NEW YORK -- St. John's men's basketball coach Steve Lavin officially announced the addition of six new players to his roster on Wednesday.
The recruiting class is headlined by JaKarr Sampson, a 6-foot-8, 209-pound forward from Barberton, Ohio. Sampson was ranked the No. 32 high school player in the country by ESPNU in 2011 and originally committed to St. John's last year, but failed to qualify academically. He spent the past year at Brewster Academy in New Hampshire, being named the Most Valuable Player of the National Prep Championship.
"JaKarr is a skilled and athletically dynamic basketball player with the ability to influence the game at both ends of the floor," Lavin said in a statement. "His ability to create off the dribble, slash to the basket and finish at the rim gives him distinction among his peers."
Jamal Branch, a 6-3, 174-pound point guard from Kansas City, Mo., transferred to St. John's from Texas A&M in January. Ranked the No. 51 player in the ESPNU 100 in 2011, he left the Aggies after just one semester and will be eligible to play for the Red Storm on Dec. 16.
"Jamal is an excellent lead guard and a welcome addition to our basketball family," Lavin said. "His skill, court vision and quickness will give us backcourt depth for the 2012-13 season."
Three more players will be eligible for the Red Storm at the beginning of next season: Orlando Sanchez, a 6-9, 205-pound forward from Nagua, Dominican Republic; Marco Bourgault, a 6-6, 210-pound swingman from Saint-Malo, France; and Felix Balamou, a 6-4, 185-pound guard from Conakry, Guinea.
Sanchez and Bourgault played junior college ball together at Monroe College in New Rochelle, N.Y., and will have two and three years of eligibility, respectively.
"(Orlando) can play-make, shot-make, defend multiple positions, block shots and rebound," Lavin said. "In addition to being an outstanding shooter, Marco is a multi-dimensional and fundamentally sound basketball player."
Balamou played his high school ball at Our Saviour New American School in Long Island. "(Felix's) athleticism, slashing ability and defensive prowess fit well with our baseline-to-baseline attacking style of play," the coach said.
The sixth addition -- Max Hooper, a 6-6, 210-pound swingman from Carmel Valley, Calif. -- is a transfer from Harvard and will not be eligible until the 2013-14 season. "Max is a high-percentage 3-point shooter with the size and skill to play-make over the top of defenses," Lavin said.
St. John's is coming off a tumultuous 13-19 season, Lavin's second since taking over for Norm Roberts as coach. Lavin missed most of the season while recuperating from prostate cancer surgery. In his absence, assistant Mike Dunlap ran the team, and was forced to use an all-freshman starting lineup for much of the year following the graduation of 10 seniors.
Five of the six key contributors from last season will be back in 2012-13, including leading scorer D'Angelo Harrison. But Moe Harkless, the Big East Rookie of the Year, elected to turn pro after just one season.
St. John's could still add more players to this year's recruiting class. The spring signing period concludes May 16.
"The 2011 recruiting class provided a strong foundation for us to build upon," Lavin said. "The arrival of the 2012 class will add depth, size, firepower and some complementary players that will fit nicely into our system of play. This class continues to move our program forward and will assist in making St. John's competitive on an annual basis. We are pleased that our recruiting efforts over these two years have yielded a strong collective group."