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SJU’s Jarvis: It all comes down to Hatten

Marcus Hatten.

It’s obvious that if head coach Mike Jarvis were forced to attribute the St. John’s University men’s basketball team’s run to the NCAA Tournament last season to one key factor, his answer would undoubtedly be the junior college transfer from Baltimore via Tallahassee Community College.

Hatten exploded onto the national basketball landscape this past season, living up to and far surpassing the expectation that came along with the tag as the best junior college player in the country.

“Marcus Hatten had an unbelievable year,” said Jarvis last week in between recruiting stops in an exclusive interview with the TimesLedger. “He came [to St. John’s] to be a two-guard along with Omar Cook. I don’t think anybody did more for their team than he did. Anybody.”

But Cook left St. John’s after his freshman year to pursue a professional career, leaving a massive hole at the point guard position. And while freshman Tristan Smith had some decent moments, it was clear early in the season that Hatten would have to assume the role of full-time point guard.

And Hatten did, becoming the primary ball-handler and scorer on a team with several glaring flaws that still managed to compete with the top teams in the Big East Conference and around the country. The team finished 9-7 in conference play and 20-12 overall, including a first-round NCAA loss to Wisconsin.

It may not have rekindled memories of the Redmen’s heyday in the 1980s, but 2001-2002 seems to have suited the Red Storm faithful just fine. On one poll run by an unofficial Web site dedicated to the team, less than 30 percent chose to call the season a major disappointment or a rebuilding year. More than 70 percent of those responding described the team as “Overachievers made for a fun season or unbelievable success. Next season even better.”

“I thought last year’s team did as much as any team could do under the circumstances,” Jarvis said, alluding to the team’s lack of quality depth and inner-team turmoil, which saw one of its players, Alpha Bangura, leave the team mid-season. “I would say that out of those categories it was the last two. I think the team had unbelievable success by overachieving.”

Two players that exemplify Jarvis’ point are walk-on Andre Stanley and 7-foot-4 project Curtis Johnson. Stanley earned a spot in the starting line-up with his tireless work ethic in practice, while Johnson, a fan favorite, transformed his game from garbage-time curiosity to inspirational crowd-pleaser, garnering more minutes in key match-ups.

Last season also saw 6-foot-10 Abe Keita elevate his game defensively to such a point that the more highly touted Mohammed Diakite almost became a forgotten man on the Red Storm bench.

“That’s all we need him to do is rebound, play defense and maybe get some scoring off his defense and off his rebounding,” Jarvis said. “If you can get people to perform their roles you can have a real good team.”

Jarvis is banking that some of his incoming recruits will add depth to a team already headed in the right direction. With St. Anthony’s Elijah Ingram now in the fold to assume the starting point guard duties, Hatten will be able to slide back to his natural two-guard position.

Ingram, a McDonald’s High School All-American this past year, brings the ability to pass the ball as well as his knack for scoring, both of which will take some of the burden off Hatten.

“I think he’s obviously got some very special skills,” Jarvis said. “He’s a young man who has been extremely well-coached for college basketball by coach [Bob] Hurlery at St. Anthony’s (New Jersey). He can shoot the basketball, which enables him to do all the other things you want a point guard to do.

“I think he and Marcus Hatten will be very special together,” Jarvis added.

Smith will also be backing up Ingram off the bench. Another point guard, Daryl “Showtime” Hill, out of Cardozo High School, failed to get the required test score to become eligible this season, but he will be at the school and will practice with the team.

Joining Hatten and Ingram in the starting line-up will likely be one of three players, Willie Shaw, Andre Stanley or Eric King, who will vie for time at the small forward/three-guard slot, a position Bangura and Sharif Fordham both played last year.

Another new recruit, Tim Doyle of St. Dominic’s (Long Island), will try to find some floor time at the small forward spot. Jarvis described Doyle as “a terrific passer with a great feel for the game. When you put athletes around him, he makes those guys better. He’s not a shooter, but he can play.”

St. John’s got a small gift when senior Anthony Glover was granted another year of eligibility. The undersized power forward out of Rice High School should own the No. 4 spot on the floor, with both Kyle Cuffe and newcomer Grady Reynolds, a 6-foot-9 junior college transfer Jarvis called an “explosive jumper” who “plays with a lot of passion.”

“We’ve had a lot of success with junior college players at St. John’s,” Jarvis said, alluding to Hatten and his predecessor, Marvis “Bootsy” Thornton, both of whom came out of Baltimore. “If he was coming from Baltimore, we’d definitely guarantee an excellent year.”

The center position is still the biggest question mark on the team. Keita seems the logical choice to fill the spot, but if Johnson or Diakite show any improvement, all three may see plenty of action this coming season.

“All these guys give us a lot of depth,” Jarvis said. “I’m always expecting big things. The kids will give themselves and our team everything they have. If they do that, just like last year, everything is possible. I’m as anxious as anyone to see how this team works out. We can have a very interesting year.”

Jarvis may be off recruiting players for the future, but a few are already locked in for the 2003-2004 season, including Hill, center Lamond Hamilton and forward Jermaine Bell. And beyond that, a 6-foot-9, 286-pound eighth grader named Derrick Caracter, who turned heads at the Nike camp, has said he wants to attend St. John’s when the time comes.

And though NCAA rules prohibit him from speaking directly about a potential recruit, Jarvis has made plain his feeling about recruiting players so young.

“It’s unfortunate,” he said, “especially for a youngster who wants to be a kid. The society we live in puts undue pressure on people before they’re ready for it. I guess that’s the price you pay for being the best.”

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

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