The pieces are falling into place for St. John’s coach Steve Lavin, who landed the most important one yet when Philadelphia point guard Rysheed Jordan verbally committed to the Red Storm Thursday morning. With the help of top recruiter Tony Chiles, Lavin essentially wooed Jordan out from under the nose of Temple coach Fran Dunphy as well as third finalist UCLA, Lavin’s former employer.
That’s about as big as a recruiting victory gets. Lavin can’t comment until he receives Jordan’s national letter of intent when the signing period opens on Wednesday, but he’s getting a player who was rated No. 22 overall in the ESPN top 100 and who was the fifth-ranked point guard.
Jordan led Roberts Vaux high school from North Philadelphia to the PIAA Class A state title. He averaged 24.8 points, 6.1 rebounds, 4.3 assists and 3.3 steals, and he scored 45 points in the city title game but lost by one when he missed a shot at the buzzer.
Naturally, Jordan made his big announcement via Twitter, saying, “I’M A JOHNNIE!!!!!!” and “NEW YORK HERE I COME.” No doubt, Lavin and his coaching staff were celebrating with capital letters, too.
In the afternoon, Jordan texted a statement to reporters that read: “I am looking forward to taking the next steps as a basketball player and in continuing my education at St. John’s University. Throughout the recruiting process, it became clear St. John’s is the best fit for me. I developed a strong relationship with Coach Lavin, the staff and players, and I believe I can contribute to the program immediately.
“The fullcourt, uptempo attacking system of play is suited for my game. New York City has great energy, and the Garden is a place everyone dreams of playing. I want to thank Temple and UCLA for showing interest in me. I am a Philly native and I love my city, and I can’t wait to represent in the Big Apple.”
Kamal Yard, who is director of the Philly Pride AAU team for which Jordan plays, said UCLA was eliminated after it fired Ben Howland and replaced him with Steve Alford. Temple’s Dunphy has followed Jordan closely, but he felt the need to leave.
“He lives two blocks from the Temple campus,” Yard said. “There are frat houses on his block. He wanted to get away, and he felt he could be loose and free in St. John’s system. He was comfortable with Coach Lavin from the beginning.”
You never know how long it will take a freshman to adjust, but Jordan could have an immediate impact on a crowded backcourt. It’s not hard to picture him starting alongside junior D’Angelo Harrison if he returns to the team after being suspended for the final three regular-season games and the postseason because of behavioral issues. Even if Harrison isn’t back, the Storm has Phil Greene and Jamal Branch, who could partner with Jordan.
Throw in the addition of redshirt senior forward Orlando Sanchez and redshirt sophomore guard Max Hooper to go with such returning veterans as Big East rookie of the year JaKarr Sampson, Chris Obekpa and Sir’Dominic Pointer, and you can understand Lavin’s optimism about next season. Redshirt senior forward God’sgift Achiuwa, forward Christian Jones and guards Marc-Antoine Bourgault and Felix Balamou also are available to fill roles.
Jordan certainly is an exciting prospect with the ability to get to the rim. There have been questions about his outside shooting ability, but Yard said he hit eight three-pointers in the 45-point city championship game to go with seven rebounds, six assists and five steals.
“He’s a phenomenal team player and will do whatever it takes to win,” Yard said of Jordan. “When it gets tight, if he has to score, he’ll do that.”
If Harrison returns to go with Sampson and Sanchez, scoring isn’t going to be a problem for St. John’s. But Jordan is the kind of penetrating player who can put pressure on a defense to make decisions. Yard said he and Jordan visited Madison Square Garden recently to watch a pro game, and he’s anxious to take that stage.
“He said he always wanted to play at Madison Square Garden,” Yard said. “He likes the bright lights of New York City. He definitely was enticed by that.”