Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Losing Has Become The 'Norm' For Johnnies

St. John's could have defeated Duke at MSG instead of getting topped, 76-69 by the No.9 Blue Devils.

They could have dumped off Seton Hall by 20 points rather than gutting out a tight, 70-65 dogfight. Lance "Born Ready" Stephenson could have committed to the Johnnies yesterday.

None of it would have mattered.

Norm Roberts would still be New York City's verbal punching bag, who students at the Queens school heckle the hell out of during home games.

The student section at SJU hates Roberts with the same passion that the Seton Hall fanbase hated Louis Orr in the beginning of the 2005-2006 season. They want him out at the same blood-boiling rate that Dean Wormer wanted the Delta Fraternity in Animal House out of Faber College. Yes, it's gotten to that "double secret probation" point.

They want Norm outta here "like shit through a goose."

Fans looking for a ressurection of the ailing SJU program have called for Roberts' job at a relentless pace.

While it's clear they are not satisfied with Norm on the sidelines, SJU athletic director Chris Monasch recently stated that Roberts' job security is intact.

On the surface, however, there's still hope that Roberts can turn this quagmire around. It's been an uphill climb after he inherited a team marred by scandal via Mike Jarvis.

Roberts had St. John's off to its best start in nearly 14 years and breathed some life into fans when SJU stamped a resume win over then-sizzling Notre Dame at Madison Square Garden in the beginning of January.

When conference play began, and the Johnnies' stock began to dip, the hate for the man at the helm only festered.

Quite frankly, Roberts is New York's most hated man on this side of Bernie Madoff and A-Rod.

New Yorkers put the blame on him for not getting top-flight recruits at a school situated smack in the middle of a hoops hotbed.

But times have changed. New York kids now can't wait to leave the big apple for the Western woodworks and hop aboard established basketball breeding grounds far from home.

Staying local has become an afterthought for Big East caliber recruits. The days when Mullin left the nets burning, when Mark "Action" Jackson lived up to his nickname, and when the late great Maik Sealy soared ended a long time ago. The Big East has materialized as one of the toughest conference's in college basketaball, perenially, and the Johnnies have undergone an area code change. For the past few years, they've lived in the low-rent conference of the talent rich Big East.

SJU has been watched the program decline, significantly, for more reasons than one.

You can't put it all on the coaching. The Johnnies are young, inexperienced, with the lack of a dominant, All Big East player. They still need time. They still need a more formidable frontline or a super-sized big who can be mentioned along the same lines as Thabeet, Harangody, Blair, and so on.

Not to pull the injury card, but the Johnnies also are without the services of their best player in Anthony Mason Jr. this season.

Roberts chose the path this team is riding on when he recruited a surplus of neophytes two years ago.

Some of these young guns--Paris Horne, Justin Burrell, and D.J. Kennedy--to name a few, have come to fruition. Others, like homegrown product Malik Boothe, have talent that's still yet to crack the surface.

Roberts made strides over the summer, reeling in four-star recruit Omari Lawrence. Lawrence, an off guard at South Kent Prep in Connecticut, is expected to make an immediate impact. The combination of him and Born Ready in the backcourt would instantly morph SJU into a team to watch next season.

Born Ready visited Kansas this weekend and was treated to a standing ovation and enthusiastic cheers. The Jayhawk family showed the same love for Lance that coach Billy Sunday and "Tech U" showed Jesus Shuttlesworth in "He Got Game," the 1998 Spike Lee drama.

Bill Self has been hounding Stephenson down this season, and the 6-foot-5 combo guard/wing has said he could see himself playing for Self. With Sherron Collins possibly bolting for the NBA, Stephenson would be able to jump into a role where he'd dominate the ball or operate the offense.

Born Ready, similar to OJ Mayo in that he's a shoot-first fundamentalist type player, is more likely to go to a school where he could be funnelled down the driver's keys.

He's got one-and-done tattooed to his forehead, as the hyped up to heaven-sent guard has been described as an NBA player sporting a Lincoln High school jersey. He maintains a solid relationship with Roberts and is rumored to be visiting the hometown team sometime sometime soon.

According to Zagsblog.com, an official visit has yet to be scheduled.

There's still a good deal of basketball to be played.

Roberts' team showed fight in various games this season. The key is becoming a second half basketball team and withstanding other teams' runs.

Every team at SJU's level longs for a first-round upset in the Big East tournament at Madison Square Garden. Roberts deserves a few more chances in the mecca of basketball.