A Tough Sell In A Tough Town

By Richard Kent
Updated: January 17, 2009

NEW YORK — 7,545. Does anymore need to be said.

The most famous arena in the world hosted St. John’s and UConn last Thursday night. Old and new. Two of the most storied programs in the history of college basketball.

One was. One is.

St. John’s fell to UConn 67-55 last week before the smallest crowd that UConn ever played before at The Garden. It had some Big East officials puzzled before the game.

Sure a plane went down in the Hudson River a few hours before and a few UConn fans from Fairfield County might have turned around. But give me a break. This was the No. 4 team in the country.

This was a St. John’s team that had just beaten a ranked Notre Dame team.

College basketballfortunes are down in New York City and especially down at St. John’s, a school with a gaudy basketball history. A school with 26 NCAA apearances.

A school with nine Sweet Sixteen appearances. A school with eight NBA lotterry picks. A school for goodness sake with a former national Player Of The Year, Walter Berry in attendance for the UConn game.

Kids will simply not stay in New York City. The lure of Louisville, Kentucky, UCLA, Memphis, etc. is too great. Head coach Norm Roberts, in his fifth season is doing all he possibly can to keep kids home.

He has a capable assistant coach and local recruiter in Fred Quartelbaum, one of the top recruiters in the country. He recruited five McDonald’s All-American while at North Carolina. But North Carolina is North Carolina and St. John’s in 2009 is far down the pecking order.

The best news and the worst news is the Big East Conference. It is the toughest league in the country and St. John’s must do battle with the likes of UConn, Louisville and Syracuse on almost a daily basis.

That also means recruiting against Jim Calhoun, Rick Pitino and Jim Boeheim. They all have NCAA rings to show. Roberts was born in New York City and he calls St. John’s his dream job.

He has history with him, but the present day realities of college basketball against him. There were rumors last February that he was going to be fired, but he has survived.

He owns a win this year against ranked Notre Dame at The Garden. His team is currently 10-6. Many feel that he has to go at least 8-8 in Conference to survive. We will all know in March after the Big East Tournament.

Until then it will be a tough road to hoe.