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Chris Obekpa stays at St. John's

St. John's Chris Obekpa shoots over Creighton's Ethan

St. John's Chris Obekpa shoots over Creighton's Ethan Wragge during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game, Sunday, Feb. 9, 2014. (Credit: AP / Jason DeCrow)

St. John's once again has one of the top shot-blocking centers in the nation. Red Storm coach Steve Lavin announced on Friday afternoon that Chris Obekpa will be allowed to return for his junior season in 2014-15 after previously being granted a release to transfer.

"Chris approached me last week to communicate his change of heart and wishes to stay at St. John's," Lavin said in a statement. "After good dialogue, we are pleased to announced Chris will continue his career as a student-athlete with the Red Storm."

Explaining his reversal, Obekpa said, “It’s become clear that it makes the most sense to continue my career at St. John’s. I will do whatever is necessary to win back the trust of my coaches, teammates and our fans. My brothers and I have unfinished business, and I am determined to help St. John’s continue to climb up the mountain.”

The Red Storm’s frontcourt took a hit at the end of the season when sophomore forward JaKarr Sampson announced his decision to enter the NBA draft. Losing Obekpa, who led the Big East for the second straight season with 2.9 blocks per game, would have been a major setback.

But now, he rejoins a returning core of guards D’Angelo Harrison, Rysheed Jordan, Phil Greene and Jamal Branch and forwards Sir’Dominic Pointer and Christian Jones. In addition, 6-11 center Adonis Delarosa of Christ the King recently signed with the Red Storm.

Lavin remains busy on the recruiting trail. Westchester Community College forward Keith Thomas, who averaged 15 points and 15 rebounds, will make his official visit to St. John’s next week, and 6-7 Chicago-area forward Josh Cunningham is making an unofficial visit this weekend. Two other high school forwards, Marlon Jones and Adom Jacko, are expected to visit in the near future.

So, Lavin should be able to piece together a frontcourt to complement an excellent group of perimeter players. But Obekpa, who led all of NCAA Division I as a freshman with 4.03 blocks per game, needs to step up his production. Over two seasons, he has averaged 3.9 points and 5.5 rebounds, but he saw his playing time decline from 26 minutes per game to 20 last season because of a lack of production and hard work.

Just as D’Angelo Harrison rebounded from a six-game suspension a year ago to have a stellar junior season, Obekpa can do the same, but only if his work ethic and attitude improve as much as Harrison’s did.

Tags: Chris Obekpa , Steve Lavin , D'Angelo Harrison , Rysheed Jordan , Adonis Delarosa

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