Thursday, April 3, 2014

No Patience at St. John's

St. John's was one season away. They went 20-13 this season and lost in the first round of the NIT. They weren't that far away from being an NCAA Tournament team - they ran with Wisconsin and Syracuse in non-conference and they beat Creighton in Big East play.

They were a young team with only one senior in their rotation - in their fourth season under Steve Lavin, the program was beginning to turn a corner. If everyone had come back, they would have been in the running to be in the preseason Top 25 and would have been a serious contender for the Big East crown.

Instead, Chris Obekpa transferred and Jakarr Sampson declared for the NBA draft. While the average college basketball fan hasn't heard of these guys, they have serious talent. They are both ELITE athletes with NBA size - Obekpa is 6'9 240 with a monstrous wingspan and Sampson is a 6'9 215 small forward.

Obekpa averaged 4 points, 5 rebounds and 3 blocks a game while Sampson averaged 13 points and 6 rebounds a game on 50% shooting. Those aren't terrible numbers for a pair of sophomores, but they should have shown each of them how much more they still need to work on their game.

They should be spending this summer locked in a gym, not making a dramatic transition that could cost them one of the most important developmental periods in their basketball careers. If those two guys could consistently knock down perimeter jumpers, they would be millionaires. 

With Obekpa anchoring the defense in the low post and Sampson providing two-way play on the wings, St. John's would have been a serious team next season. Now Lavin goes into a must-win season having to replace two key players he should have had no expectation he would need to replace. 

Obekpa would help almost any team in the country as a shot-blocker, but his limited offensive game might keep him on a reserve role on a bigger team. And while Sampson has the athleticism to play in the NBA, his offensive skill-set is way too limited to play a role at the next level right now.

There really isn't a better place for their long-term development than being key upperclassmen on a top team in the Big East. If they had gotten St. John's into the NCAA Tournament next season, they would have been one step closer to the NBA than they are now. 

The path for both of those guys to play at the next level was there - all they had to do was trust the process and take the next step forward. It might still work out for both of them, but the problem with skipping steps is you may end up falling off the path completely. 

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