As St. John's tiny band of brothers fought valiantly through the 2011-12 basketball season with a rotation reduced to six scholarship players, they were cheered on from afar by one very important fan.
JaKarr Sampson was supposed to be part of the Red Storm last season and actually spent that summer training on St. John's campus, but when he failed to qualify academically, Sampson de-committed.
He returned to Brewster Academy in New Hampshire, where he once again was on the open recruiting market entertaining offers from the likes of Louisville, Baylor, Kansas and Florida. But there was something about St. John's, something about playing at Madison Square Garden, something about rejoining his friends that drew him back to Queens.
"I was upset with myself; I was upset with St. John's," the freshman forward said recently. "That's why I de-committed. When I sat around and thought about it, it was my fault for putting myself in that situation. I should have been taking care of my schoolwork. It was pretty much all on me.
"I watched my friends play basketball because I had met a lot of them, and we became really close. It was good to see them learn and grow. That's the main reason I came back here: because I was already really close with the team."
Originally, Sampson expected to be featured in the front court alongside forward Maurice Harkless. Now he'll replace Harkless, who became a one-and-done player when he was selected in the first round of the NBA draft by Philadelphia and later traded to Orlando.
Harkless was St. John's second-leading scorer behind guard D'Angelo Harrison, averaging 15.5 points and a team-leading 8.6 rebounds. The 6-8 Sampson has similar talents and the desire to replace what Harkless provided.
After first saying he'll do whatever coach Steve Lavin asks, Sampson added, "I feel I can step in [Harkless'] shoes and fill them . . . I played Moe in prep school. I feel we're similar players. Athletically, we're both quick, and we both create mismatches.
"I feel I can fill his shoes rebounding, too. I love playing defense and blocking shots. I consider that part of my game because defense creates good offense."
Sampson's confidence is a joyful noise that his teammates find infectious. Red Storm redshirt guard Max Hooper, who was Sampson's roommate in his first year at Brewster before going to Harvard last season, explains: