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Bosco’s Corner: Storm star has earned high pick

For the past two seasons, Marcus Hatten has made covering the St. John’s University basketball team a worthwhile endeavor, undoubtedly keeping the storied program afloat during his brief but successful tenure.

Hatten, a Baltimore native by way of Tallahassee Community College, will in all likelihood be selected in the NBA Draft Thursday. Not in the first round, as many Red Storm faithful may expect, but in the second round — Omar Cook territory.

Cook, as you may well remember, was the freshman phenom who left St. John’s early to pursue a pro career. Three drafts later, we are still waiting for Cook’s NBA debut. Falling from the first to second round killed Cook’s chances at establishing himself as an NBA regular. A first-round selection gets a guaranteed three-year deal, while a second-round pick gets an invitation to camp and little else.

But where Cook failed, Hatten should succeed for a laundry list of reasons, the first being that Hatten has that intangible quality, that certain something that makes him a winner.

I don’t want to sound like I’m picking on Cook. I certainly thought he could play in the NBA, as did a whole lot of people I spoke with prior to that fateful draft a few seasons ago when every team with a first-round pick passed on the point guard out of Christ the King High School. He was eventually taken by Orlando early in the second round, before being traded to Denver for, you guessed it, a first-round pick.

Hatten could find himself in similar territory, unless one daring general manager steps up and takes a well-placed gamble on the player who, without question, was the single most important player on the 2003 National Invitation Tournament championship team.

Unlike a lot of the top prospects in this year’s draft, like high schooler LeBron James and Syracuse freshman Carmello Anthony, Hatten took the long road to this position. He spent two years at Tallahassee Community College, earning a reputation as the best JUCO guard in the country prior to signing with the Red Storm.

Perhaps the top recruit ever landed by coach Mike Jarvis at any level — unless you count Jarvis’ high school prodigy Patrick Ewing when the two were at Cambridge Rindge & Latin High School in Massachusetts — Hatten did not disappoint.

Cook left the program just prior to Hatten’s joining it, eliminating the chance at what could have been the best backcourt in school history. But Cook’s only year at the school was also Jarvis’ only losing season in his more than 30 years of coaching, one year after winning the Big East Tournament.

Hatten immediately returned the program to its winning ways. The lithe two-guard was forced to play out of position as the team’s point man, but he still managed to lead the team in scoring 23 times en route to a 20-12 overall record and an appearance in the NCAA Tournament (a first-round loss to Wisconsin, 80-70).

And what Hatten did well in the junior year only got better during his senior campaign. Despite an erratic team on par with Brad Pitt’s character in 12 Monkeys, Hatten was the lone bright spot. In 34 games he averaged a team-best 22.2 points as well as 5.6 rebounds per game and 4.1 assists per game.

But statistics only tell a part of the story and while impressive, they don’t come close to describing Hatten the player.

If you were lucky enough to see St. John’s beat Duke this year at Madison Square Garden, you know what I’m talking about. St. John’s had lost four straight going into that game against the No. 6-ranked Blue Devils.

With the game tied and Duke with the ball in the waning seconds, Hatten stole the ball from Daniel Ewing near mid-court and got fouled going to the basket as time expired. Then, as the only player left on the court, he drilled a free throw to give the Red Storm the improbable upset. He led all scorers with 29 points.

Hatten followed a similar script in getting the Storm to the NIT finals, as St. John’s overcame a 10-point second-half deficit en route to besting Bobby Knight’s Texas Tech, 64-63. This time Hatten had two steals and a layup in the final 16.2 seconds to close the deal. He had 24 points in that game.

Two nights later against Georgetown in the finals, Hatten sank the go-ahead free throw with 1:13 left as St. John’s went on to win, 70-67. He led the team with 22 that night.

After the game, the garden floor a mass of Red Storm faithful, Hatten was hoisted onto the scorers table with the throng of thousands chanting his name. It may have been the pinnacle of his athletic life and a well-deserved reward.

Hatten is more than just a good basketball player. He finds a way to win, has the ability to completely take over a game on both ends of the floor and can hit just about every shot in the book.

He’s not a big guy, not by NBA standards, listed as a generous 6-foot-1, 165 pounds. Sure, he will have trouble boxing out the bigger guards in the NBA, but he is also lightning quick and a pain in the butt, defensively. At worst, he is a poor man’s Allen Iverson. At best, he is the next Iverson.

I’d love to see him in a Knicks uniform some day. Lord knows the team could use the help, and maybe his selection would make people like me forget the name Frederick Weiss.

Reach Sports Editor Anthony Bosco by e-mail at TimesLedger@aol.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 130.

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