Once again, it appears Steve Lavin's basketball program at St. John's is digressing toward dysfunction. A season that started in promising fashion, with the Red Storm climbing to 15th in the national polls, suddenly has veered off track with the mysterious "indefinite leave of absence" for second-leading scorer Rysheed Jordan announced by the school Friday night.
Down to a core of five starters, St. John's suffered its second straight loss to open Big East play, falling to Butler, 73-69, Saturday afternoon at Carnesecca Arena.
D'Angelo Harrison said St. John's players were informed of Jordan's loss by text message Friday night in the team hotel. "We rallied as a group in the hotel," Harrison said. "It hurts, but our job is to go out and play. We don't control stuff that goes on outside."
Lavin declined to explain the reasons behind Jordan's absence beyond the original statement, which said it was for "personal and family matters." Asked if there was a disciplinary component involved, Lavin said, "As of now, the indefinite leave of absence kind of speaks for itself."
Lavin said Jordan definitely will not play in St. John's next game against No. 6 Villanova on Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden. When pressed on whether the leave of absence is long-term or even permanent, the coach sounded as though he is not in full control of all the facts.
"It wouldn't be wise to try and expand on it when you can't speak in the informed manner that I would like to be able to share with you," Lavin said. "As we get more information, we'll share it with you."
Although Jordan was averaging 14.0 points per game, Lavin moved him from the starting lineup to sixth man for the previous seven games, including a New Year's Eve loss at Seton Hall. Jordan never has been allowed to speak with the media since his arrival in Queens.
Asked how the sophomore reacted to the demotion, Lavin said: "You're missing the whole point. I don't have enough information to even expound on any of it."
Questioned as to whether he is angry with Jordan, Lavin said, "There's just not enough information for me to speak in a manner that would be fair because I don't have enough information."
It's possible Lavin's options are limited by legal restrictions that protect student privacy. Asked about playing his starters for all but a combined 14 minutes without Jordan, he acknowledged that handicap.
"When you're going with five guys, it's difficult," Lavin said. "We climbed to 15th in the country with a certain rotation, and then, when you no longer have that, it's going to affect your team."
"Our kids performed admirably well under tough conditions, but it wasn't enough."
Harrison had a sensational 31-point effort that was a season high. Phil Greene scored 14 points, Chris Obekpa had 11 and Sir'Dominic Pointer had nine points, eight rebounds, four assists, three blocks and three steals for St. John's (11-3, 0-2). But Butler (11-4, 1-1) got 28 points from Kellen Dunham and repeatedly broke St. John's press in the final eight minutes to score easy baskets and maintain its lead.
Now the question is how St. John's can compete if Jordan doesn't return and Lavin must rely primarily on the five starters. Thinking back to his freshman year, which ended with six scholarship players, Harrison said, "We've done it before."
Deja vu all over again.