By Joseph Staszewski
St. John’s University’s loss to tri-state rival Seton Hall in the basketball recruitment of Abraham Lincoln hoops star Isaiah Whitehead is a blow, just not the end of the world.
Whitehead, the No. 12-ranked prospect nationally in the class of 2014 by scout.com, announced at a news conference Sept. 19 that he will be heading to the South Orange, N.J., school over the Red Storm, Indiana, Minnesota and Pittsburgh.
He is a big get for the Pirates as they look to continue to bring in talent to re-energize the program after a losing season. For St. John’s, it’s another potential local All-American to pass on the school since Christ the King’s Omar Cook committed there in 2000.
What it is not is a sign that the Johnnies are an undesirable place for local talent. Whitehead took the time for an 11th-hour visit the night before his decision. St. John’s just didn’t put enough effort in his recruitment.
Losing Whitehead during the Norm Roberts era or the first year of current Coach Steve Lavin would have been more alarming. The 6-foot-4 Whitehead, a combo guard, is a program-changing player without a doubt. Except St. John’s isn’t in dire need of that type of kid anymore. But you never like to lose one of them from your own backyard.
St. John’s has no one to blame but itself despite Seton Hall reportedly having offered Lincoln Coach Dwayne “Tiny” Morton an assistant coaching job next season. The Johnnies were the first to offer Whitehead a scholarship, but then were non-existent this past summer during a crucial point in the process. This wasn’t a player St. John’s went very hard after until the very end and it bothered him.
“I don’t think it was tough because they really didn’t see me as the face of St. John’s before,” Whitehead said. “I don’t understand why they would now.”
It’s a missed opportunity for both. No Red Storm players are more beloved than the ones from New York City, who have been part of some successful teams. Chris Mullin, Mark Jackson, Felipe Lopez, Ron Artest, Eric Barkley and even Dwight Hardy come to mind. Whitehead could have been one of those guys and and maybe even more, according to his coach at the Coney Island high school.
“He might be the face of the Big East if he does the right thing,” Morton said.
He is a loss, no doubt. Whitehead is a top-25 player who is the most well-known New York City high school basketball star, but his absence doesn’t set the program back. Seton Hall needed Whitehead to further its credibility. St. John’s is past that point. There will be more talented players to come for the Johnnies.
They just won’t be named Isaiah Whitehead.