St. John's looking to turn heads

NEW YORK -- St. John's plans on making a big splash in 2013-14.

"If we take care of business, and buy in, we can compete for a Big East title," guard D'Angelo Harrison said at the team's annual media day Thursday.

On the surface, that may sound outlandish. The Red Storm generally are being picked to finish in the middle of the pack, at best. But coach Steve Lavin has his deepest, and arguably most talented, squad since taking over at St. John's in 2010.

And the new Big East is certainly less challenging, without the likes of Louisville, Syracuse, Pittsburgh and Connecticut, among others.

Harrison, the team's leading scorer last year (17.8 points per game), is back after being suspended by Lavin for the final six games of last season due to conduct detrimental to the team.

The 6-foot-4 junior sharpshooter took anger management classes in the offseason, and said he is a "different kind of dude."

His teammates agreed.

"D'Angelo, he came back like kind of a new man," junior guard Phil Greene said. "He got his anger under control, he doesn't cry about the stuff he used to cry about, he doesn't argue. He doesn't let little things bother him anymore. He's more focused, and it shows on the court."

Added Lavin: "He's been outstanding, in terms of showing the maturity that we expect from him."

Also back is 6-9 sophomore forward Jakarr Sampson, the reigning Big East Rookie of the Year (14.9 points per game, 6.6 rebounds per game). Sampson flirted with the idea of turning pro after his freshman season, but ultimately decided to return.

The lone significant contributor not back is reserve swingman Amir Garrett, who transferred to California State University, Northridge. St. John's added 6-9 forward Orlando Sanchez, an honorable mention junior college All-American, and 3-point specialist Max Hooper, a 6-6 transfer from Harvard.

But the most important addition is 6-4 freshman guard Rysheed Jordan of Philadelphia, the No. 17 high school senior in the nation and the No. 3 point guard in the ESPN 100.

Jordan was not made available to the media Thursday, but his new teammates raved about him.

"The guy is a baller," junior guard Jamal Branch said. "The guy is so talented, and he's been working real hard. The guy has an unbelievably bright future."

Lavin labeled Jordan a playmaker, a shotmaker, and a strong on-ball defender.

"Day by day, week by week, you're seeing him grow," the coach said. "He's gonna be central to what we do this year."

The Red Storm got a head start this season, taking a two-week trip to Europe in late August, which included 10 extra practices prior to departure and five games against professional teams in France, Italy and Spain.

Now they're preparing in earnest for the start of the regular season and a challenging opening game against Big Ten power Wisconsin on Nov. 8, in Sioux Falls, S.D.

Lavin hasn't settled on a starting lineup, but he's happy to have options.

"What I like most is, we have balance," Lavin said. "For the first time since I've been at St. John's, there's good balance across the classes. And also balance of size, skill, strength, quickness, a balance of an inside and outside attack. And depth -- now we're three deep at every position, and we haven't had that situation before during my tenure."

St. John's made the NCAA tournament in Lavin's first season, but has fallen short of that goal the past two years.

Lavin is cautiously optimistic about the season ahead.

"We're picked in the bottom half of the league by most," the coach said. "But I think we can be competitive with teams in the top half of the league, and could even surprise people, if we keep developing, and by February could be a dangerous opponent."

His players were less cautious, naturally so.

"I feel like we got one of the best teams in the country," Branch said. "We're gonna let it out this year. We're gonna let all of it out."