St. John’s University head coach Norm Roberts may deserve the title of most head strong coach in men’s college basketball. He took over a program in shambles, been booed relentlessly by student and fans and had the audacity to recruit according to the rules and not bend them to suit his purposes. This season, the Red Storm have dealt with numerous injuries, aches and pains and yet they continue to fight. Is the future bright?
“It is very bright. Believe me,” said Roberts after a 67-55 loss to the number 4 team in the country the University of Connecticut last Thursday. “Four years ago, it was very dim.” During the loss to UConn, sophomore forward Rob Thomas pulled his right groin and wasn’t able to suit up for the Storm’s 76-57 loss to Villanova on Sunday. With sophomore starting point guard Malik Boothe expecting one more week on the bench until his thumb injury heals and senior forward Anthony Mason, Jr. out for the whole season because of a torn tendon in his foot, the Storm have only seven healthy scholarship players. The injuries only make it more important for sophomore forward, Justin Burrell, to assert himself on the offensive end. He took only four shots resulting in two points against U.Conn and took six shots that gave him 13 points at Villanova. “I’d like him to shoot more,” said Roberts. “But if he wasn’t aggressive, I’d be more disappointed.” Coach Roberts would love to have someone a little more aggressive, which he can only achieve through recruiting. It would be nice (for coaches) if most college players stayed for the long haul, but when a possible shot at an NBA paycheck awaits you (or even a development league check), most players come calling. If the right player came along though, Roberts wouldn’t care how long the player stayed in school. “If you take him and he’s that good and he’s going to the NBA, obviously he’s making your team a lot better,” he said. But in true Roberts’ fashion, he kept his eye on the big picture. “And he helps you recruit more kids to come.” While it may seem like a constant uphill climb, Roberts knows that comes with the job of coaching in the Big East. “If we played in just a good league, we would probably have more progress,” he said. “But we play in great league.