Will top-40 St. John's recruit be eligible?

St. John’s initiated a conversation with the NCAA to clarify whether recruit Maurice Harkless will be eligible to compete with the Red Storm next season, according to a school spokesperson.

The university is well-aware that St. John’s director of basketball operations Moe Hicks served in an administrative capacity for Harkless’ AAU program, the New York Gauchos. Harkless, the 38th-ranked player in the Class of 2011, played the majority of his games with the NY Panthers, but did play in two tournaments with the Gauchos. According to St. John's, Hicks’ role with the Gauchos was in a non-coaching capacity like practice scheduling, organizing and meetings.

A new NCAA rule has curtailed any kind of package deals. The NCAA’s men’s basketball focus group created a rule, 11.4.2:

“In men’s basketball, during a two-year period before a prospective student-athlete’s anticipated enrollment and a two-year period after the prospective student-athlete’s actual enrollment, an institution shall not employ (or enter into a contract for future employment with) an individual associated with the prospective student-athlete in any athletics department noncoaching staff position.”

It goes on to say: ”If an institution hires an IAWP [individual associated with a prospect] for a noncoaching staff position within two years on either side of enrollment, involved S/A will be permanently ineligible for competition at offending institution.”

St. John’s is making the case that Hicks never coached Harkless.

The Red Storm are also emphasizing that this case has nothing to do with the potential transfer of Arizona guard Lamont Jones, who was coached by Hicks for two years at Rice High School. St. John’s isn’t going to accept Jones, who will likely land at another Big East school in the area (Seton Hall or Rutgers) or maybe a smaller New York-area program like Hofstra.

“St. John’s works attentively to be in compliance with NCAA legislation at all times and we have been diligent with all of our incoming men’s basketball players,’’ said Mark Fratto, a senior associate athletic director at St. John’s. “We have been working with the NCAA for clarity as we do in all cases.’’

The new legislation by the basketball focus group is still evolving and this is probably the highest profile case that is being investigated.

The difference with Harkless and Jones is stark since Hicks did coach Jones at Rice High School. Jones couldn’t enroll at St. John’s until Hicks had been with the Red Storm for two years. Hicks arrived on June 1, 2010, so it wouldn’t be until summer 2012 that Jones could be enrolled at St. John’s. That means Jones would have to go to a junior college for a year before going to the Red Storm, if he chose to do so. Jones would likely have to sit out a year anyway because he’s a transfer, unless he can convince the NCAA that he is a hardship case and deserves to play immediately.

St. John’s is making the case that Hicks would be considered a IAWP (individual associated with a prospect) for Jones, but not for Harkless since he never “coached” him. The school has been working with the basketball focus group for a correct interpretation.

The 6-6 Harkless, who last played at South Kent High (Conn.), is part of a massive nine-player recruiting class that includes six players in the ESPNU 100 and is ranked third in the country by ESPN.com.