do come along. But also being able to have the relationships in other parts of the country, so you can bring kids in and sustain a level of success.”
According to Lavin, he looked to Jim Boeheim and Jim Calhoun’s plan for success when he put together his recruiting strategy.
“If you look at their blueprint it’s not only securing players in the northeast, but equally imperative to recruit coast to coast and overseas as well."
But, remember, this all started with Harkless, a kid who grew up miles away from the St. John’s campus.
“I didn’t have to be the guy, but I didn’t mind taking the chance,” he said.
That chance is helping create a promising future for St. John’s.