Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Becoming The Norm

A cluster of cliches have become the Norm for St. John's coach Norm Roberts.

Roberts' claim that he chose the "path" this team is on, and that it was his decision to recruit a rack of freshman two years ago is one big smokescreen for SJU's Big East cellar-dwellar status. It can't always be manana. New York City wants its basketball team back and that can't wait until another year, when SJU will boast a potent nucleus of seniors.

For right now, Roberts pegs unacceptable, inexplicable losses as "learning experiences."

"Give them credit," "they played hard," "we didn't guard," "we have to go back to the drawing board," "we ran into a hot team" and "we'll get better."

The oh-so-familiar, re-illustrated thoughts emerge time and time again following a St. John's loss.

Roberts frequently rolls into the post-game press conference sporting a sugarcoat.

Roberts' lack of fire seems to indicate there's no strong emphasis on playing with a sense of urgency, defeating respectable programs or propelling the program into a deeply-talented Big East conference's high-rent district.

Failing to close out games, suffering second half power outages. Squandering leads and surrendering mammoth runs without calling a timeout, as we witnessed in the West Virginia dumpoff...

It's all become the Norm.

Hearing Roberts' cop outs after these losses is akin to listening to the dorky, upbeat kid in a pickup game toss up the old "we'll get them next time" line on you, directly after an exasperating loss.

The positive energy is certainly not frowned upon, but has St. John's Athletic Director Chris Monasch come to accept this?

With fans calling for his job and expressing the University's need for a fresh system and a winning formula, Roberts is still talking about learning from putrid losses.

Is this the brand of basketball and leadership that St. John's, a once-prosperous program which carried the NCAA torch proudly for a basketball crazed-city, is content with?

Wasn't St. John's looking to break out of the tunnel of albatross since the beginning of the season?

The aspiration to emerge from cellar-dwellar to ticket seller, to go from pretender to contender this season is currently nonexistent.

When your team freefalls into an 0-5 funk, topped off by squandering a 16-point lead to West Virginia in a Knicks-like second half meltdown, some order must be restored.

Sooner or later, particularly after you get washed and walloped by a UConn team
that's encountered chemistry problems and is grappling for middle-of-the-pack credibility, the act of drinking the poison must halt.

The Huskies played hard and St. John's didn't guard. That sums up Roberts' analysis of that lopsided loss.

Sooner or later, the coach must realize that refusing to start one the reeling team's top scorers in Dwight Hardy could be detrimental to team success. Hardy has proved he deserves more burn than the 25 minutes per game he's given.

Roberts kept bench splinters in Hardy's behind for the first 13 minutes of the
second half during the Johnnies' inexplicable 71-66 loss to Cornell at Madison Square Garden back on Dec.21, sapping some momentum out of the Johnnies.

It also hurt that Jeff Foote, a relatively unknown 7-footer on Cornell (two years ago this cat couldn't run up and down the court and chew bubble gum at the same time), dropped 19 points and tore down 11 boards.

Hardy, known mainly as "buckets," put on a shooting clinic in the first half of
that battle. His performance was parallel to hotshot shows he turned in during games against Cincy (19 points in 20 minutes)and Villanova (19 points in 27 minutes on 7-for-15 FG). Yet it's become the Norm not to start Hardy or play him more minutes when he's lighting up the scoreboard like Cheech and Chong light up joints.

Though Hardy averages a few more points than starting two-guard Paris Horne, gets the hot hand more often than Horne and turns it on in bigger games than his teammate, Roberts chooses to start Horne.

Why not start Hardy, instead utilizing Horne as the sparkplug off the

Roberts seems unwilling to bend on Boothe and Horne as starters and his rotation seems out of control. He seems like he wants to employ the old Phil Jackson 12-man rotation, sharing the wealth around and giving equal minutes to everyone.

The problem that comes into play is that it doesn't produce a winning formula. It just puts shackles on guys like Justin Brownlee and Hardy, both of whom should be injected into the starting lineup.

Now, let's not get in bash mode here. Roberts has done some good.

Roberts hit the recruiting trails hard this summer and fall. He did a
commendable job getting Hardy, a local product who scorched the nets during the Orchard Beach Hoops In The Sun tournament, to ink with the Johnnies.

Why not utilize every ounce of Hardy's scoring abilty?

I'm not going to sing the same old tired, sad swan tune because it's not that he Roberts can't maintain homegrown talent.

He can.

Roberts has been a solid local presence in constant, heavy pursuit of NYC thoroughbreds such as Villanova-commit Jayvaughn Pinkston Cincinnati freshman Lance Stephenson and Pittsburgh-commit JJ Moore.

Roberts has scoured Gotham's hotbeds, where most people appreciate his winning personality coupled with his laid-back style and outgoing energy.

If you were a heavily sought after recruit from the big city of dreams,
however, would you pick St. John's over Pittsburgh, UConn, Villanova, or

The aftermath of the Mike Jarvis quagmire forced St. John's to start from
scratch. That, however, was a while ago now...St. John's needs to move with a sense of urgency. They need to rip off a 4-5 game win streak which would allow them to surface in the middle of the pack.

A program that rakes up the non-conference puppies who can't counterpunch
the pitbulls (Aside from a signature win against Temple and a loss at Duke, SJU feasted on cupcakes such as Bryant, Georgia, Fordham, and Stony Brook) and then loses to lowly Rutgers before assuming a second half fetal
position to West Virginia needs some immediate adjustment.

It starts with harnessing talent better and cutting down on tumultous tendencies.

Now, we know Roberts is not a fiery, Jim Calhoun type of coach. Calling out players and ripping them for their shortfalls is purely out of his nature. It's not a lot of
coaches' styles, but Roberts' disappointment following a loss is never really

What is evident, is Roberts' predilection for overplaying Malik Boothe despite the smurf-sized point guard's paltry assist-to-turnover ratio. Malik Stith is clearly the better shooter and more capable of putting points on the board.

Pointing out the few bright spots following losses has also become the Norm.

Never taking any accountability for any losses or admitting that he was outcoached has become the Norm.

Surrendering a significant double-digit lead in the game's final, decisive
minutes, losing in overtime and then claiming "that's why basketball is an
awesome game. It's never over until it's over" (as Roberts did following the
Johnnies' choke show loss to Seton Hall four years ago) has become the Norm.

Setting a program that's been striving for turnaround back with losses to lowly Rutgers and Cornell, only to discover that your job is very well intact, has become the Norm.

On top of it all, SJU men's basketball contact Mark Fratto runs the Johnnies' PR department like a power-hungry huckster.

Fratto's antics include failing to give legit writers (whom he allegedly fears won't keep SJU's image intact) credentials, calling writers out on articles that agitate him even if the work is well-researched and the words are warranted, and tweeting the positives of blowout losses.

Spin Dr. Fratto has gone overboard in attempt to alter the first amendment rights of some folks, as the following link would indicate: