Jakarr Sampson controls the ball during a game against Marquette...

Jakarr Sampson controls the ball during a game against Marquette at Madison Square Garden. (March 9, 2013) Credit: Jim McIsaac

Up until now, Steve Lavin's recruiting has paid off in Big East rookie of the year awards. Freshman JaKarr Sampson on Tuesday became the second straight Red Storm player to earn the honor following last year's winner, Maurice Harkless.

But this time, it might pay off in more wins for Lavin's team. While Harkless left for the NBA after a tough 13-19 season with an inexperienced team, Lavin said he expects Sampson to return "to be a part of us winning big."

When Sampson was asked if he expects to explore his draft status, he said, "Maybe."

But he also displayed an understanding of the pitfalls of turning pro too early. "I won't go to the NBA unless I feel like my game is ready for the NBA," Sampson said. "I've got a lot of room to grow, and I need to polish my game. I'm going to take my time. I'm not in a rush."

He compared the decision to the situation he faced when he failed to qualify academically to play on last season's team with Harkless. Sampson spent another year in prep school, met the requirements and then enrolled at St. John's, where he led Big East freshmen in scoring (14.9) and rebounding (6.6).

The Red Storm struggled at the end of a 16-14 season, going 1-6 down the stretch, but they face Villanova in their Big East Tournament opener Wednesday night at 7 at Madison Square Garden and there's still a chance for an NIT bid.

Comparing Sampson to Harkless, who was the 15th overall selection by Philadelphia and later was traded to Orlando, Lavin said Harkless had a more understated and efficient game. He praised Sampson's athleticism and energy, but clearly, the freshman could benefit from additional college experience.

As Lavin said, Sampson can return next season with a more mature team and have a chance to "win big, be a first-team All-America candidate, Big East player of the year candidate. JaKarr and I have spoken about it, and he wants to be a part of us winning big. He's been very clear about that.

"His focus is on coming back next year as we build towards a really special season. I'd be really surprised if he's not with us next year."

Sampson said he wants to prepare for a long NBA career. In the meantime, he said of St. John's, "I love the players, I love the coaching staff. So, I wouldn't mind coming back another year and sticking around."

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