St. John’s leaves the past behind

The basketball program at St. John's has a long tradition of being in the limelight thanks to players like Chris Mullin and longtime coach Lou Carnesecca. However, when the team made national headlines in 2004 it was not for the right reasons.

After losing at Pittsburgh on Feb. 4, six of the 10 players on the trip broke curfew to go to a strip club. Three members of the group later brought a woman back to their hotel room.

That was the ultimate low point for a program that only two months earlier had to overcome the loss of another player following a drug arrest and the firing of Mike Jarvis, who compiled four 20-win seasons in his five-plus seasons in Queens, N.Y.

What remained of the Red Storm team was Division I in name only. St. John's lost all but one of its eight remaining games.

Two years removed from the scandal, the Red Storm come to the Bradley Center on Wednesday with a new coach and a new found sense of confidence.

Norm Roberts, a native of Queens, took over the team in April 2004 after serving as an assistant to Bill Self at Oral Roberts, Tulsa, Illinois and Kansas.

In his first season in the Big East, Roberts' squad upset then-No. 21 Pittsburgh and then-No. 17 North Carolina State but still finished second to last in the conference standings.

This season the upsets have continued thanks to a solid nucleus of returning players — Daryll Hill, Lamont Hamilton, Eugene Lawrence — and the addition of Aaron Spears (transfer) and Anthony Mason Jr. (freshman).

The first upset came at home Jan. 17 when the Red Storm knocked off then No. 17 Louisville, extending the Cardinals' Big East tailspin. Lawrence matched a career high by scoring 18 points and Mason tallied 14 points and 11 rebounds against the Taquan Dean-less Cardinals.

In its next game at Madison Square Garden, St. John's stunned previously unbeaten Pittsburgh 55-50 behind Hamilton's 24 points and eight rebounds. Lawrence added 10 points, five rebounds and four assists.

St. John's has lost its past two games to Connecticut and West Virginia,leaving the Red Storm with a 3-4 record in league play and a three-way tie for eighth place in the standings.

Not bad for a team that two years ago was so depleted by scandal it was forced to play walk-ons.