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On the Marc: The right thing for St. John’s

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Norm Roberts has already proven he’s going to do things the right way. In his four years as coach of the St. John’s men’s basketball team, it’s hard to dispute that. The win totals haven’t necessarily increased in Queens, but the team’s grade-point average has, as well as its graduation rate.

So, don’t think for a second that Roberts isn’t doing the right thing with two potentially bold moves to bolster his coaching staff. Reports have surfaced, and have been confirmed by sources, that St. John’s has put out offers to two men — Kimani Young and Oz Cross — with ties to local AAU programs.

It’s something that Roberts was hesitant to do at the outset. He was afraid to alienate the coaches he didn’t hire to join his staff — and for good reason. But the time has come for a change. The St. John’s head coaching job has become more difficult than anyone imagined and the best way to get the university’s name back in the community is through grassroots basketball.

Granted, neither Cross nor Young has officially accepted the offer and St. John’s has made no announcements acknowledging the offers.

“There are no staff changes at this time,” Athletic Department spokesman Mark Fratto said.

But if this happens, if Cross and Young join the Red Storm staff, it would be a huge boon to the St. John’s men’s basketball program.

Cross is affiliated with the New York Panthers and has connections with the Long Island Lightning. He’s extremely close with SJU sophomore and rising star Justin Burrell. Young, a Queens native and former star at Forest Hills HS, is an administrator and coach with New Heights, a youth organization based out of the Bronx that emphasizes academics as much as basketball. He also was an assistant at Rice this past season and has a strong relationship with the Gauchos, Rice coach Maurice Hicks’ AAU program.

These aren’t just solid local teams; they’re nationally known powerhouses.

This is not to say there aren’t other people in the area as these two. But there won’t be much bridge burning if Cross and Young are hired — they get along with almost everyone.

The possibilities here are tremendous. Cross’ presence increases the chances of Panthers’ stars Omari Lawrence and Kevin Parrom, recent transfers to South Kent (Conn.), committing to St. John’s. Young’s New Heights program boasts some of the best talent in the area, including Devon Collier and Ashton Pankey, both of whom have transferred out of the city to attend St. Anthony of Jersey City, and Bishop Loughlin standout Jayvaughn Pinkston.

Through no fault of Roberts, St. John’s has become all but irrelevant in New York City. It’s no longer the marquee school every local kid dreams about playing for. That has less to do with Roberts and more to do with a lack of commitment from the university’s past administration.

When this season tips off in November, the renovated Carnesecca Arena might not be the only thing that looks different. The coaching staff could be getting a makeover, too. Roberts has taken steps forward in four years. The additions of Cross and Young could be a giant leap ahead.

Reach Associate Sports Editor Marc Raimondi by e-mail at mraimondi@timesledger.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 130.

Posted 6:39 pm, October 10, 2011
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