It is difficult to believe it has been 17 years since Sports Illustrated pronounced on its cover that “The Big East is Back,’’ complete with a cover photo of St. John’s mega-recruit Felipe Lopez.

I was entering my last season on the St. John’s beat and envisioning, well, let’s put it this way: More than a 14-14 finish and a first-round NIT exit.

Among the other promising youths featured were Ray Allen, Allen Iverson and Chris Herren. In other words, you never know.

Frankly, I had forgotten all about Herren - who went from Fall River, Mass., to Boston College and Fresno State to the Nuggets and Celtics to assorted stops around the globe - until seeing “Unguarded,’’ premiering Tuesday on ESPN.

It chronicles years of grinding substance abuse that is shocking and depressing even by the familiar standards of self-destructive athletic stars.

Herren, 36, now counsels others to avoid his path – and tries to remain on the right path himself.

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