Can St. John’s reclaim the glory days by reestablishing its New York roots?
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Can St. John’s reclaim the glory days by reestablishing its New York roots?


St. John’s, the ninth winningest program in college basketball history, is back in familiar territory  The school’s men’s basketball team has a new coach, a fresh round of expectations and the aftertaste from the departure of another coach who drove fans bonkers Two full decades have passed since the Johnnies competed — really competed — at the level their ravenous fanbase craves Advertisement  From 1998 to 2000, the Red Storm thundered to 53 wins in two seasons under coach Mike Jarvis The ’98-’99 Elite Eight team, featuring a tough kid from Queensbridge Houses named Ron Artest, delivered a particular buzz to the Big Apple, kicking the tar out of Big East rivals and nearly topping Duke at Madison Square Garden in an overtime classic  Those happy times fade further into the yellow pages of history with each disappointing season and each new coaching hire The latest is Mike Anderson, a stone-jawed Southerner with a winning pedigree and a reputation for getting his players to work like yeomen  But as St. John’s enters yet another new era, it faces the question of whether it’s even possible to reapply the luster from golden eras past The world of New York high school basketball has flipped on its head in two decades, and the school itself has morphed too  All told, the Johnnies haven’t won a game at The Dance since 2000, visiting just four times, including a trip to the play-in games last March  Mike Cragg, the school’s athletic director, isn’t lowering the bar. “I believe that we can win a national championship here,” Cragg told the Daily News “And we are a place where kids can live their dreams.”  There’s no doubting the allure of New York or the magic of the Garden More in doubt: the high school talent pool in the City.  Recruiting analysts say New York has slipped from its once unquestioned position atop the youth basketball world The Mecca is no longer mecca.  City kids bolt for prep schools. The Catholic schools that produced many of the players that stacked rosters in the old Big East are closing And other regions have upped their games.  The City “doesn’t produce the amount of talent that it used to,” said Evan Daniels, director of recruiting for the service 247Sports “Maybe kids are still born in New York City, but they branch off to go other places ”  Daniels put New York in the second tier of prospect hotbeds, below a top class of locales including Washington, Atlanta and Los Angeles He said he doesn’t think the City is all that close to those regions.  An analysis of the annual top-150 ranking of recruits bears out the regression From 2003 to 2006, the first four years for which such records are kept, New York produced an average of eight players per year in the T150, according to Rivals, another recruiting service But from 2007 to 2019, the City churned out an average of fewer than two. Even that precipitous dropoff likely only covers the tip of an iceberg, omitting the ’80s and ’90s, when New York basketball was king  At the same time that the City has bled basketball talent, St. John’s itself has faced institutional changes that have put up barriers to success on the hardwood  Back in the aughts, guard Mark Jackson said every baller coming up dreamed of suiting up for the Johnnies Jackson, a member of the Final Four Red Storm team of 1985, once told New York magazine: “When you play CYO, you’re thinking about St John’s. Same in high school. When St. John’s is doing good, it gives everyone in the city a lift, because if you’re a player it says something about you, because you’re part of it ”  The equation changed around the turn of the century, but not simply because of transformations on the youth circuit In 1999, St. John’s started building dorms, reshaping a snug commuter school into a national institution Between 1999 and 2008, seven residence halls sprouted up on the Queens campus. Advertisement  “St John’s was a commuter school back when Mark Jackson was there, so a lot of kids would live at home, and a lot of kids never thought about going away for school back then,” Jarvis told The News He said players once could live at home, get a monthly live-in stipend and pay their parents’ rent, an attractive option to many area high school kids The residence facilities stripped away that appeal. “When St. John’s built the dorms, they lost a huge advantage ”  Jarvis went on to lose his job amid a nightmare 2003-04 season that saw the team lose 21 games A February off-court incident at a strip club in Pittsburgh — after Jarvis got sacked — dealt the program an added black eye (Three Red Storm players were accused of rape, although cops said they disproved the allegation )  At the time, fans charged Jarvis with failing to fully tap the City’s basketball roots The criticism looks almost quaint today. In Jarvis’ last full season, he coached six players from New York The roster last year, under coach Chris Mullin, had two, including star guard Shamorie Ponds, who left after the season along with Mullin  After administrators bounced Jarvis, Norm Roberts took the reins, and the program skidded off the rails In six seasons under Roberts, the Red Storm lost 70 of 102 conference games, and Roberts was canned in 2010 Steve Lavin, a West Coast coach with a glittering resume from UCLA, next took charge He got the Johnnies to the Tournament in 2011, and again in 2015, but then the school dumped him too  No coach has lasted more than six years at St. John’s since the legendary Lou Carnesecca stalked the sidelines from 1973 to 1992 Lately, the Red Storm has also seen instability atop the athletics program. The school has had three athletic directors in the past half-decade, plus a pair of interims  “When you have a coach with a proven track record, it’s very important to stay the course,” Lavin told The News “Without continuity, you’re never going to see the results that a school like St John’s hopes to achieve.”  Lavin might represent a casualty of the school’s institutional restlessness, but he also has a point Each new coaching switch has jolted the school’s recruiting. Mullin, a celebrated alum, had to build from scratch and struggled to keep the trust of fans He suffered three losing seasons before last year, and exited following the NCAA Tournament visit  Lavin said he sees in Anderson, who arrives from Arkansas, a coach with “the acumen, the experience and an approach that has led to outstanding results ” Jarvis, who calls Anderson a friend, said the new head man is an “incredibly hard worker” and that “New York in for a treat ” Anderson has a history of rebuilding sleeping giants, but he wasn’t St. John’s first choice The school went through a tortured search that saw Porter Moser, the Loyola-Chicago coach, publicly spurn the school But Cragg said he’s confident he’s found the right guy in a 59-year-old who’s coached in six tournaments since 2009, including time spent at Missouri Anderson said he initially planned to take some time off after getting fired by the Razorbacks but bit on the job with the Red Storm  Though he’s never coached here before, Anderson promised he plans to put the City at the heart of his recruiting efforts “We want to make sure that the coaches here in this city understand that we want to keep the best players in our city right here,” he told The News Advertisement  If talk is cheap, he’s already nabbed the sole top-150 recruit from New York in the class of 2020: guard Posh Alexander, a Brooklyn native who hoops at Our Savior Lutheran in the Bronx His first signing, wing Julian Champagnie, played at Brooklyn’s Bishop Loughlin High School and will suit up this year The Johnnies still sit a stone’s throw down the all-time wins list from Carolina, Kansas and Kentucky Yet lately, they’ve gotten used to serving as a punching bag for the new Big East  Anderson said he still sees the promise of St. John’s. Regarding the changing basketball landscape in the City, he contended there are still “enough people here ” Quality coaches. Skilled players.  “My goal has always been to win a national championship,” Anderson said, arguing that New York offers the opportunity to do it “This is a basketball area. This is a basketball school. And people love good basketball ”

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