Friday, October 5, 2007

What's the Problem With...?

New York City 2 guard Sylven Landesberg has run one of the saner college selection processes in memory. A top 50 - 70 recruit in the Class of 2008 (ranked #55 in the Class of 2008 by, #63 by ESPN/, etc.), Landesberg, a 6-6 senior-to-be at Holy Cross High School in New York, took in several academies (mostly for wings/guards) and a shoe camp. But he skipped the AAU games, particularly the circus in Las Vegas at the end of July to concentrate on individual workouts. "Too many distractions..." he told the press. Having narrowed his list, he took his visits, unofficial and official, talked with the coaches and his parents and, on September 26, officially notified head coach Dave Leitao that he would attend the University of Virginia and play for the Cavaliers next year. Why Virginia and not the other two schools who survived the Landesberg family's low-key selection process? Well, Landesberg wanted to play some point guard ("I really like the ball in my hand, so I guess that had an impact...") and Paul Hewitt (Georgia Tech's head coach) already had point guards. But why not St. John's? If Daily News' sportswriter Robert Rubin was correct, then, (as he reported in the hours before Sylven Landesberg announced his decision...) it was apprehension over safety on the Queens Campus that swayed the Landesberg family away from St. John's. A go for broke session in which St. John's legend Lou Carnesecca and (Associate Director for Advancement Programs) Ron Rutledge (who recruited Felipe Lopez & Zendon Hamilton), along with St. John's President Rev. Donald J. Harrington, combined to present the case for Sylven-to-St. John's to (by eye witness accounts) a clearly awed recruit and his father went for naught as a gunmen was apprehended the next day on the Queens Campus.

The local media not unexpectedly divided the focus of their initial coverage between the minutia of Landesberg's decision and process with the efforts and resources invested by local favorite St. John's University. The Adam Zagoria's (Zag's Blog) September 27 blog entry, "Landesberg on His Decision", for example, focused the first half of his entry on why Landesberg chose Virginia (quality of players, possible impact to elevate Cavaliers to ACC elite, point guard time, academics, etc.), and the balance of the article on the resources Norm Roberts invested in what was ultimately a futile effort.'s Marc Raimondi followed a similar tack in his 9/28 article "Local product picks UVA over St. John's", which used quotes from Landesberg sr. that seemed to contradict Landesberg jr's comments at the press conference (more comfortable with St. John's players because he grew up with them...).

His go-for-broke strategy to recruit Landesberg may have carried risks that Roberts was slow to recognize. In the weeks since Landesberg's announcement there have been a steady stream of articles, both local and national, that have attempted to answer the question Landesberg & his father deflected during and after the announcement presser...Why not St. John's? The reporters and pundits approach from different angles, use different sources and posit a variety of explanations. But the common touchstone is that Carnesecca, Rutledge and Fr. Harrington, St. John's biggest guns (no pun intended) could not talk a High School kid into coming to St. John's (and the Big East). And that has to be troubling for Norm Roberts.

The Sporting News' Mike DeCourcy cut to the heart of the matter in "St. John's isn't scoring NYC's top talent", published September 28. DeCourcy assess the blame in 1/3's:

  • New York City is not producing much talent these days, so the pickings are slim.
  • Roberts should have been farther along with other, "winnable" recruiting battles (Kimba Walker for example)...and
  • The Big East is too nasty and big -- a complaint DeCourcy has repeatedly voiced going back to the very inception of the 16 member conference. His coverage of the celebration presser included a list of problems he believed the larger membership would cause (oddly, losing recruits in local, under producing seedbeds was not one of DeCourcy's predicted problems...).

Adam Zagoria, in his third piece on Landesberg/St. John's in 7 days, "Landesberg Move a Blow for St. John's" (subscription version, a shorter, free version was published in Zag's Blog the same day) posits that Roberts has been able to recruit in NYC (not the elite candidates), is able to spot under appreciated talent in other markets (but not in NYC), and must push hard with other area elites (the Jones, Mookie & Kevin, for example), to get a good share of the class of 2008 (concentrating on Landesberg put the Johnnies behind with other candidates).

Andy Katz was a bit kinder in his piece, "St. John's, Rutgers and Seton Hall getting left behind", in that he spreads the blame for the lack of sizzle in the Big East's steak on all three metro New York City Big East members. But after dispensing rather abruptly with Rutgers (hasn't been to the dance since it's salad days in the A10...) and gently with Seton Hall (most recently successful and beside they have a new and dynamic coach in Bobby Gonzalez...), he turns his attention to Roberts and St. John's.

The Times Ledger's David Butler by contrast, rendered what can only be described as the journalistic equivalent of a fuzzy lollypop in his October 4 article, "St. John's hoops big in name only". During the course of his twelve paragraph "The Butler Did it" column he rips the recruit, the coach, the program and the school. Butler's conclusion? "...Landesberg isn't Mullin, Roberts isn't Carnesecca and the Red Storm isn't the Redmen. These days, St. John's is a mid-major program and a bad one at that.".

Over the years Roberts, like any prominent sports figure in a major media market, has acquired baggage, often in the form of labels. He has been described as "nice" (in an environment overladen with testosterone that can be interpreted as an insult, albeit unintended perhaps), "not strong on Xs and Os", "not attentive to (ie not agressive enough pursuing) local recruiting talent", a coach who runs "a revolving door program" (not a good judge of character or inattentive to his charges). To the growing list critics will not add "not a closer". In a year when the Johnnies' prospects are grim to start (starting 2 guard, center & small forward graduated/transferred out, plus a valued bench player - lost; 7 new players to integrate), another label is not what the coach needed.

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