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Jarvis hopes for better things to come

Mike Jarvis said he and his staff were shocked when point guard Omar Cook announced his decision to leave St. John’s University after just one year to declare himself eligible for the NBA Draft, a decision Cook made just a month after the Red Storm’s final game of a 14-15 season.

Prior to Cook’s announcement, the head coach of the Red Storm was open and honest in assessing his star player’s potential and what Jarvis thought should be the right course of action — for Cook to stay in school another year.

But the Christ the King grad didn’t take that advice, opting instead to enter the draft, being selected 32nd overall by the Orlando Magic before being traded away to Denver later that night. He was the third pick of the second round, missing out on the guaranteed three-year contract he was hoping for by three slots.

“We were surprised as anyone when he did decide to go,” Jarvis said. “He’s got his work cut out for him. There’s no guarantees in life anyhow. I think it’s totally in his hands. I think he can still succeed.”

Cook, who was highly criticized for leaving St. John’s prior to the draft, took some parting shots at those critical of his decision in the media — including his former coach. But Jarvis refuses to accept this criticism, pointing out that Cook did not make those comments to him.

“There was never anything said directly to me,” the coach said. “I don’t believe anything unless it comes from the source. I don’t believe them and I won’t respond to them.

“There’s nothing you can say now that will make any difference now,” Jarvis added. “You just hope and pray that he can find a way to make it.”

And while Jarvis and his staff were taken off-guard by Cook’s leaving, St. John’s was already shopping for a replacement, banking on Cook not being back after his sophomore year.

In that search, the Red Storm landed two potential point guards in junior college sensation Marcus Hatten and Amityville’s Tristan Smith.

Hatten, a 6-foot-2 scorer out of Tallahassee Community College, was supposed to add a scoring punch to help out a Red Storm team that struggled during the 2000-2001 campaign. But with Cook’s departure, Hatten just may end up running the show for Jarvis.

“He’ll end up competing for the point position,” Jarvis said. “We’re hoping he can make the adjustment to the point. He’s terrific in the open court. He might be better suited to it anyway.”

Smith, who the Red Storm signed just after Cook started to make known his intentions, was already being recruited by St. John’s as a possible back-up for Cook next year. But with Cook gone, Smith may end up seeing a lot more playing time this year, Jarvis said.

“We told him at the time that in all likelihood he would be playing behind Omar his freshman year,” the coach said. “We recruited him with that in mind from day one. When Omar left we were sure we made the right decision in brining in Tristan. His upside is tremendous.”

Joining Smith and Hatten as new additions to the Red Storm next year will be Lincoln High School’s Eric King, a 6-foot-7 swingman who Jarvis said may remind fans of players past, a versatile athlete who will see plenty of playing time at a variety of positions.

“I anticipate him playing a lot and playing well,” Jarvis said of King. “That’s what I expect from him. Eric will hopefully fit in the mold of the players in the first couple of years, like Ron Artest and Lavor Postell.”

But recruiting talented players, blue chip prospects in particular, is becoming more and more arduous with each passing year, Jarvis said, with the number of high school stars and underclassmen leaving the college ranks behind for the chance of stardom in the NBA.

In the past several years, arguably the most sought after recruits to sign with St. John’s, Artest, Erick Barkley, Cook and Darius Miles, played a combined total of just five seasons with St. John’s, Miles backing out of his commitment altogether and entering the draft straight out of high school.

Jarvis, however, said he is still intent on signing the best player available, someone he hopes will also be the best player for the Red Storm program.

“It’s almost impossible to recruit now,” Jarvis said. “You try to recruit kids that you enjoy coaching and working with, whether they’re there one year, two years, three years or four years. You get the best person at the time. When teams draft, they get the best player available.

“If all things are equal and you have a kid who will play for you just one year and another who will play all four, obviously you take the kid who’s going to be in school for four years. But you can’t guess. You got to do the best job you can recruiting for what’s right for your program.”

Having an athlete for four years is what Jarvis hopes for each and every time he goes out to recruit, he said, which is why he does not particularly aim for junior college players, such as Hatten. There are exceptions, however.

“I’ve had very few junior college kids over the years,” Jarvis said. “It probably has more to do with the kid than his ability. He’s got to be a really special kid. If I had my druthers, I’d like to have kids for four years.”

A year after taking St. John’s back to a Big East Tournament championship, Jarvis endured the worst season of his career in 2000-2001, finishing up under .500 for the first time in the collegiate ranks and failing to return the team to the NCAA Tournament for a fourth consecutive season.

The reason, Jarvis intimated, was that the team was too reliant on underclassmen. Still, Jarvis does not look at last year as a disappointment as much as it was a chance to learn and grow.

“I never had a losing season and I never will,” he said. “It was a learning season. Last season was basically sort of like a preparation for the next four or five years. Even so, I hope we don’t have too many more seasons like last year.

“Our kids, I thought they did a great job and were as competitive as hell,” he added. “If we had won just a couple of those games early on, who knows what the season would have been like. We’re building a program here, we are not playing for just one year.”

There were bright spots, to be sure. Cook was brilliant at times, while fellow first-year players Willie Shaw, Alpha Bangura, Kyle Cuffe and Sharif Fordham all had their moments. They will all be called on again to step up their games for the Red Storm come November.

But success next season will rely heavily on the development of the team’s big men. Neither Abe Keita or Mohammed Diakite, two 6-foot-10 centers, had stellar first years with the Red Storm, eventually giving their playing time back to the team’s elder statesmen Donald Emanuel and Anthony Glover.

Jarvis may make a move to bring in another big man for 2002, but is banking on these two players making significant contributions in the season to come.

“Big people take longer than others,” Jarvis said. “Big people take more time. That’s to be expected. We’re going to continue to work with them and be patient with them.”

The heart of the team will be Glover, the undersized man in the middle who has routinely played out of position, but still managed to succeed against some of the best big men in the Big East.

“He’s going to give you 110 percent all the time,” Jarvis said. “I expect the same from Anthony this year. He’s going to give everything he’s got. He’s going to be our leader this year.”

While not much may be expected of St. John’s next season, Jarvis is already hard at work to make sure the Red Storm returns to the post-season mix. Whether the team turns the corner and returns to its winning ways is yet to be seen, but the head coach can’t wait to get started.

“I am so excited about next season I can’t tell you,” he said, “probably as much as I’ve been in a long time. I’m looking forward to teaching them. We’re going to have a lot of fun.”

Reach Sports Editor Anthony Bosco by e-mail at TimesLedgr@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 130.

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