There arent many coaches who are publicly criticized, both in the media and by fans, after winning a national championship. But St. Johns University skipper Mike Jarvis managed to pull it off.
Sure, the national championship may have been the National Invitation Tournament, but a title is still a title and, as Jarvis likes to say, there were only two Division I mens basketball teams cutting down nets at the end of last season and St. Johns was one of them.
Despite the success of the team, Jarvis has drawn criticism from fans, sources close to the program and the media, including an article recently published in the New York Daily News lambasting the coach for his perceived poor recruiting habits.
The article has only fed a pack of hungry anti-Jarvis Red Storm fans who frequent one on-line web site dedicated to St. Johns athletics. The coach, however, is trying to keep it all in perspective only weeks away from the start of the fall semester.
We know what were doing, said Jarvis in response to some of the criticism. We do our job and we do it well. Its only discouraging and disappointing when people do it to be malicious. Not me, its a business and I understand it, but when they say things about family and the people that you love....
Who knows, the coach added. If I had to do it all over again, Id come to St. Johns and the greatest city in the world. Ive learned a lot here. The real fans are the ones who support our team, even during the down times.
Jarvis said he believes the article was originally written during the basketball season and most likely shelved after the Red Storm won nine of its last 10 games until the summer.
That article, as far as I know, was written late last season and the only reason it didnt run was because we won the tournament, Jarvis said. I dont think any of it is really accurate which is why you dont respond to it. It certainly isnt true.
Jarvis, who was reluctant to address each of the articles point by point, wanted to make clear that he and his staff were concentrating on recruiting locally, adding that the team is already stacked with metropolitan area players Elijah Ingram, Willie Shaw and Kyle Cuffe, as well as the incoming Daryl Hill and, if he makes his grades, Ryan Williams.
There would be even more had Anthony Glover and Andre Stanley not graduated and Eric King, Tim Doyle and Tristan Smith all transferred due to lack of playing time.
I dont think there is another school anywhere who has as many local kids on our roster as we do, Jarvis said. We recruited this year many highly recruited players and we get a lot of the kids we wanted to get. I dont know where the article came from.
All anyone needs to do is compare our record with the record of any kid mentioned in the article over the last five years. I dare you to come back and show me a kid who we supposedly didnt get and went somewhere else and did better than we did. The proof is in the pudding. We have performed where it counts, on the court.
That Jarvis and his teams have not performed up to the level most Red Storm fans feel the team should be performing is a debate either side can argue.
Obviously, there are a lot of people that care, not always in the right way, but they care, Jarvis said of the Red Storm faithful. And we will continue to do the best we can. Thats all we can do.
During Jarvis five seasons at St. Johns, the Red Storm failed to make the postseason just once, the 2000-2001 14-15 campaign otherwise known as the Omar Cook year. It was Jarvis first losing season as a coach on any level.
The other four years have been relatively successful. During his first year, leading a team largely recruited by his predecessor Fran Fraschilla, Jarvis guided the Storm to a surprise appearance in the Elite Eight, losing in the final moments to Ohio State. The following year, St. Johns won the Big East Tournament, but lost in the second round of the NCAA to upstart Gonzaga.
Two seasons ago, Jarvis and Co. managed to make the NCAA Tournament despite a so-so regular season in which shooting guard Marcus Hatten recruited to share the backcourt with Cook was forced to play the point guard slot most of the year, Cook having departed after his freshman year for the NBA. St. Johns lost to Wisconsin in the first round.
Last year was seeming all downhill until the Red Storm upset the mighty Duke Blue Devils on national television and started a run that culminated with the NIT championship.
I think last year was very, very special, Jarvis said. There arent many teams or many people who can do what our kids did, to take all the adversity that had been heaped upon us and basically put it behind them. We really came together as a team.
And we did it against some of the best teams in the country, the coach added. Thats our record. Our record can stand on its own merit. We will try to improve it, but we wont alter it drastically.
Some St. Johns fans, however, see it another way, pointing out that the Red Storm should never have to settle for the NIT and should be not just a perennial participant in the NCAA Tournament, but a contender for the crown.
Bobby Knight said when you look at the NIT, there are probably 20 or 30 teams that are as good if not better than 20 or 30 teams in the NCAA, Jarvis said. People who look at it as consolation just dont know. It also happens to be a very important tournament because it keeps a lot of coaches in jobs. Thank God for the NIT, not for me, but for a lot of other coaches.
But the leader of that team, Hatten, is gone. Undrafted in June, the SJU alum signed a contract with the Los Angeles Clippers last week. Replacing him will be no small task and will not be left up to one player, as many have expected.
Hatten led the Big East in scoring last year, but his points will not be made up solely by the incoming Hill, a Cardozo High School product out of South Jamaica. Hill, Jarvis said, will be a key cog to the team, but such comparison with Hatten are just plain unfair.
I think thats putting a lot of undo pressure in him, Jarvis said of the comparisons. I expect him to be a significant part of our team.
Hill may be the incoming player getting the most ink, but he will not be the lone addition to the Storm next season. Also confirmed are Lamont Hamilton, Anthony Ighodaro and Tyler Jones, all of whom add depth as well as talent to a roster depleted by graduation and transfer.
The guys we got coming in they are all very good players, Jarvis said. I expect all of them to be contributors to the St. Johns program. Im very happy with the players we have.
Williams, another Cardozo product, may be the final piece of next seasons puzzle. An athletic leaper capable of highlight reel dunks, Williams, Jarvis points out, is still rough around the edges, but is still expected to contribute if he qualifies to play.
There has also been a lot of talk about the remaining two years on Jarvis existing contract with the school, which will reportedly pay him in the neighborhood of $800,000 per year. Jarvis has been seeking a contract extension, but insists that when school starts, all of his focus will be on basketball and basketball alone.
When September comes, I am going to concentrate on one thing only, the 2003-2004 version of the St. Johns Red Storm, Jarvis said. There are two years left on existing contract, which I am very, very happy with. We dont have time for such things. Too many other things are too important.
To the fans, only one thing seems important: winning. And if Jarvis can keep the Red Storm winning, the criticism will disappear. Most of it, anyway. After all, this is New York City.
Reach Sports Editor Anthony Bosco by e-mail at TimesLedger@aol.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 130.
©2003 Community News Group
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