Reinforcements finally have arrived for St. John's basketball team. After playing most of last season with a six-man rotation that included five freshmen, Red Storm coach Steve Lavin Wednesday announced the addition of a six-man recruiting class to his five returnees.
Two big men, 6-8 freshman JaKarr Sampson and 6-9 junior college transfer Orlando Sanchez, have the potential to make up for the loss of Big East freshman of the year Maurice Harkless to the NBA draft. Marco Bourgault, a 6-6 sophomore who teamed with Sanchez at Monroe Community College in the Bronx, and 6-6 Max Hooper, a sophomore transfer from Harvard, are outstanding three-point shooters. Hooper won't be eligible until 2013-14 because of transfer rules.
Rounding out the class are Felix Balamou, a 6-4 native of Guinea who played at Our Savior New American in Centereach, and 6-3 point guard Jamal Branch, who transferred at midseason from Texas A&M and will be eligible Dec. 16 as a freshman.
They join returning starters D'Angelo Harrison, Sir'Dominic Pointer, Phil Greene and Amir Garrett, all of whom will be sophomores, and big man God'sgift Achiuwa, who will be a senior. Sampson originally was part of the 2011 recruiting class but returned to prep school to qualify academically and maintained his commitment to Lavin.
"With strong back-to-back recruiting classes in place, we are beginning to make headway in offsetting the unique challenge of having an unprecedented 10 seniors on the initial 2010 roster we inherited," Lavin said referring to the loss of 10 seniors from his first St. John's team that made the NCAA Tournament in 2010-11. "We will now have a strong nucleus to develop into a competitive team."
Sampson attended St. Vincent-St. Mary, the same high school LeBron James attended as a junior, and he recently played summer basketball for the King James Shooting Stars. "JaKarr is a skilled and athletically dynamic basketball player with the ability to influence the game at both ends of the floor," Lavin said.
Sanchez is a native of the Dominican Republic, who developed his game at Monroe. "Orlando has a diverse skill set for a player his size," Lavin said. "He's a playmaker, shotmaker and can defend multiple positions, block shots and rebound."
Lavin expressed excitement about the athleticism of Balamou, describing him as an "athlete with a 7-foot wingspan who keeps making quantum leaps in improvement." The Red Storm coach compared Bourgault to former NBA guards Steve Kerr and Fred Hoiberg, players who could run the offense and also knock down outside shots, and he called Branch "a pure point guard with water-bug speed."
With Lavin returning to the bench after missing all but four games last season while recovering from prostate cancer surgery, the Red Storm can look forward to being whole again.